4. Socio-economic evaluation of fermented fish

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4.1 Volume
4.2 Price structure
4.3 Prevention of losses
4.4 Value
4.5 Generation of employment
4.6 Capital investment
4.7 Use of technology
4.8 Role in domestic and international trade


4.1 Volume

The quantity of fish that is processed into fermented products in any particular country is influenced by the following factors:

(i) the food habits of the people;
(ii) market demand (national and international).

In certain countries, a large number of people are engaged in cured fish production mainly because of a ready domestic market or high demand for the product outside the country and, therefore, a flourishing export potential. Table 7 shows domestic fish supply and prices.

(a) Burundi: It was observed that the annual fish production is about 17,000 t of which ndagala constitutes nearly 80 percent. Less than 30 percent is eaten fresh especially in Bujumbura and major landing towns.

About 70 percent (12,000 t) of the annual landed catch is converted into sun-dried products. Due to the high demand for fish and low domestic production, nearly 200 t of fish consisting mainly of dried salted fish are imported annually to meet the shortfall.

(b) Chad: The total annual fish production in Chad is estimated at 110,000 I. As much as 52,000 t (47 percent) is processed into partially fermented, sun-dried fish.

About 60 percent of the product is exported to Nigeria where there is a ready market. Some quantities are also exported to Cameroon. As a result of the civil strife and poor road transport network, distribution of fishery products within the country is very difficult.

(c) Côte d'Ivoire: The annual production of fresh or frozen fish is about 170,000 t of which 35 percent is consumed fresh while 50 percent is smoked. Only about 10 percent of the total fish supply is eaten as salted, dried and fermented products. The low level of fermented fish consumption is due to its usage as a condiment. Most of the fermented fishery products are consumed locally especially in the rural communities. However, small quantities are exported to Burkina Faso.

(d) The Gambia: About 50 percent of the annual fish production in the Gambia is processed into salted, partially fermented and dried products mainly for export to Cole d'Ivoire, Ghana and Mali. Gambians, however, prefer guedj, a fermented semi-dry product. Due to the large external market available to processors of dry fermented fish, the price of the product on the local market is high compared to other cured fishery products.

(e) Ghana: About 15 percent of the total annual fish production of 350,000 t is fully or partially fermented into either dried or salted dried products for the local market. The product is used as food fish and as condiment in local dishes particularly in the rural communities where there are no cold storage facilities. Fermented fishery products are a delicacy among the Akans of southern Ghana. Salted and fermented dried fishery products are imported from the Gambia, Norway and Senegal to meet shortfalls in local supply.

Table 7. Domestic Fish Supply and Prices

Country Total Domestic Quantity of Fresh Price of Fresh Fish Price of Fermented Fish
Burundi 17,000 11,900* 0.53 1.05
Chad 80,000 38,000 1.17 4.33
Côte d'Ivoire, 169,000 17,000 0.56 1.11
The Gambia 14,000 7,000 0.38 0.63
Ghana 350,000 54,000 0.51 1.79 (tilapia)
1.28-2.31 (momone)
2.31 (stockfish)
Mali 60,000 18,000 0.83 2.53
Senegal 160,000 15,000 0.17-0.33 1.50-1.67 (guedj)
1.00-1.25 (yeet)
1.25 (tambadiang)
The Sudan 26,000 8,000 0.51 2.03 (fessiekh)
Uganda 200,000 26,000 0.30 1.43

* Sun-dried, slightly fermented

(f) Mali: Of the total annual fish production of about 60,000t as much as 30 percent (18,000 t) is processed into dried fermented fish. Fresh fish consumption in Mali is merely 10 percent compared to 60 percent for smoked fish which constitutes the largest share of the domestic fish supply.

(g) Senegal: About 15,000 t of the annual domestic supply of 150,000 t are processed into various dried and fermented fishery products. A large proportion of these is distributed locally but significant quantities representing 2-5 percent of the total volume of fish exports go to countries such as Burkina Faso, Congo, Ghana, Mali, Togo and Zaire.

(h) The Sudan: The average annual fish production in the Sudan is about 26,000 t of which nearly 8,000 t is processed into fessiekh and kejeick. Most of the fessiekh, representing about 70 percent of total output, is exported to Egypt but kejeick is consumed locally especially in the southern region.

Fessiekh production has been on the increase since 1980 (from 748 t in 1980 to 1,279 t in 1989), whereas kejeick production has been decreasing drastically (from 3,800 t in 1980 to 560 t in 1989). The decrease in production of kejeick could be attributed to the civil war in the south where the product is mainly consumed and the increase in fessiekh production could be attributed to the viable export market in Egypt.

