Kigoma. Stakeholders in Lake Tanganyika fishing have outlined challenges that negatively affect prosperity of the fisheries value chain.
Stakeholders in this case are fishermen, processors, and traders - including exporters
The challenges include lack of a fish laboratory, drying and storage facilities in the place;, as well as inadequate finance.
Other drawbacks are the stealing of fishing equipment; unreliable market; poor fishing policies and regulatory frameworks, as well as lack of proper fishing-related education.
The foregoing was revealed during a recent visit of Lake Tanganyika by journalists out to learn fisheries’ value chain activities ahead of the implementation of the five-year fishing project for the African, Caribbean and Pacific areas (FISH4ACP).
The €40 million project is being implemented by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (Fao) in 12 countries, including Zambia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Gambia in Africa; Guiana and South Dominica Republic in the Caribbean.
In Tanzania, Fao is collaborating with the government through the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute (Tafiri), using €3 million in funding by the European Union (EU) and Germany.
Phase-One of the project that kicked off in October 2020 involves data collection and understanding the challenges faced by Lake Tanganyika fisheries value chain before setting implementation strategies in the next five years.
Speaking to The Citizen during the visit, the stakeholders referred to the challenges as issues that hinder realization of the true benefits of their involvement in the fishing sector.
Mr Ahmed Soso is the chairman of Kibirizi Landing Site, exporters of sardines and other types of fish. Soso said the region lacked a fish laboratory, forcing them to take samples to Mwanza, spending nearly Sh350,000 for tests on a kilo of fish.
“The amount is a huge burden for poor stakeholders. This is after buying a kilo of the fish at Sh15,000 - and another Sh15,000 as transport charges,” he said.
According to him, the US, Canada and Malaysia are the main customers of sardines, sprat and perch from Lake Tanganyika.
Two tonnes of sardines and one tone of other fish is exported during winter, while four tonnes of sardines and two tonnes of other fish are shipped during summer.
Ms Suzan Ezekiel, a sardines processor at the Kibirizi Landing Site, said poorly developed drying infrastructure for sardine from the lake was a huge challenge.
“During high season the number of processors and sardines becomes high as compared to available drying infrastructure at the landing site despite the payment of Sh5,400 per installed drying portion,” he said.
“However, we are not able to equally dry our fish during both winter and summer. We hardly dry sardines during rainy seasons, hence reducing quality and value of the product,” she added.
Ms Ezekiel pleaded with the government to provide processors with modern technology that will enable them to dry their fish throughout the year.
She was seconded by a fish exporter, Ms Mariam Kabazi who said “modern sardines drying equipment are inevitable because currently processors have no drying alternative during the rainy season.”
Mr Kagoma Idd, a fish trader at the Landing Site, said the absence of cold rooms and freezers for storing fish before transportation to domestic and neighbouring countries hinders growth of their trade.
“Lack of enough capital is another challenge that prevents us from expanding our businesses and engaging in trading a large quantity of fish and sardines from Lake Tanganyika,” said a trader with a capital of Sh5 million.
He added, “The government, banks and financial institutions should provide us with soft loans that will enable us to graduate to another level of doing business.”
A fisherman at Muyobozi Landing Site in Uvinza District, Mr Florence Nobert, supported Mr Idd, saying fishermen greatly needed soft loans in order to procure fishing vessels and gears, that are very expensive.
“At least Sh10 million is needed in order to get a fishing vessel and a complete set of fishing gear, including nets,” he said.
Ms Ezekiel said revolving loans provided to youth, women and People with Disabilities (PwDs) through the district council’s budget hasn’t benefited beneficiaries due to lack of trust.
“Probably, these loans should be provided individually instead of disbursing them in groups because there are some group members who can’t be trusted. Some of them run away leaving other members with the burden to service monies he/she collected,” she said.
Speaking on criminal incidents along Lake Tanganyika, Mr Hamis Kiza, a fisherman in Uvinza District, pleaded with the government to strengthen security and patrols in order to minimize theft of fishing gear, vessel accessories including engines and batteries.
“Fishermen in Kigoma are very poor with less than Sh100 million operating capital, therefore, such incidents have increased poverty to most fishermen,” he said.
Concurring with Mr Kiza, another fisherman, Mr Kessy Yakuti, said they have been losing an average of 10 fishing engines per day to bandits.
Regarding the absence of a reliable market for fishing products (sprat, sardine and perch), Ms Ezekiel said exporters procure Grade One products leaving a large amount in the hands of processors.
“We are forced to rely on the domestic market which is, however, not promising. Customers who bought fish in the past have shifted to Mwanza over what is said to be tax concerns,” she said.
Mr Hamisi Habibu, a fisherman at the Kigodeko in Kibirizi Landing Site, said the law and regulation that required them to use three-inch fishing nets instead of the two-and-a-half that were used in the past. This has caused serious inconveniences to fishermen.
“Some fishermen have been arrested by the police and their vessels confiscated. However, we have proved that the two and a half fishing nets were not harvesting small fish as complained,” he said.
But, in his recent clarification on the issue, the minister for Livestock and Fisheries advised stakeholders who had concerns on regulatory frameworks to file their opinions on amendments to same.
But, speaking to The Citizen, the Fisheries Resources Protection (FRP) officer-in-charge in Buhingu Uvinza District, Mr John Mzee, said the government was making efforts to contain post-harvest losses in the fisheries sector.
He said Uvinza District has entered agreement with the Tanzania Agriculture Development Bank (TADB) to provide soft loans to fishermen through their cooperatives.
“However, the majority lack cooperative education. We have started providing them with such education in order to enable them to benefit with available opportunities in the industry,” he said.
Regarding security on the Lake, he said the army has been responsively responding to invasions and preventing losses of fishing vessels and equipment through use of modern fishing vessels.
“The B&B Food Company Limited investor has shown interest to invest in production of ice in efforts to improve storage of fishing products. We are also inviting the private sector investments because the government cannot do everything alone,” he said.
For his part, the Fao Tanzania National Professional officer, Mr Hashim Muumin, said the world body was looking for the challenges as important and useful information for the successful implementation of the project.
“In collaboration with Tafiri, we will continue collecting the challenges and analyse them in order to enable us to set strategies of implementation for the next four years of the project,” he said.
“Our focus is to reduce if not eliminate these challenges and transform the sector. Formalization of the sector aims to make stakeholders proud of being among the Lake Tanganyika fisheries value chain.”
Lake Tanganyika is the second most important lake for fishing activities in the region, after Lake Victoria which has 27,000 fishermen and 12,000 boats.
According to the 2019 fish catch statistics, Lake Tanganyika produces about 31,000 tonnes of sprat, 6,000 tonnes of sardines and 22,000 tonnes of perch annually.
In order to meet the domestic market demand, sprat and sardines are dried while perch are smoked. But the post-harvest losses are also very high.
The FISH$ACP Project focuses on reducing post-harvest losses, providing sustainable fishing practices and improving capacity for sustainable fisheries management.