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An interview with Mr. Chris Short, SmartFish

09 mai 2016

Mr Chris Short has more than 30 years of professional experience in the field of Business and Trade Development related to the fisheries sector. He is also well versed in other areas such as planning, project feasibility, evaluation and bankable projects. Chris has contributed in developing artisanal fisheries in a number of countries with special emphasis on value-chain assessments and upgrades for improved trade. His most recent activities include business planning and development for international investments and trade related to fisheries and aquaculture projects.

Is regional fish trade a myth in the region?

Regional trade is growing and will continue to grow. Due to an historic focus on outside markets such as Europe, the data available that records regional trade is less clear, with large volumes of unrecorded fish trade going unnoticed. Experience from the region shows that in fact regional fish trade is immense and is only stopped from growing due to a lack of supply.  Fish trade does not mean food security, as fish that could well be consumed in a country, may well be exported, leaving the home population wanting. Imports of cheap fish and export of fish for a higher price is a general philosophy, but can also mean that local fish of better quality is exported, whilst imported lessor quality fish becomes the only affordable source of fish protein for the majority of a generally poor population base.

Is regional trade a myth? Definitely not! It is there and assuming supply is maintained, will only increase in the future. It is hoped that as this develops, national level food security will be a priority for Governments. Unfortunately the greed for profits does not always focus attention on the real issue of future food security.

How is the Indian Ocean Commission-SmartFish Programme supporting the enhancement of regional trade in the fisheries sector?

Regional fish trade is not something that is easily enhanced with such a small programme budget compared to the regional requirements. However, a key issue facing fish trade regionally is the ability to move fish whilst maintaining quality. Fishing methods, handling on boats, landing and handling fish onshore, as well as artisanal processing methods and poor logistics and transport means that the majority of fish are poor quality by the time they reach even the closest markets. Even fresh fish sold close to the point of capture are not in good shape a few hours after leaving the water.

IOC SmartFish programme has focused attention of establishing what standards should be through regional level protocols, standards development and communication, however the translation of this to the various fish supply chains is the challenge. This has been supported by comprehensive and wide-spread training either directly to value chain actors, or through training of trainers who then provide training to a wider stakeholder audience. Campaigns with videos and messages have been disseminated in a number of countries including targeting schools as well as fishing communities. Value chain support activities to improve methods of handling, with equipment for improved landing, processing, packaging and retailing have also been used.

Again referring to budgets, the programme is relatively small and cannot possibly support all the needs of such a vast area, so a piloting approach to demonstrate what is possible has been the only realistic way forward, with communication to others in the region on what is possible to encourage uptake of improved methods once the incentive of profit potential is understood, when activities that show potential are quickly copied by others.

How has value chain analysis benefitted the fisheries sector in Madagascar?

The primary example for VCA in Madagascar has been with a focus on mud crab. Analysis was undertaken for the species and identified various points where post- harvest losses were occurring. This included quality losses and a related loss in price, as well as volume losses (death of crabs resulting in no sales). As a result of this analysis many activities have been implemented to improve the situation, from new capture technique to increase catch, to holding methods to keep crabs alive and transportation systems (simple stackable crates) that prevent losses compared to previous methods of using sacks for instance that meant that the crabs would not survive the trip to markets.

The overall impact of this has been significant, with IOC SmartFish taking the ideas to many communities around the country with immediate interest due to the financial incentive demonstrated. A huge part of the success of this initiative is that the methods are easily replicated cheaply so many people can copy quickly and see immediate gains.

Can you give us an insight on future developments in the fisheries and aquaculture sector from an IOC-SmartFish perspective?

The future is all about enough protein for a growing population and the contribution of fish to that protein requirement. Population in the region is growing extremely fast and there is not enough fish to satisfy demand. The consumption of fish in Africa is generally lower than other areas on average; this is more related to a lack of fish for the population, than a lack of actual demand. The challenge facing the future of the sector therefore is where will the fish come from? Supply of fish for this growing population first comes from existing capture fisheries, which unfortunately is poorly managed in the region. Aquaculture is growing slowly in the region as compared to other areas of the world, but is gaining interest and will eventually be a major contributor, as long as countries move to aggressively remove risks that currently prevent a larger number of serious investors coming to the region (political, security, financial and other risks all contributing).

Together with fish farming, imports are a necessary requirement and will always be a large contributor to the sector’s activity. Imports are a quick and easy way forward to feed the population, but risk of poor quality has to be controlled in the process. Another real potential exists in the reduction of post-harvest losses, which would immediately contribute a significant volume of the requirements. So the future of the sector will be a combination of many factors that keep supplies of safe to eat fish available in the region as the population grows.

Unfortunately the timing of these contributors of fish supply are out of sync, in that capture fisheries have reduced supply, aquaculture is not providing much at all, imports are increasingly poor quality fish, (significantly from Asia) and post-harvest losses continue to remain high, despite all the communication on the subject. This is all happening whilst countries and projects, such as SmartFish, continue to promote the consumption of fish. Clearly much work is still to be done in the region to bring the fisheries sector to its full potential as a supplier of good quality protein for the future.


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