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M. Hara
Fish Marketing Officer
andB.J. Mkoko
Chief Fisheries Officer


The introduction of nylon nets and outboard engines in the Malawi fish industry resulted in rapid development of the nation's capture fisheries in the sixties. Also, the increase and improvement of road communications has greatly opened up marketing possibilities for fish. But despite this, the post-harvest sector has essentially remained underdeveloped because emphasis has so far been largely on production rather than consumption. As a result, marketing has been a neglected area of the industry so much so that marketing facilities and services remain rudimentary. But if the goal of production is consumption, then marketing is indispensable to the industry. The adoption of a marketing orientation by the industry would provide possible solutions in the problem areas of lack of standardization, product waste, inappropriate products, uninformed consumers, skewed distribution and the scarce resource. For this orientation to come about, the government would have to play the role of facilitator. In this context, it should provide marketing facilities and services, establish and enforce product standards and create the institutional capacity for policy formulation and implementation. The extent to which marketing can reduce the discrepancy between consumer demand and supply, would make it the appropriate medium in which to allocate this increasingly scarce resource.


La pêche au Malawi a eu un développement accéléré dans les années 60 grâce à l'introduction de filets en nylon et de moteurs hors-bord. Aujourd'hui, le poisson couvre 70 pourcent de l'approvisionnement et l'amélioration du réseau routier a ouvert beaucoup de nouvelles possibilités d'écoulement du poisson. Malgré cela, le secteur après la capture est resté essentiellement sous-développé à cause de l'importance donnée à la production au détriment de la consommation. Par conséquent, le volet commercialisation de l'industrie de la pêche a été négligé à tel point que les installations et les services sont restés rudimentaires. Mais, si le but de la production est la consommation, la commercialisation est alors une composante indispensable de l'industrie de la pêche. L'adoption par cette industrie d'une orientation vers la commercialisation conduirait à des possibles solutions aux problèmes de manque de standardisation, de pertes, de produits inappropriés, de non-information des consommateurs, de biais dans la distribution, et d'utilisation non-rationnelle des rares ressources. Pour promouvoir cette orientation, le gouvernement doit jouer un rôle en fournissant des installations et des services, en établissant et faisant respecter des normes, et en créant la capacité institutionnelle nécessaire pour la formulation et l'exécution de politiques cohérentes de l'exploitation des ressources. La commercialisation peut ainsi contribuer d'une manière significative à la réduction du fossé entre l'offre et la demande. Elle deviendrait alors un intermédiaire efficace dans la distribution de cette resource de plus en plus rare.


Malawi, a landlocked country, has 20% of its total surface area composed of lakes, rivers, swamps and dams. These water bodies have relatively large fish resources which yield about 70 000 t/year. Though fish resources contribute an estimated 4% of the country's gross domestic products, its significance lies in the fact that it provides 70% of the animal protein in the diet of the people and that it is a source of employment and income, particularly for rural populations.

With the introduction of nylon nets and outboard engines in the early sixties, the capture sector of Malawi fish industry experienced rapid development with annual yields increasing from 50 000 to a stable 70 000 t. This rapid development in the harvest sector had been made possible through the help of the government in two main ways:

  1. Establishment of boatyards at Mpwepwe and Salima with branches all along the lake which sell nets, engines, spares and boats

  2. Provision of credit facilities for fishermen.

Improved and increased road communications in the last two decades have opened up rural hinterland markets resulting in an enormous increase in marketing possibilities for fish. It is now common therefore to find fish being sold in areas very distant from their sources.

Apart from road improvements, the post-harvest sector has largely been ignored up till now and is still regarded simply as part of the production process. Two major factors have hindered the development of marketing in the industry:

  1. The existing excess demand for fish. Because fish is traded in sellers' markets, with their associated characteristics of scarcity, limited price competition, monopoly or cartel conditions, tied distribution systems and low rates of product change or differentiation, an effort is made to improve the existing marketing system since it is felt that the incentive to buy comes from the consumer.

  2. The role played by the middlemen has not yet been fully appreciated by the government. Willing to risk their savings to make a living from fish trading, these people fill a gap which is of vital importance to the whole industry. To start and maintain such difficult and risky businesses, these private entrepreneurs possess the initiative, energy and skill not forthcoming from the State. But the State apparatus has not so far encouraged development of the sector and has left the middleman to evolve on his own. Thus marketing infrastructure and services have lagged behind.

