Eating fish is not yet embedded within the Ethiopian culture, with only 0.3kg consumed per capita in 2012/13. This is far below even the African average of eight kilogram. The Lent fasting period does, however, see a huge increase in demand for a resource, which is plentiful throughout the country. As the popularity increases and the Ethiopian culture begins to embrace it more, government support may be required to optimise the productivity of the sector, reports YONAS MULATU, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
Two days into Lent,Tsiginesh Fish & Special Kitfo No. 2 – a restaurant known mainly for its fish dishes – was teeming with customers at lunch time on Tuesday, February 25, 2014. This is one of the two restaurants that go by the same name, both owned by Tsiginesh Yilma, 34, and her husband.
The No. 2 restaurant opened in 2010, along Sahle Selassie Street, down from St. Mary’s Church at Amist Kilo, and it has always been busy, Tsiginesh says.
Tsiginesh came into the fish business after she married her husband, who was already a fish supplier, and now manages the No. 1 restaurant.She gave up her former business, which she had been doing for 10 years, before getting married in 2000.
The couple decided to start a restaurant of their own when they noticed how business was booming for the eateries they were supplying. They had their first restaurant in 2006, which has now moved from its original location to the compound of the Holy Trinity College at Queen Elizabeth Street, in Arat Kilo.
“We use 2.5ql of fish a day on average [at No. 2] during the fasting season,” Tsignesh told Fortune. “This is a difference of one quintal from the average consumption during non-fasting days.”
The price increment following the fasting season is visible from the experience of Tewodros Yilma, a wholesale supplier of fish from his shop around the Amanuel Cathedral in the Merkato area.
A kilogram of Koroso (Nile tilapia) used to cost 32Br, whereas Ambaza (catfish) and Duba (common carp) were sold for 40 Br and five Birr, respectively, before Lent. The prices for Koroso, Ambaza and Duba have now escalated to 46 Br, 64 Br and 18 Br. He sells more than a thousand kilos of fish, predominantly Koroso and Ambaza every day. Koroso is the most widely available type in the market.
Tsignesh avails to her customers Koroso and Ambaza dishes. Her dishes include tibs (whole-roasted fish), lebleb (chopped and lightly roasted fish), dulet and kitfo (both made from fish minced to varying degrees) and asa shorba (fish soup). She charges 100 Br for tibs and 45 Br for lebleb.
She gets her fish supply mostly from Ziway in Oromia Region, but also from Hawassa and Arba Minch in the South, as well as Bahir Dar in Amhara.
Zelalem Dejene, a grocer in Hawassa, 273 km from Addis Abeba, buys fish from cooperatives at Lake Hawassa (also known as Fikir Hayik of Lake Love), paying 20 Br for five pieces, each no bigger than the palm of the hand. Come fasting season, he faces more demand than he can serve because of the shortage of supply in the lake.
According to an official data from the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), the price for a kilo of Ambaza is 17 Br in Koka, 13 Br in Zway and 25 Br in Hawassa. Nech asa (white fish) is sold for 75 Br in Chamo.
Data from the Ministry also indicates that Lake Ziway – 434sqkm wide, with an estimated potential of 3,010tns of fish in 2012/13 – actually yielded only 17pc out of the total 28,952tns produced throughout Ethiopia during the year. Lake Tana, 3,600sqkm wide, with the potential for 12,500tns, yielded 9,264tns.
Koroso accounted for 75pc of the fish production in the 2012/13 fiscal year. It is followed by Ambaza, with 12pc. Other types of fish account for 13pc. The total market value of the fish in 2012/13 was 489.8 million Br.
Ethiopia’s annual fish production potential currently stands at 46,530tns, whereas the actual production in 2012/13 was only 28,952tns. Seventy-five percent of these fish came from lakes, 14pc from reservoirs and 11pc from rivers. It shows a 17pc increase from the previous year, 2011/12, when total fish production was 24,000tns, according to the MoA.
The country has 180 species of fish, of which 40 are endemic. The actual production is far below the potential, however, resulting in a per capita fish consumption of 0.3 kg annually in 2012/13. The per capita consumption is eight kilograms for Africa and 16kg for the rest of the world, according to data obtained from the Ethiopian Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences Association (EFASA). Oromia takes the largest regional share of fish production, with 37pc in 2012/13, while Amhara and the Southern regions follow with 31pc and 29pc, respectively.
Tsiginesh’s Hotel, together with five other fish shops in Atkilt Tera – the largest vegetable and fruit market in Addis Abeba – buy the fish from cooperatives in Ziway and Koka, as well as from individuals that bring fish from Arba Minch and Bahir Dar.
Tewodros, the wholesaler, buys fish from cooperatives and individual fishermen in Bahir Dar, Gondar (in the Amhara Region, 658 km from Addis Abeba), Ziway and Fincha’a (in the Horo Gudru Zone of the Oromia Region).
He buys fish shortly after they are caught. The fish are kept in refrigerators by the cooperatives before being sold.
In the early morning of Tuesday, the Atkilt Tera area was busy and bustling with hotel and restaurant owners, distributors and other traders buying fish from distributors. The Fish Production & Marketing Enterprise – a distributor with 14 branches in Addis Abeba – has seen a sales growth at its Atkilt Tera branch, from two quintals before Lent to eight quintals within the first three days of the fasting period.
Most of the traders at Atkilt Tera have shops with two to six chest freezers. The early morning hours are when they are at their busiest. They receive fresh or frozen fish (the former from lakes close to Addis Abeba, such as Ziway), sometimes transported with ice, usually arriving in Addis Abeba early morning. They have contractual arrangements with agents or fishing cooperatives in the production area and rent space in regular trucks with fish being just one part of a larger load. Although some traders may buy fish filleted from the source, most of the fish is filleted on arrival in Addis Abeba for direct sale to consumers or smaller traders. These traders also sell to small hotels and supermarkets.
One of the cooperatives operating in the Oromia Region is the Abdi Boru Fish Cooperative, located near Lake Fincha’a in the Horo Gudru Zone of Oromia Region. The cooperative was established in 2005, but had not been performing well in previous years. Two years back, it was reorganised with 19 members. It sells a kilo of fish for 10 Br at the lake to wholesalers who transport it to Addis Abeba. They cost an additional one Birr per kilo if the buyer wants them to be cleaned and eviscerated.
Shuka Feyera, the chairperson of the cooperative, expects more intervention from the government if the market is to grow big enough to benefit Ethiopia.
“You do not see any concerted effort on the part of the government to encourage the sector,” he complained. “We do it on our own without much support.”
Tsiginesh, Tewodros and others in the fish business agree with Shuka that proper care has not been given to the sector.
“Unless measures are taken to increase production, meeting the demands of consumers will be no less than a nightmare,” Tewodros warns.
For Hussein Abegaz, senior fish Expert at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), the main challenge in propping up the sector lies in water bodies near markets being unfairly exploited.
“The Ministry is working on a mechanism for preservation and appropriate fishing in every water body,” he told Fortune.
The program, which is being carried out this year, will incorporate forming a committee from the fishermen and women, kebele administrators and renowned individuals.
Although per capita consumption of fish is very low in Ethiopia, there is steady growth in demand, as a result of the population increase, rising incomes and a shift in preferences, according to a study conducted by the MoA in 2012/13.
“But the size of the fish is shrinking every year, because there is nothing done for the lake so far to create favourable condition for fish production,” grumbles Zelalem, the grocery owner in Hawassa.
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