This is how covid-19 has shaken the Kenyan fishing sector | On the front line | future planet

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This is how covid-19 has shaken the Kenyan fishing sector | On the front line | future planet
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Fishing is the basis of subsistence and well-being for millions of people around the world. Before the pandemic, world production reached record numbers. If we jump ahead to 2021, we see that the health crisis significantly altered the sector, increasing vulnerability and highlighting the weaknesses of these systems both locally and internationally.

This task keeps more than 23,000 fishermen in Kenya who catch more than 16,000 tons a year; this is a key livelihood that provides income and animal protein to around 70% of coastal communities.

The goal of our last study was to assess the impact of covid-19 on the Kenyan fishing industry and find out how producers and traders have coped. We interviewed members of five villages to learn about the effect of the pandemic on markets, jobs, food security and well-being, and what those people did in response.

We discovered that fishermen, vendors and coastal towns had been facing serious problems of subsistence and food security. The worst consequences were those derived from the restrictions on movement imposed by the Government. Our findings highlight the effects of these and are for us to take note of as the pandemic continues to rage.

Imposed restrictions

The Kenyan government adopted more than 120 measures to contain covid-19, including curfews and travel bans and public gatherings; these lasted from March 2020 to November 2021.

In the five populations studied, the communities were subject to various rules of social distancing, as well as limitations on movement and permanence on public roads. Only a certain number of people could travel on ships and vehicles, and people were asked to keep non-essential social interactions to a minimum. Stores and markets were required to maintain physical distance, and business hours were shortened. Meetings were prohibited. Traders and shippers encountered difficulties such as market access and long waits for cross-border freight in East Africa.

This Kenyan sector supports more than 23,000 fishermen who catch more than 16,000 tons a year; this is a key livelihood for 70% of coastal communities

We saw that covid-19 had seriously affected the food security of all the villages, although some people had it worse than others. All households declared that they ate less (because they reduced portions or skipped meals) and worse (by consuming less meat and vegetables, and eating mainly basic carbohydrates, such as ugali, made with cornmeal).

There was food in the stores, but the interviewees had run out of income and could not afford to buy it. Before the coronavirus crisis, the average daily salary of a fisherman was around eight euros. During the pandemic, it was cut in half, because they spent less time fishing. Several lost their jobs or knew others who had lost their jobs.

In general, the demand for fish fell sharply by more than 50%, and the prices of many species fell, especially those important for the hotel, restaurant and catering industry. The collapse in demand, and in some cases the fall in prices, paralyzed or reduced the activity of many fleets, whose work was no longer profitable. The fact that suppliers of ice, tackle or bait stopped trusting them with the materials also affected them.

Before the coronavirus crisis, the average daily salary of a fisherman was around eight euros. During the pandemic, it was cut in half

Covid-19 also disrupted communication and connections with other colleagues, merchants, and consumers. Furthermore, it profoundly altered the functioning of the local market at the landing points and within the communities, as well as the connections with markets further afield. In some, people who had lost their informal employment – ​​for example, in the tourism sector, hit hard by the pandemic – returned to fishing, although it became a very uncertain job.

We still don’t know how long the health crisis will last and how severe it will be, but a prolonged market downturn can be expected even after the current restrictions are lifted or relaxed.

response strategies

To cushion the effects on vulnerable communities, such as those engaged in fishing and processing of these products, the Government of Kenya gave direct financial aid, such as cash subsidies through mobile transfers, food relief and tax relief. However, many of the people we spoke to had had very different experiences of receiving assistance and support.

Some vendors received a small part of the aid in the form of food. Several community leaders participated in the organization of donations from other entities to provide the fishermen with a unique food aid package containing cornmeal, beans, sugar and soap. In other cases there were delays, confusion, or no support. Several people stated that although they had heard about government or other aid, they had not received it, even after signing up.

Most households faced the COVID-19 crisis by reducing the variety and quality of the food they ate to save money. People stopped buying in bulk, spent whatever savings they had, borrowed money (when the community still had enough money to lend to its members), or directly traded fish for other products. Neither strategy could hold for long.

Next steps for policy makers

Before the pandemic, fishing was considered one of the fastest growing sectors, but in the last two years, the Kenyan economy was deprived of approximately 1.4 million euros of contribution to GDP (28.6% less), and lost 7,000 jobs in the sector compared to 2019. health crisis and the efforts to contain it have been devastating.

Our study reveals that all phases of the fishery supply chain – from capture to distribution to consumption – may have been disrupted. Only by protecting each phase can human consumption be guaranteed. Regulations that negatively affect these livelihoods have to be accompanied by measures to support the people (such as food aid), and they must reach the people in a timely manner and be easily accessible.

Treating small-scale fishing as an essential service (for example, by exempting it from curfew) and facilitating forms of communication and trade that do not involve large concentrations of people will help maintain this livelihood. Financial, human and technical resources must be used to promote recovery and, at the same time, launch vaccination programs efficiently and responsibly reopen the economy to national and international markets.

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