The Covid-19 pandemic has handed Kenyan fishermen an unexpected boon after fish imports from China dropped to Sh993.62 million in the last nine months of the year, compared to the Sh2.03 billion in 2019.
Data on fish trade from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) obtained by the Nation shows that China’s fish exports to Kenya dropped by almost 50 per cent as a result of the global supply chain disruption occasioned by the pandemic.
In the seven months to September, Kenya imported 8,900 tonnes of fresh chilled fish worth Sh993.62 million from Beijing, a drop from 18, 074 tonnes worth Sh2.02 billion in 2019.
This is the second time Chinese fish imports have dropped in the last eight years, having previously recorded near double digit growth, adding impetus to concerns that the Asian nation is flooding the local market with sea food to the detriment of local fishermen.
In 2018, Kenya bought Sh2.32 billion worth of frozen fish from China.
Ironically, China doesn’t buy much of Kenya’s fish, spending a paltry Sh182, 602, down from the Sh1 million in 2019, indicating a skewed balance of trade.
Despite the drop, China still accounted for almost 90 per cent of the fish imports into the country. Frozen tilapia and mackerel were the most imported.
The Nation understands that two biggest importers of Chinese fish recorded zero imports between November and June this year, with the country facing serious fish shortages in the last three months.
The data shows that Kenya has turned to Uganda as its main customer, selling more than 57, 774 kilos of fish worth Sh308.98 million in the last nine months. However, this is still way below the Sh572.08 million Uganda spent on its fish, showing that the pandemic also affected its fish business with its largest trading partner.
The Netherlands was the country’s third top exporter of fish worth Sh189.37 million in the seven months of 2020, down from Sh193.38 million in 2019.
Italy’s imports from Kenya stood at Sh178.5 million, down from Sh197.8 million, while Israel closed the top five buying Sh146..69 million, down from Sh281.7 million in 2019.
In the last six months, fishermen along Lake Victoria have recorded improved fortunes with the demand rising. Kenya produces 180,000 tonnes per year but consumes about 500,000 tonnes, according to 2019 government figures.
Mid this year, Kenya received a Sh14 billion loan from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad) to support fish farmers to enhance their production.
The government also released 16 new vehicles to support country government fisheries officers in the extension services to aquaculture farmers.
“We are going to use part of this fund to provide high quality fish feeds, seeds and in setting up of mini-processing plants in beneficiary counties,” Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Secretary Peter Munya “We are going to start with Aquaculture Business Development programmes whose first phase will cover Homa Bay, Kakamega, Migori, Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Meru counties will not only raise fish production but will as well increase the country’s per capita fish consumption from 4.5 kilos per year to more than 10 kilos in the next 10 years.”
The drop in fish importation could have come as good news especially for the Lake Victoria based fishermen, who are now recording changing fortunes, as they try to keep up with the demand.
Bob Otieno, chairman of Dunga Beach Management Unit, says sales have shot up, with sales now up almost 80 per cent.
“Our beach registers a catch of up to 2 tonnes of fish each day and sales have doubled in the last six months. We have seen fortunes change have as clients who were previously attracted by the imported fish troop back mostly due to health fears and the unavailability of these imported catch,” Mr Otieno said.