A report prepared by the GOM/FAO/UNDP Chambo Fisheries Research Project



FI: DP/MLW/86/013, Field document 16, March 1992


M. Mdaihli, M.M. Hara & M.C. Banda

For bibliographic purposes this document should be cited as follows:

Mdaihli, M., M.M. Hara and M.C. Banda. 1992 Fish Marketing in Lake Malombe, the Upper Shire River and the south-east arm of Lake Malawi. GOM/UNDP/FAO Chambo Fisheries Research Project, Malawi. FI:DP/MLW/86/013, Field Document 16: 46p.

This report was prepared during the course of the Chambo Fisheries Research project. The conclusions and recommendations given in the report are those considered appropriate at the time of its preparation. They may be modified in the light of further knowledge gained at subsequent stages of the project.

The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this document do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations concerning the legal or constitutional status of any country, territory or sea area, or concerning the delimination of frontiers.

Map showing the project's working area and statistical divisions (minor strata).


The autors thank Mr. David S. Liao, FAO Fish Marketing Consultant, for preparing the first draft of the questionnaire, which was used in the fish marketing survey (traditional sector of the fishery) and Dr. Patricia A. Haggerty, FAO Nutrition Consultant for her professional advice during the review of the questionnaire.

We would like to express our sincere thanks to the Technical Assistants of the Fisheries Department Mangochi and Monkey Bay Mr. J. Phiri, Mr. Mpezeni, Mr. Thindwa, Mr. Mtonga, Mr. Bezai, Mr. Kazuzueni, Mr. Simon, Mr. Gideon, Mr. Bowa and Mr. Mhoni, who collected the data and carried out the interviews in an excellent manner.

Further, we very much appreciated the willingness of the fish traders to participate in the survey.

Mangochi, Malawi, March 1992

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Map of the project area
Glossary of terms



2.1   Fish trader surveys

2.1.1   Traditional fishery

2.1.2   Semi-industrial fishery

2.1.3   Industrial fishery

2.2   Price data collection


3.1   Description of the marketing network

3.1.1   Fish trader density

3.1.2   Main species traded and methods of fish processing

3.1.3   Marketing channels

3.1.4   Fish distribution patterns

3.1.5   Seasonality of operation

3.1.6   Fish prices

3.2   Socioeconomic characteristics of fish traders- with special regard to gender aspects

3.2.1   Fish trader characteristics

3.2.2   Socioeconomic background

3.2.3   Gender specific target species

3.2.4   Ownership of equipment   Fishing equipment   Fish processing equipment   Fish transport equipment

3.2.5   Working capital

3.2.6   Profits

3.2.7   Returns

3.2.8   Fish traders' relationship to fishermen

3.3   Marketing problems


4.1   Fish trading in the semi-industrial sector

4.1.1   General description

4.1.2   Profits

4.1.3   Problems

4.2   Maldeco's fish distribution system

4.2.1   General description

4.2.2   Profits

4.2.3   Problems





Figure 1:   Main target species of fish traders, by minor stratum

Figure 2:   Proportion of traders who process the fish and traders who trade fresh fish, by minor stratum

Figure 3:   Main marketing channels

Figure 4:   Proportion of traders selling outside the project area, by minor stratum

Figure 5:   Mean distances to destinations outside the project area, by minor stratum

Figure 6:   Main transport means, by minor stratum

Figure 7:   Seasonality of operation in Lake Malombe

Figure 8:   Seasonality of operation in the Upper Shire

Figure 9:   Seasonality of operation in the south-east arm of Lake Malawi

Figure 10:   Increase of Chambo beach prices, 1990–1991

Figure 11:   Beach price increases for Kambuzi, Usipa, Utaka and Kampango

Figure 12:   Proportion of female fish traders, by minor stratum

Figure 13:   Involvement of fishermen's wives in fish processing, by minor stratum

Figure 14:   Types of traders, by minor stratum

Figure 15:   Education of fish traders

Figure 16a:   Previous occupation of male fish traders

Figure 16b:   Previous occupation of female fish traders

Figure 17:   Ownership of fishing equipment in the south-east arm of Lake Malawi

Figure 18:   Ownership of fish processing equipment, by minor stratum

Figure 19:   Value of fish processing equipment, grouped into classes, by male and female fish traders

Figure 20:   Ownership of fish transport equipment, by minor stratum

Figure 21:   Mean working capital, by minor stratum

Figure 22:   Working capital classes, by male and female fish traders

Figure 23:   Mean profit per fish trading trip, by minor stratum

Figure 24:   Profit classes, by male and female fish traders

Figure 25a:   Proportion of fish traders who always buy from the same fisherman entrepreneurs

Figure 25b:   Fish traders' relationship to fisherman entrepreneurs

Figure 26:   Main problems of fish traders

Figure 27:   Comparison Chambo demand - Chambo supply

Figure 28:   Comparison Kambuzi demand - Kambuzi supply

Figure 29:   Proportion of different costs; for an average fish trading trip


Table 1:   Fish trader density, by minor stratum

Table 2:   Proportion of Chambo sold to different destinations

Table 3:   Proportion of Kambuzi sold to different destinations

Table 4:   Average duration of fish trading transactions, Lake Malombe (days)

Table 5:   Average duration of fish trading transactions, Upper Shire River (days)

Table 6:   Average duration of fish trading transactions, south-east arm of Lake Malawi