The ultimate aim of production is consumption, but this cannot be achieved without a proper and functioning marketing system. The two activities depend on each other and must go hand in hand.


Marketing activities create time, place and possession utilities, i.e., they ensure that the product reaches the ultimate consumer so that the producer's efforts are rewarded.

Marketing ensures that consumption as goal of production becomes reality and is achieved effectively.

While other products can be disposed of gradually, a fisherman or trader cannot wait too long, otherwise his highly perishable product will be spoiled. Marketing ensures that the product reaches the consumer in edible condition.

Marketing bridges the gap between the economies of rural fishing communities and those of more affluent urban communities.

It provides employment to large numbers of processors and traders.

Thus while fish is important as a source of food, marketing ensures that this contribution becomes a reality.


In Malawi, the post-harvest sector is still underdeveloped. As a result, losses in this sector are estimated to be as high as 30% during some rainy seasons. These stem from the following discernible factors; poor and inadequate processing and storage facilities, distribution problems and institutional problems.

3.1 Poor and Inadequate Facilities

3.1.1 Preservation

Ice exists in only two districts along the entire lake (Mangochi and Salima). Furthermore, most fishing vessels in use are too small to carry ice on board, and when the fish is caught it easily spoils. Thus high quality raw material for processing or preservation is lacking from the outset.

In 1982, use of actellic (pirimiphos methyl) on small species of fish (Haplochromis and Lethrinops) was approved by the FAO Codex Alimentarius Committee. This chemical has helped enormously to reduce losses of blowfly larvae infestation, especially in the rainy season. Its use on bigger species of fish was not approved, as it was found that the thick muscles of these fish absorbed higher residues than the legal limit (5 mg/kg). More work using lower concentrations is needed in this area.

3.1.2 Processing

An estimated 90% of the fish caught in Malawi is processed into various fish products. But processing facilities at most beaches are poor and inadequate. Although smoking kilns (Ivory Coast type) and chicken wire drying ranks had been built at some beaches for demonstration by development projects in Mangochi, Salima, Nkhotakota and Zomba districts in the eighties, open pit roasting and reed drying racks are still the most prevalent ways of processing fish. Unlike open pits, kilns are economical since they use less wood fuel, smoke larger quantities at once and also produce uniform quality products.

Fish is most commonly dried on reed drying racks, and on grass spread on the ground. Unlike wire racks, these act as breathing grounds for insects, they give lower rates of drying and can become dirty and unhygienic from the unwashable oils and fish scales that clog them up.

Two reasons can be attributed to the failure of processors to adopt these improved methods of processing;

  1. Chicken wire is very expensive and is easily stolen from racks

  2. Most processors are also middlemen and thus migratory. Some are seasonal moving between agricultural activities and fish trading. There is no justification therefore for them to build something that they might use once or only a few times a year, together with the fact that they have no permanent abode.

3.1.3 Packaging

Packaging for transportation is usually by means of reed or bamboo baskets and polythene or gunny sacks. Apart from the physical losses that result from crushing, these do not protect fish from contamination from other goods being transported together with the fish on public buses or lorries which form the most common mode of transportation. Storage facilities are usually not available at most beaches and markets.

3.1.4 Retail markets

Retail market facilities are poor and inadequate, resulting in chaotic presentation and adulteration of fish and fish products. For instance, fish is sometimes displayed on sacks laid on ground and it is common to find fresh fish displayed on slabs without any ice.

3.2 Distribution Problems

This is probably the most problematic of all technical functions of the present marketing system. Since there are no special means of transporting fish, traders use bicycles, public transport (buses or train) or hitch-hike on lorries. This results in physical losses through crushing, deterioration in quality through delays and contamination. The lack of a marketing information system means that traders do not obtain the best price for their fish, since no immediate information exists on price and demand at various beaches and markets.

3.3 Institutional Problems

The Fisheries Department currently has no a marketing unit or adequate personnel to carry out work in the post-harvest sector of the industry. As a result the industry lacks marketing services.

3.3.1 Lack of product quality standards

There are no regulations governing quality and standards of fish and fishery products to be sold for human consumption, as for meat. This is evident at markets where the quality of fish is mixed. The first customers buy the best fish, while the later ones have to buy poorer quality fish. In extreme cases, spoiled fish can be seen on display without impunity. Customers must thus accept fluctuations in quality, misrepresentation and lack of guarantees. Where fish is concerned, consumer rights are not protected.

