Malawi's fish value is now pegged at USD454 million, which is 7 percent contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) despite high post-harvest fish loses, a deterrent to value chain improvement largely caused by obstacles that include poor market infrastructure, transport challenges to move processed fish from landing sites to markets. This reduces quality and value that would otherwise accrue to a fisher, traders and consumers, a new study suggests.
Availability of fish species is seasonal, so prices fluctuate which has an impact on how female fish traders who are in majority run their business. When supply is low, prices are high and competition for trader access to fish is high leading to unsafe “fish for sex” transactions to ensure access to fish for trading by women.
A team of scientists from Malawi Department of Fisheries based at the research station at Monkey Bay, Coastal Resources Center at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, Chancellor College of the University of Malawi, and WorldFish conducted this joint study between December 2015 and February 2018. It was funded by USAID through the Fisheries Integration of Society and Habitats, a project that run from October 2014 through September 2019. Scientists utilized a value chain approach, which identifies the nodes and actors involved in the fisheries sector from “net to plate,” and describes the full range of value – adding activities required to bring a product or service through the different phases of production, including procurement of raw materials and other inputs, assembly, physical transformation, acquisition of required services such as transport and cooling, to meet consumer demand.
Daniel Jamu, Deputy Chief of Party, Restoring Fisheries for Sustainable Livelihoods in Lake Malawi (REFRESH) one of the authors of the study told Weekend Nation on Thursday that they covered four major lakes in the country and included all species that were found at markets. Based on the relative contribution to total catch, the study emphasized three small pelagic fish species: Usipa (Engraulicypris sardella) and Kambuzi (Haplochromine cichlids) of Lakes Malawi and Malombe, and Matemba (small Barbus spp.) of Lakes Chilwa and Chiuta respectively.
“While other species were also assessed, these species were of primary interest because they are indicative of historical importance and current trends in the SSF in Malawi. For fish loss, we employed Food and Agriculture Organization informal and quantitative fish loss assessment methodologies.” Jamu explained in an interview.
When asked what is the significance of this study findings and why should policymakers care about it? Jamu was quick to respond that,” This study informs prioritization of investment for an improved value chain for wild caught fish. The economic contribution of the sector to the Malawi economy estimated at 7.2% is significant and requires attention by policy makers to invest in the sector which is only marginally considered at policy level and also in terms of national investments.
He added that current national-level estimate of the value of the fishing sector does not provide a full accounting of the value because it is based on the landed value of fish, which only accounts for a portion of the value chain. “A full accounting of the contributions of the fisheries sector should be based on total landings plus post-harvest activities thus quantifying value – addition throughout the entire value chain. The updated figure presented in this study will inform policy and management in Malawi and other countries by quantifying the full contribution of the fisheries value chain to livelihoods and wealth generations,” Jamu responded when asked to elaborate.
Sloans Chimatiro, Executive Director of Malawi Agricultural Policy Advancement and Transformation Agenda (MwAPATA) in his reaction observed that the re-valuation of the fisheries sector to now US$454 million or 7.2% of GDP means that the economic value of the sector was under-valued. This is important because the successor to Vision 2020 (National Transformation 2063), its theme is "Wealth Creation & Self-reliance".
“This means that with US$454 million, sitting in the fisheries sector, there is an enormous potential to create wealth and contribute to poverty reduction. If these post-harvest losses can be arrested fisheries can potentially contribute more to the economy because fishers will make more money,” adding that, “fish traders could make a fortune if better processing and packaging is adopted,” he offered the advice.
This means that with US$454 million, sitting in the fisheries sector, there is an enormous potential to create wealth and contribute to poverty reduction. If these post-harvest losses can be arrested fisheries can potentially contribute more to the economy because fishers will make more money,
Chimatiro added that MwAPATA is working with National Planning Commission and Department of Fisheries to ensure that wealth-generation potential of the fisheries is accounted for in the National Transformation 2063, a vision for government. Fisheries as one of the most important natural resources, it is critical for food and nutrition security as well as employing close to half a million people indirectly according to reports, especially for women and youth.
“Our research will support the formulation of policies as well as the implementation of reforms to address gender-related barriers that prevent women and youth from fully benefiting from fisheries resources. The potential for fish exports is enormous as Malawi Chambo fetches a premium in regional markets,” he summed it up.