Table 7:   Additional occupation of fish traders

Table 8:   Target species, by male and female fish traders

Table 9:   Proportion of fish traders incurring a loss in their most recent fish trading trip

Table 10:   Annual costs and earnings of a trader without any equipment in multi-species trade

Table 11:   Annual costs and earnings of a trader equipped with a drying rack and one basket trading Utaka

Table 12:   Annual costs and earnings of a trader equipped with a bicycle in multi-species trade

Table 13:   Annual costs and earnings for a trader equipped with a pick-up trading fresh Chambo

Table 14:   Returns on variable costs for: Chambo, Kambuzi Usipa and Utaka


Local names Scientific names
ChamboOreochromis spp.
Chisawasawademersal haplochromine cichlids, caught off-shore by trawlers
Kambuzidemersal haplochromine cichlids, caught in-shore by traditional fishermen
KampangoBagrus meridionalis
Mbabademersal haplochromine cichlids, larger species, caught in-shore by traditional fishermen
MlambaClariid catfish
UsipaEngraulicypris sardella
UtakaCopadichromis spp.
Chambo seine neta large beach seine net with a minimum legal mesh size of 76mm in Lake Malombe and 90mm in the Upper Shire and Lake Malawi, targetted on Chambo
Chirimila net-open-water seine net; operated usually by one plank boat and two dugout canoes; target species are Usipa and Utaka
Kambuzi seine neta small meshed beach seine net with a legal headline length not exceeding 100m in Lake Malombe and the Upper Shire and 150m in Lake Malawi, targetted on Kambuzi
Nkacha netopen-water seine net operated usually by two plank boats; in construction, size and mesh size similar to the Kambuzi seine net, targetted on Kambuzi
Traditional fishermenuse plank boats and dugout canoes to operate mainly Chambo seine nets, Kambuzi seine nets, gillnets, Nkacha nets, Chirimila nets; main target species are Chambo, Kambuzi, Usipa, Utaka; operate mainly for commercial purposes
Semi-industrial fishermen-use trawlers and pair trawlers to operate bottom trawls; target species is Chisawasawa; operate for commercial purposes
Industrial fishery-represented by the commercial fishing company Maldeco, uses ring nets, midwater trawls and bottom trawls; target species are Chambo and Chisawasawa
Fisherman entrepreneurthe head of the fishing integrated enterprise; owns fishing gear and/or fishing craft; might be actively involved in the actual operation of catching fish or might supervise the operation from the beach
Fishing integrated enterpriseset of interrelated fishing economic units and non-fisheries income earning activities, which are managed by the members of a fisherman entrepreneur's household and hired labourers
Fish tradersall people who buy and sell fish for commercial purposes, including fishermen who sell the catch at other places than the beach where they land
Matolalocal name for private commercial transport


FE- Fisherman entrepreneur
LM- Lake Malombe
Maldeco- Malawi Development Corporation
MK- Malawian Kwacha, US$ 1=MK 2.70 at the time of the survey
MS- Minor stratum
SEA- South-east arm of Lake Malawi
US- Upper Shire River


The traditional sector of the fishery provides income earning opportunities for more than 3000 fish traders. The competition between fish traders is high, especially in Lake Malombe. A large proportion of the traders' activities is targetted on the smaller food fish such as Kambuzi, Utaka and Usipa, which is usually dried or smoked before sale. Icing or salting is not common. The marketing network is very complex and involves many people at different stages. Fish traders use different marketing channels and are, in many cases, not bound to a single one. Half of the fish traders reside outside the project area. Main target destinations are Liwonde, Machinga, Zomba, Limbe Blantyre, Chiradzulu, Thyolo and Mulanje in the southern part of Malawi, Ntcheu, Dedza, Mchinji, Lilongwe in the Central region and Mzimba, Nkhata Bay, Mzuzu, Rumphi and even Karonga in the north. Matola and public transport are the most common transport means, only a few traders own bicycles (7%), motor bikes (0.6%) or pick-ups (2%). October is the month with the highest trading activity level. Some 15% of the fish traders are women. The majority (61%) of them are female heads of households. Many fish traders, male as well as female, own fish processing equipment, worth often less than MK100. The working capital of traders ranges between less than MK100 and more than MK2000. The latter group consists mainly of male traders. Working capital and profit from fish trading is highest in MS2.2, the main Chambo catching area. Fixed business relationships between fish traders and fishermen are established in some parts of the project region. Female fish traders are often related to the fishermen they buy fish from. A lack of fish and capital are the major constraints for fish traders from the traditional sector of the fishery, followed by high buying prices and transport problems. Post harvetst losses do not appear as major problem. A high proportion of fish traders can no longer satisfy their demand for Chambo.

The marketing network of the semi-industrial sector of the fishery is less complex than in the traditional fishery. The main part of the fish is traded by some 100 wholesalers, who book the catch in advance and appear with own or hired pick-ups at landing time on the beach. They load their pick-ups, mainly with Chisawasa, add ice and transport the fish to town markets, mainly to Limbe, where they sell it, preferably wholesale, to other fish traders. A smaller part of the catch of the semi-industrial fishermen is sold to traders, who process the fish on drying racks located near the landing site and sell it, preferably wholesale as well, to customers or other traders. Due to scarcity of fish the fishermen are in the position to choose the traders. Traders are therefore very much inclined to maintain a good personal relationship to fishermen.

The industrial fishing company Maldeco sells 60% of the catch through its own fish distribution system. The remaining part is sold either by registered fish traders (35%) or on retail basis to small-scale traders or customers.