How Kenya Is Responding To Sharp Drop In China’s Fish Import

African fishermen setting up boat Africans on China
Credit: Emerson via Iwaria

China has become the world’s leading exporter of frozen fish, especially to African countries. In 2017, Chinese exports represented 11.6% of the market (or US$2.7 billion), followed by the US with 9.5% and Russia with 8.7%.

In what would rather be good news, especially for the Lake Victoria-based fishermen, China’s export of fish to Kenya this year has dropped sharply. This was partly due to the impact of  Covid-19 on the global supply chain. 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, Nation reported. 

According to data on fish trade from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) obtained by the Nation, China’s fish exports to Kenya dropped by almost 50 percent as a result of the global supply chain disruption occasioned by the pandemic. Seven months ago before 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. In 2018, Kenya bought Sh2.32 billion worth of frozen fish from China.

Reacting to the news of the drop in fish importation from China, Bob Otieno, chairman of Dunga Beach Management Unit, said, “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 as clients who were previously attracted by the imported fish troop back mostly due to health fears and the unavailability of this imported catch.”

However, despite the drop, China still accounted for almost 90 percent of the fish imports into the country. Frozen tilapia and mackerel were the most imported, the Nation noted. China doesn’t buy much of Kenya’s fish, spending about Sh182,602, down from the Sh1 million in 2019, indicating a skewed balance of trade. According to the Nation, the Netherlands was Kenya’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.

Chinese Fish In Africa And Kenya’s Market 

China has become a leading exporter of fish to many African countries, including Kenya, Ghana, and Tanzania. In the past ten years and more, the trade in fish between China and Africa has increased rapidly compared to other goods. Fish from China is often cheaper than local fish, making it a popular choice for restaurants, food kiosks, and homes. 

In 2018, Kenya bought Sh2.32 billion worth of frozen fish from China. Kenya imported fish valued at US$12 million in 2017, up from US$10 million in 2016. 

The Call For Tighter Control Of Chinese Fish In Kenya Market

In 2019, China dialogue Ocean reported that fish from China sold in Kenya was discovered to contain traces of heavy metals that threaten human health, a laboratory at the University of Nairobi found. Samples of fish bought from a wholesale trader at Nairobi’s Gikomba market in 2018 contained tiny amounts of lead, mercury, arsenic, and copper, reported local media. The findings stoked public fears over the quality of fish imported from China, and elsewhere, into African countries as volumes rise, displacing the domestic maritime sector. In the wake of those findings, Kenya’s government came under pressure to take action to safeguard fish supply chains, which provide the region with its main source of protein.

Kenyan Government’s Support To Boost Local Fish Production

In mid-2020, Kenya received an 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, the Nation reported.  

Revealing the government’s plan for the acquired loan, Kenya’s Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries Secretary Peter Munya said, “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.”

“We are going to start with Aquaculture Business Development programs 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,” Peter Munya said. 

What practical measures can the government of Kenya and other African countries put in place to ensure that the importation of fish from China does not adversely affect the jobs of local fishermen?

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