Fish Consumption Picks Up

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK It is called food for the brain because it is believed that people who eat it become mentally fit and healthy. Fish, traditionally known as “Oshi” in Oshiwambo is slowly but surely becoming part and parcel of a daily diet for many Namibians. Unlike in the past, the mushrooming of several fish farming projects that produce the fresh fish species of Tilapia is fast becoming a household activity for people in the rural areas. According to the Namibia Fish Consumption Trust (NFCT), which was set up in 1994, the trend has been that Namibians are gradually incorporating fish into their meals. “While some people have never even seen a fish in the rural areas, others are involved in fish farming after understanding the nutritional value of eating fish,” said Kaiire Kandjavera, General Manager of the Namibia Fish Consumption Trust based in Swakopmund. Unlike meat, which has the danger of giving one the painful gout condition, fish is a good source of protein which also helps in the reduction of cholesterol, apart from other health benefits. It is against this background that the NFCT has been encouraging more Namibians to eat fish through awareness campaigns countrywide. Kandjavera said in a recent interview with New Era that only with aggressive marketing promotions coupled with fish farm projects can Namibians be lured into becoming regular fish eaters. “By setting up distribution fish points, we are bringing fish to the people, where there’s infrastructure for people to buy fish at reasonable prices,” said Kandja-vera. In the meantime, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is also planning to encourage the NFCT to help sell the fish produce of farmers in rural areas. This is already happening at Omahenene fish farm in the north of the country. Currently, the trust has sold 121 tonnes of fish at the three distribution points in Ondangwa, Ongwediva and Rundu. Plans are in place to spread out to other parts of the country this year. However, despite this changing scenario, the level of fish consumption five years ago was estimated at a relatively low rate of 10 kg of fish per person every year. This was considered far less compared to the levels of fish consumption found in other major fish producing regions like Asia and the Nordic countries where fish consumption was in the range of 20-30 kg and for Japan around 60 kg per person annually. The low level of fish consumption at the time was attributed to the uninhabited status of the coastline, the excellent Namibian beef and the unavailability of fresh fish on local markets. Hence, the NFCT and the Fish for Life awareness campaigns aggressively looked at motivating people to eat fish. Quite interestingly, statistics are that the country is exporting 98 percent of its fish to Europe, Asia and Africa. This translates into an estimated 600 000 metric tonnes of fish. This ultimately means that Namibian fish has become part of menus on dinner tables all over the world. The country’s hake is exported to Europe, Orange Roughy to the United States, Tuna and Rock Lobster to Japan and Horse Mackerel to West Africa. This leaves a very low percentage of fish to be consumed locally. However, over the years fishing companies are establishing themselves in the local market like Etale and Corvima Fishing in Walvis Bay. Domestic fish consumption has been picking up steadily over the years, largely due to the concerted countrywide promotional drive by government and the Namibia Fish Consumption Promotion Trust. Yet the question remains – how affordable and accessible are fish distribution points to the public? Board chairman of the NFCT David Nuyoma says efforts are being made to bring the fish selling points to the people, adding that the demand is high. Although there are only three distribution points under the trust, Nuyoma said more points would be set up this year. Yet it is evident that whilst this drive gets underway this year, there are still villagers in remote areas who have to travel long distances to buy fish in nearby towns. Accessibility is therefore one challenge that the trust aims to tackle. Nuyoma is further of the opinion that fish prices are not that high when compared to other meat products. “Horse Mackerel which is the most common fish is cheap at N$7 per kg, it’s just the deep sea fish like Orange Roughy that would cost more because of the complicated way in which such species are caught out in the deep sea.” Generally, Namibians perceive fish to be expensive because they tend to buy the more costly types like Orange Roughy, Hake and Kingklip instead of the cheaper Horse Mackerel and Alfonsino. Furthermore, such fish is costly due to the overall global market prices where the export demand is high for specific species like Orange Roughy because of competition. Looking at fish prices at the Nova Diaz Retailer/Wholesale in Okuryangava, Alfonsino/Reds sells for N$5,60 per kg, Horse Mackerel N$5,81 per kilo, and the more costly fish like Sole sells for N$39,11 per kg. Manager of the Nova Diaz outlet in Katutura Michael Druker is pleased with the good sales so far, attributing it to the fact that Namibians are gradually seeing the importance of buying and eating fish.