3 September 2010

Africa: Fisheries Must Deal With Threats, Opportunities

Windhoek — The fisheries and aquaculture sectors are central to the survival of millions in Africa, but the resource is under threat, yet the region should exploit market possibilities.

The African fishing sector, like any other primary sector, is threatened by climate change, with mounting evidence that the earth's climate is changing faster than ever before.

It is expected that the earth's temperature will increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, which could have devastating effects on the natural environment and life-sustaining resources.

It was found that the impact of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture is wide-ranging. It will affect ocean currents with sea levels rising and storms intensifying; it will have an impact on rainfall, river flows, and changing lake levels. It will further lead to the acidification of water sources, calcification and coral bleaching.

Moreover, it was found that climate change would impact on the production ecology operations, which will impede communities' abilities to scrape livelihoods from natural resources.

It will impact on fish species compositions, their production and yields, and can lead to rapid and expanded distribution of diseases.

Africa is said to be most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and it is anticipated that African fisheries will be hardest hit.

The composite result of this, said regional Director of the WorldFish Centre in Africa, Tabeth Matiza Chiuta, is that climate change challenges the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture, and thus affects food security, livelihoods, and economic development.

Experts at the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), said the fisheries resource, like any other natural resource, ought to be thoroughly studied and preserved for posterity, and also because of its central place in Africa's food survival and its economic importance.

African fish stocks in both marine and freshwater sources are declining.

Per capita fish supplies against increasing demands are dropping, and the increase in illegal marine fisheries by foreign ships is on the increase, threatening the livelihoods of millions in Africa.

Almost 200 million people in Africa are dependent on fish for food security. Nearly 10 million African families are involved in small-scale fisheries and fish for their livelihood.

Fish and marine resources remain a main source of protein of animal origin. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimated that fresh, dried, salted or powdered fish provides about 22 percent of protein consumed.

About 15 percent of the continent's workforce is directly or indirectly employed in the fishing sector.

One of the leading sources of foreign currency is attributed to exports of fisheries. The annual export value is estimated at about US$2.7 billion.

Chiuta said the African fisheries sector has the potential to contribute about six percent of the continent's annual economic growth.

And yet, she said, Africa has a low adaptive capacity to deal with this challenge because of shortages of information, technology, skills and economic resources.

She added that limited resources are targeted at building resilience to the mounting challenge, and that the fisheries sector is not sufficiently considered in regional and national planning strategies.

There are, however, some efforts made at continental level with the African Union and NEPAD fisheries initiative that is aimed at assessing technical expertise and resources.

The FANRPAN meeting currently in Windhoek further reported that the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) fish strategy places priority interventions in the aquaculture, inland fisheries and marine fisheries sectors.

These interventions cover trade and market access, technology dissemination and research, standards and regulatory frameworks, management of trans-boundary fisheries, and so on.

The COMESA fisheries development strategy further aims to increase and sustain contributions of fisheries and aquaculture to the region's socio-economic development and food security.

One of the areas of the strategy is intra-regional trade in fish and fishery products.

Satish Hanoomanjee of the Infopeche Unit in Southern Africa (INFOSA) said the potential is huge with a regional population of 234 million people, and a 2005 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$737 billion.

The southern African region is considered the richest in Africa in economic terms, said Hanoomanjee.

The region's gross national per capita is US$3,152, and has three least developed countries.

The southern African coastline is estimated at around 11000 kilometres in length, surrounded by the cold Atlantic and warm Indian oceans. The nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is seven million square kilometres.

The region's annual fish production is 2.77 million metric tons, which makes up two percent of the global production, and 1.7 percent of the total traded value.

In 2008, world production was 141.6 million tonnes, out of which 51.6 million metric tons - or 36.5 percent - was aquaculture products.

The trade value in fishery products was estimated at slightly above US$100 billion in 2008.

Namibia is "by far" the main exporter of fish products in the SADC region in terms of volume; it accounts for 48 percent, followed by South Africa with 26 percent.

