By Treezer Michelle Atieno
The decline of Fish Processing companies in Kisumu has greatly affected fish mongers in the area who deal in fish products. The over 200 traders, majorly women deal in by-products like fish skin, fish head and fish bones( Mgongo Wazi)
Fish processing companies slice off finer parts of fresh fish like the filet, processes and packs them, then sells them in hotels in Kisumu and other major towns like Nairobi and Mombasa, while the best are exported abroad. What remains of the fish are heads, bones and skins.
This is where fish traders from Obunga, Bandani, Otonglo and Kisian estates come in. They buy the by-products from the companies and get down to work. Others pick up the skin for scaling while the majority take the heads and bones, which are then cleaned, dried in the sun, and fried in hot oil. The product is considered a delicacy in many parts of Nyanza and Western Kenya.
Once it is prepared a majority of it is sent to neighboring towns like Kakamega, Bungoma, Busia and Vihiga while the rest is sold locally. A piece goes for about Ksh.60 to Ksh. 120 in the market.
With the purchase of the ‘Mgongo Wazi’, fish mongers like Rose Atieno are able to provide for their families and ensure their children can go to school.
“Business has been slow recently due to the hard economic times. We are finding it hard to stay on track. We make less and less each day and customers tend to back off when we hint on increasing the prices,” says Rose.
She however maintains that the challenges facing this business started around 10 years ago when major fish processing companies started closing. “Initially, there were 8 processing companies and we got by-products at a very cheap price from all of them. The companies, however, closed down, leaving just one.” explains Rose.
The eight fish processing companies that were operational in Kisumu were Afro Meat, Pache Foods, Midas Food Processors, Fish Processors 2000, Tijani Fish Factory, J Fish Factory, Victoria Delight and East Africa Sea Foods. Currently, East Africa Sea Foods is the only one that is operating.
“All traders in this business now depend on this company for by products. We are over 200 traders and we have now resolved to create a list so that we can use it to get the by-products in turns. The prices have also increased, and we cannot complain because this is the only fish processing company left here. ” says Rose.
There is also a challenge in how many tonnes of fish the company processes in a day. The tones have decreased over the years from as high as 18 tonnes in a day to 2 tonnes or even none in a day. This means that the by-products are sometimes hardly enough for even 2 traders in a day.
“Before the closing of the other companies, we would get the by-products every day. Because of scarcity, we went to once a week and now it takes up to a month before one reaches his or her turn. The prices have also increased by over 200% in the last 5 years.” says Rose.
Some of the factors that have contributed to the fall of these companies are high taxation, decline of Nile Perch in Lake Victoria, Bankruptcy, and competition from companies in Uganda.
Rose says that most fishermen have opted to supply fish to Uganda for better pay while others prefer to sell to individual fish dealers rather than the companies.
Fish processing in Kisumu is a sector that needs urgent revival. Many residents depend on these companies for by products to sustain their families. If care is not taken, even the last of the processing companies may end up closing due to unsustainable practices by fishermen, the government and the company itself. If this happens, how many families will be left without an income?