3.3.2 Lack of marketing orientation

As the industry is not oriented towards marketing, consumer demands are not being satisfied. Fish and fishery products sold at markets are not done so as a result of consumer research. Fishery products and their distribution are dependent on available means and cost of transportation, shelflife of fish and convenience of the seller. Most consumers would prefer fresh fish, but a very small percentage is offered in this form because of lack of ice. The resource is thus not being used to satisfy the unfulfilled demands of the consumer since the latter is obliged to take what is offered.

3.3.3 Lack of marketing data

There are a few marketing data and little product information. Thus marketing knowledge of the industry is poor. This makes planning of any aid or extension programmes problematical.


To improve the present marketing system, the government would have to play a major role at the macro-marketing level. This would involve creation of a fish utilization and marketing unit to provide services to the industry. These services would be: marketing research, marketing extension, data collection and analysis and establishment and enforcement of quality standards. The industry should also ensure appropriate and adequate facilities at all stages of distribution and also look into the possibilities of forming marketing associations.

4.1 Marketing Services

4.1.1 Marketing research

The present marketing system comprises numerous autonomous small-scale traders, processors and retailers who cannot do their own marketing research. It would be imperative therefore, that the unit carries out such research, even for a small fee. This should be in the areas of product development, improved processing, packaging, preservation and storage.

4.1.2 Marketing extension

The results of research could be disseminated to the industry by the unit in the form of radio programmes, film shows or publications, as is done in the Department of Agriculture.

4.1.3 Data collection and analysis

The unit should also formulate programmes for collecting and analysing marketing data as an on-going concern for monitoring and analysing the system.

4.1.4 Establishment and enforcement of quality standards

One of the most important steps in orienting the industry towards more efficient marketing, would be the establishment and enforcement of fish quality and handling standards. Consumerism does not exist in Malawi in the form that it does in developed countries. It can only take the form of legislation and smooth implementation thereafter by the government. By leading such quality consciousness campaigns and laying down minimum standards, the government would further enhance the image and value of fish, resulting in greater consumer satisfaction and better profits for the industry.

4.2 Provisions of Infrastructure

The industry requires the development of necessary infrastructure adapted to produce products that would meet the satisfaction of ultimate consumers at all levels of distribution. The main categories of infrastructure needing improvement or provision are: processing facilities at beaches; all-season roads to these facilities, transportation means other than buses and lorries, retail facilities at markets and storage facilities at both the beaches and markets.

4.3 Formation of Marketing Associations

As pointed out earlier, the present system comprises numerous autonomous channel members with limited activities, each carrying out all marketing functions independently. Probably it would be cheaper and more efficient if traders formed functional units to share functions such as transport or storage facilities. Thus the possibilities and advantages of forming marketing associations need to be carefully considered.


General economic development brings with it higher incomes, causing consumers to seek a different variety of products and make their purchases in different ways. Consumers demand more services and better retail institutions. They are also increasingly prepared to pay for such improvements. The Malawi fish industry has so far not really taken advantage of the economic development of the country and the increased earning power of most consumers. Also, it is now widely believed that value from improved marketing increases faster than that from increased production. The result of improved marketing, thus, would be increased total earnings for the industry from the present production capacity. As Kaynak (1986) stipulates, “Marketing is a system discipline based on generalized theoretical concepts and so can be taught”. In this context, marketing can change the entire tone of the existing fish marketing system without any change in methods of production, distribution or income by development of higher economic behaviour, integrity or product reliability.

In the climate of stagnant fish production against an ever-increasing population, as the case is in Malawi, marketing seems to offer the best option for increasing or maintaining the present per capita consumption and increasing earnings for operators in the marketing chain by making the available product work harder. More importantly, it would improve the efficiency of the allocation of this increasingly scarce resource.


Kaynak, E. 1986. Marketing and Economic Development (New York: Praeger) pp. 413–18.


Hara, M.M. 1989. Role of Marketing in the Malawi Fish industry: A study of Nkhotakota and its Hinterland (Leeds: Sping and Tharkrey)

Mkoko B.J. 1988. Measures to improve the utilization and marketing of fish in Malawi. Paper prepared for: Measures for improving the utilization and marketing of fish in Eastern and Southern Africa. Technical Publication JEFAD/AMS/88/53. ECA/FAO, December 1988.

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