Hanoomanjee said this is understandable considering the fact that Namibia is the largest fishing nation in the region and about 90 percent of fish landed is exported.

Despite continued efforts by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources' national fish consumption drives, fish consumption in Namibia remains very low, and is estimated at only 10 percent of the total catches made annually.

This is unlike other countries like Mozambique, Seychelles, Mauritius and Angola, where the domestic markets take up a relatively large share of fish production.

Hanoomanjee added, however, that South Africa's export values are the largest.

"While most of Namibia's exports consist of round frozen fish, South Africa has an important processing industry and exports a lot of value added products, mainly to the [southern African] region," said Hanoomanjee.

In recent years, Tanzania has also developed its export business based on the Nile perch fisheries on Lake Victoria.

This consists mainly of fresh and frozen Nile perch fillets that fetch a relatively high price, said Hanoomanjee, who added that the Nile perch industry is, however, currently facing some difficulties.

Notwithstanding, he said, fresh and frozen fish is still by far the most common product form in the region.

Fresh and iced hake fillets are mostly produced in Namibia and South Africa, which are generally exported.

Canning of particularly tuna is also important in especially Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar. Small pelagics (pilchards) in Namibia and South Africa are also canned.

But, said Hanoomanjee, the lack of freezing facilities and cold stores has necessitated the utilisation of traditional processing methods like sun drying and smoking, which are still very prevalent.

About 80 percent of fish consumed in domestic markets are dried and smoked, which is very labour-intensive and widely practiced in Tanzania, Zambia and to a lesser extent, Mozambique.

As far as intra-regional trade in fishery products go, trade is estimated at 170000 metric tons, which is about 6.2 percent of the annual total production.

This is a low vo-lume of trade, said Hanoomanjee. Namibia exports about 70 000 tonnes of horse mackerel to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He said intra-regional trade is often at an informal level and women-dominated. It involves mostly small quantities, often to allow cross-border traders to go under the radar and avoid taxes. For the most part, he said, intra-trade in fisheries is under-developed.

Hanoomanjee suggested, though, that a more formalised arrangement could bring in more revenue to governments, but that it requires legislation.

"Informal trade of low volume is very common and also goes largely unrecorded," said Hanoomanjee.

It is estimated that 170000 tonnes of fisheries products are exported in the region, which is six percent of the 2.77 million tonnes produced annually.

But Hanoomanjee said this estimate could be wrong because of the difficulty in monitoring what he called "petty trade".

The barriers to further increase intra-regional fish trade is inadequate infrastructure for large trade volumes - like transport facilities, storage and distribution. It is also because foreign exchange is lacking and export credit facilities are poorly developed, said Hanoomanjee.

"The imposition of high tariffs, compounded by lack of harmony of currencies, combined with harassment by corrupt officials, have prevented African countries from trading between themselves," he said, adding: "High import tariffs have also posed a problem for the development of more south-to-south trade."

He said there are also increasing complexities in import regulations and requirements on main markets, which create problems for many exporters, and in particularly making it difficult for developing nations to deal with these new complexities.

Threats posed to an improved fishing trade include illegal fishing with an estimated loss of US$1 billion, compliance to various European Union regulations, eco-labeling and certification, a lack of marketing information in the region, among others.

Hanoomanjee said heavy investments are needed to further meet quality requirements to export to the European Union and the United States, and other international markets.

Then there are opportunities presented by inland water bodies, which are estimated to stretch over 200000 square kilometres. Lake Victoria, for example, is the second largest lake in the world and stretches over 68 000 square kilometres.

Most of Africa's aquaculture is done in its inland water bodies. In 2007, 97.8 percent of Africa's total aquaculture production came from these bodies, and accounted for 800000 tonnes.

And marine aquaculture, said Hanoomanjee, should become a serious growth area for Africa.

He reported that over the last 17 years, African aquaculture has grown by over 15 percent per annum.

"The ocean is huge. It covers three quarters of the surface of the globe, and it should become our breadbasket in the future," he proposed.

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