The potential of fishing in South Sudan

The potential of fishing in South Sudan

14/08/2012

A fisherman’s camp on the banks of the White Nile River in South Sudan. A group are returning home for lunch, after a few hours of work. It’s the peak season and they have quite a haul. In their nets are Claris catfish and a 200kg Nile perch. It’s fishing in its simplest form – a row boat, gill nets and a river teeming with fish. The leader, Paul Modi, was once a cattle herder who turned to fishing almost 30 years ago. He has no regrets.

“This activity of fisheries is very good because he earns a living from it,” a translator explains. “Part of the money he uses in agriculture and part of the money he takes to the children to school. He’s got eight children. All of them are in school except one who is in the cattle camp.”

Catching the fish is relatively easy. It’s after they’re caught that the difficulties arise. South Sudanese fishermen like Paul Modi face a number of challenges every day. There’s nowhere to store the fish. Nor is there fast refrigerated transport to take it to market. With temperatures hovering around 40 degrees Celsius, nothing stays fresh for long. Mr Modi isn’t able to count the losses.

But he says, “There’s a lot. If you arrive here at 8, you’ll find so many fish spoilt here in the dock here. They’re just thrown in the river.” His men borrow our motor boat to take their 200kg Nile perch downriver to market in the nearest town, Terekeka. There’s no ice. They gun the engine and pray it makes the 15 minute journey. Usually they use a row boat. They have little choice.

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“The fish traders - they didn’t come here,” Paul Modi says. “There is no way to come. They need them to take it from here to Terekeka market.” At Terekeka market – a basic structure with clouds of flies – there are traders who carry the fish away in burlap sacks on motorcycles. Of the 50-100 kilograms each of them carries, only around 60 percent makes the 40-minute journey to Juba and its restaurants unspoilt.

They’re also stopped many times along the route by checkpoints, demanding tax. “This taxation is affecting income,” Paul Modi says. “When they go up to the market then the profit is very small. These fish traders when they come here they purchase the fish at lower prices because they’re crying that if they purchase at a higher price, on the way, they’re going to pay taxes, so they will make no profit.”

FAO is working with Mr Modi and other fishermen in South Sudan to address the challenges, as well as teaching them how to grow vegetables and crops, to see them through the lean season, when catches are down. It’s trained thousands to handle and process the fish better, so they don’t spoil. They’ve learned to salt, smoke and sun-dry. FAO has also taught them to deep-fry and make fish oil.

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“Now they can preserve their fish in a good way. There are not as many losses as before,” the translator explains. At market, the rewards are rich. A Nile perch, for example, sells at around 40 South Sudanese pounds a kilo. Mr Modi’s 200 kg monster could fetch the equivalent of 2 000 USD in total. It’s a pretty penny in a country where the average income is less than 200 USD a month. Paul Modi smiles and says, “The family’s very happy.”

South Sudan is a cattle-dominated economy. In the past, fishermen were shunned and scorned by other tribes. They couldn’t marry outside the community and were the subject of derisive songs. The industry attracted little investment. But after a long campaign, attitudes are changing. FAO says if fully developed, fishing could give 80 000 South Sudanese employment and enough food to eat. The export earnings potential is also high. In all, FAO says, fisheries could make South Sudan an estimated half a billion USD a year.

Paul Modi says he’s happy to recommend it. “As you can see now, this Mundari tribe, now they are turning for the fishing activities,” he says. “They are buying their nets and they have the boats and you can see the children. Now they are eating. This is food security.”