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Fisheries management reforms key for development

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The African Union Policy Framework and Reform Strategy for Fisheries and Aquaculture prioritises fish trade and aims to promote responsible and equitable fish trade across the continent. In response to this, the European Union-funded Fish Trade for a Better project has been supporting the development of intra-regional fish trade by conducting research and generating data that informs crucial policy decisions.

Fish Trade for a Better Future, aims to improve food and nutritional security and reduce poverty in sub-Saharan Africa by enhancing the capacities of regional and pan-African organisations to support their member states and to better integrate intra-regional fish trade into their food security and nutritional policy agendas.

CHARLES MKOKA caught up with WorldFish Acting Country Manager for Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia Sloans Chimatiro to shade more light on the initiative.

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Could you briefly explain what the Fish Trade project is all about and what gaps does it want to fill in fish management in African?

The project is about strengthening the fish value chains and giving better access to intra-regional markets in order to improve food and nutritional security and income in Africa. The project aims to close the following gaps: information on the structure, products and value of intra-regional fish trade; come up with recommendations on fish trade policies, standards and regulations; to increase the capacities for trade among private sector associations, in particular of women fish processors and traders and aquaculture producers, to access domestic and regional markets; and support countries to adopt and implement appropriate policies, standards and regulations that will allow them to effectively participate in intra-regional fish trade.

So far, what are the issues that World Fish is learning about fish trade in Africa with specific reference to Malawi?

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We are learning that there are immense movements of fish products across the borders in Africa but that is not recorded in national statistics simply because the trade is informal; the prominent species being traded across borders are the small pelagic species, in Malawi these species include usipa (scientifically referred to as Engraulicypris sardella). Noting that these species are readily accessible to the urban and rural poor households since poor people can buy them in small heaps or per piece rather than per kilogramme, it is important for governments to focus on the sustainable management of these species as well as improve the value chains.

In Malawi, fish exportation is still informal. Should we say government is not interested in making the exportation formal and earn revenue from it?

It is important to bear in mind that government can only reasonably address an issue if there is sufficient information on it. Therefore, being informal, cross-border fish trade is tricky for all governments in Africa. This is the reason WorldFish is conducting this research in order to generate the evidence which can now be used by the government to come up with strategies that will improve the operations and profits of the traders and enhance government’s revenue collection.

Does Malawi have a market of its fish beyond its borders?

The demand for Malawi fish is massive in other countries. We have learnt that this demand is driven by what we call “culturally acquired taste”, where Malawians in the diaspora want to eat fish as they did in their villages of origin in Malawi. Furthermore, a number of Malawi fish species such as Chambo have a reputation as tasty fish, hence its demanded by many consumers including those without descent from Malawi.

How best can you advise policy makers in the country to make the best out of fish exportation in Malawi?

There is a need to review the data collection and analysis system to be able to capture informal trade figures in the national statistics; government should adopt the liberal trade measures and harmonise trade consistent with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) Simplified Trade Regime (STR) and make use of the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) drive towards the One-Stop-Border-Posts; and Create awareness among the cross-border fish traders about the free trade measures of Comesa.

What is your assessment of the 2016 Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy in terms of how you can work within its provisions to improve fish trade within and beyond Malawi?

I want to congratulate the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development on placing fisheries, food security and nutrition at the forefront of the ministry’s development agenda. The revision of the policy has focused on key issues of fisheries and aquaculture management and has put in place clear actions that will enhance the productivity of the national’s fish resources and boost food security.

Our ongoing research on fish trade will fit into the provisions of the new policy and the findings will be relevant in supporting the government to develop and implement strategies that will enhance the access of regional markets for Malawian fish traders; our findings are clear on the types of fish which government should focus on in order to improve fish consumption by Malawians, especially the people in urban and rural areas, and these species include usipa, matemba and utaka.

With regard to value chain, we are finding evidence that it is necessary to improve the role of women in fish processing and trading in order to enhance their incomes in the value chain since women tend to be excluded from the lucrative fish businesses by male fish wholesalers and retailers.

WorldFish advocates the strategies to work in partnership with national universities; therefore, our relationship with the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources will be critical in supporting the government to implement the new policy. In Malawi, WorldFish is sponsoring over six students to do their master’s and doctorate degrees, in the process building the science capacity for Malawi to effectively manage its fisheries resources.

Any other words to share with our readers…?

Malawi’s fish resources represent renewable natural asset or capital that is capable of generating substantial amounts of wealth. In other words, fish in Malawi is like money in the bank, which can generate interest and make more money for all Malawians.

However, this can only happen if Malawi designs and implements fisheries management reforms. And I wish to propose a two-step process which aims to ensure that fisheries not only contribute to economic growth but also that the benefits from that growth are felt by those who are most in need, the fishing communities.

First, reforms should aim at improving the management of fisheries – primarily through secure user rights arrangements, which the new policy has highlighted.

This will ensure its full potential value is realised from catching and throughout the value chain. Securing rights means that government is able to give fishing communities the rights to own and manage their fish resources and able to control the numbers of canoes and nets with an aim of rebuilding the dwindling fish stocks.

Second, reforms should ensure the value created by the fisheries is effectively and equitably channelled or distributed to all stakeholders, especially the local fishing communities.

This gives the communities the incentive to work with government in the management of the resources. It is important for Malawians to know that fish is a naturally a renewable resource that, if properly managed, will provide income, livelihoods and health benefits to local communities – all these are aspects of the term ‘wealth

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