Fish trade and food security: are they reconcilable in Lake Victoria

Type Journal Article - Kenya Marine and Fisheries
Title Fish trade and food security: are they reconcilable in Lake Victoria
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2003
The Lake Victoria fishery has come under increasing pressure in the last two decades. Fish production
peaked in the early 1990s and currently catches of most species are showing downward trends. Despite
this, there is greater demand for fish of Lake Victoria, chiefly Nile perch (Lates niloticus) and ‘dagaa’
(Rastrineobola argentea), in the export market and for fishmeal respectively, as well as for domestic
consumption. The present situation is the consequence of the tremendous commercial transformation that
the fishery of Lake Victoria has undergone in those 20 years. From a local-based subsistence fishery
before 1980, it is presently dominated by fish processing factories funded from international sources, which
aim at enhancing fish exports from East Africa to the developed world, so as to earn more foreign
exchange. This takes place against a backdrop of a protein-starved local community whose livelihood
depends on the lake. In the past, international trade on fisheries was taken for granted as the means to
tackle poverty and food insecurity for fisheries-dependent communities. That idea has, however, been
challenged in the last few years as researches look critically at the benefits of global fish trade vis-à-vis the
costs, particularly in relation to food insecurity and environmental implications. This report is a further
contribution to this debate. It tries to establish a link between the increased liberalization of trade in the
fisheries of Lake Victoria and the food insecurity indicators. The paper is based on primary and secondary
data collected at various times, published and unpublished documents as well as the author’s own
observations over several years working as a researcher on socio-economic aspects of the Lake Victoria
fishery. Because of the large investment already made in industrial fish processing, it would be in order to
allow some amount of exports to continue. However, the quantities of exportable fish must be limited to
ensure sustainable fisheries and reconciliation with the food security needs. Recommendations are made
in four broad directions to make Lake Victoria fisheries more relevant to the food security needs of the local
population. They include specific policy interventions, interventions in fisheries management, steps to
enhance fish supply and refocusing the fish marketing strategies. There is also need for more incisive
studies on the fish industry and at household level to understand in greater depth how the various factors
raised in this study relate to each other and the magnitude of their contribution to food insecurity.

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