(i) Uganda: Annual fish production is about 200,000 t but only 26,000 t are processed into dried fish. Dried fish consists mainly of dagaa and Haplochromis spp. which together supply about 10 percent of the fish in the Ugandan diet. Salted, dried and fermented fish consisting mainly of Alestes spp. and tilapia are processed in the northern and north western districts where the product is popular. Considerable quantities of this product are also exported to Kenya and Zaire.

4.2 Price structure

The marketing of fish and fishery products in many African countries is in the hands of the informal and private sectors of the economy. Fish is usually sold by auction or bargaining at the various landing centres. The pricing process can sometimes last for several hours, a situation which often leads to long delays in the sale of fish. In the absence of chilling, freezing and cold storage facilities, fresh fish prices fluctuate freely even within a day and from one fishing centre to another depending on the volume of landings. It was noted that prices are not controlled by any official agency but are influenced by supply and demand as well as the species and quality of the catch.

Fish prices are very low during the major fishing season. In Ghana, for example, processors tend to delay buying fresh fish soon after landing until late in the evening when fishermen are desperate to dispose of their catch and prices fall. The quality of such fish is often poor but it is bought and processed into smoked or fermented products.

In view of the fact that fermented fish processing and marketing are entirely artisanal activities, there is no official price control of the product. Prices are largely determined by the cost of raw fish, salt (if used), the cost of distribution, the popularity of the product in a locality and the profits of processors. Many middlemen are involved in the distribution and marketing of fermented fishery products, hence there is a profit margin added to the cost of the product at each point in the distribution chain leading to an increase in the final market price of the product. When highly-valued species of fish such as croaker, dentex, octopus, snapper, sole, Nile perch, tilapia and Alestes spp. are cured into fermented fish they are more expensive than low-value species such as anchovies, Limnothrissa spp., shark, sea snail, bonito, triggerfish and unpopular species found in trawl by-catch.

Another determinant of fermented fish prices is the reduction in weight which is brought about by moisture loss during salting and/or drying. Curing results in about a 50-60 percent reduction in weight and processors adjust the price of the final product accordingly. A common practice observed in all markets was that fermented fish (and other cured) products are sold by pieces or sizes based on visual assessment. In Senegal, however, some traders sell fermented fish by weight. In countries where large quantities of fermented fishery products are exported (e.g. the Gambia, Senegal, the Sudan) the local price tends to be higher.

Other economic factors that have been associated with fermented fish processing are employment generation, capital investment, use of technology and its role in domestic and international trade.

4.3 Prevention of losses

In the coastal countries of the West African sub-region, underutilized or unpopular species of fish as well as trawl by-catch which would normally have been thrown away are utilized in fermented fish production (e.g. triggerfish, rays, puffers, squid, etc.). Similarly, excess fish that cannot be stored during the bumper season due to inadequate freezing and storage facilities and fish that cannot be sold fresh at the auction by the close of the day are fermented.

It is often reported that post-harvest fish losses in Africa are about 25-30 percent, but in view of the substantial quantities of poor quality and underutilized species which are salted and fermented, it can be reasonably deduced that the reported post-harvest losses may be grossly overestimated.

4.4 Value

The processes of fermentation and drying preserve and add value to the fish giving a product which has a characteristic odour and aroma. This is preferred by consumers for the preparation of traditional soups and stews. Notably, more income is derived by fish processors from fish fermentation than from smoking or drying in all the countries included in this survey.

4.5 Generation of employment

Fish fermentation provides direct employment for processors and supports others who provide indirect services to the industry in the areas of packaging, distribution, marketing, etc. In Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal, for instance, over 300,000 people in each country are involved in the processing, distribution and marketing of fish.

4.6 Capital investment

Fermentation is a low cost method of fish preservation using artisanal equipment which is readily available, easy to fabricate and repair. Therefore, one does not need a large capital outlay to start operations. In most cases, equipment such as old barrels, earthenware pots, old nets, locally-made drying racks, mats, used jute/poly sacks and cans which are the major items used, are locally available and affordable. Processors can, therefore, commence business with little capital.

4.7 Use of technology

Most processors use simple artisanal technologies for fermentation, packaging and storage. These methods usually date back in history or were introduced into the country by settler communities. The methods are easily transferred either by tradition within a family or through non-formal training. As a result of the mode of technology transfer in all the countries, there is a lack of standardization in production processes and product quality differs from batch to batch or from one locality to another in all the countries mentioned.

4.8 Role in domestic and international trade

4.8.1 Domestic trade

The bulk of fermented fish produced in Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Mali is marketed locally, thereby enhancing the supply of animal protein to the rural communities in these countries. The product lends itself to easy packaging, transportation, distribution and marketing without chilling or any other expensive method of storage.

4.8.2 Factors affecting intra-regional trade

Trade in fish and fishery products among African countries is low. FAO estimates that intra-regional trade in traditional fishery products in Africa below the Sahara (excluding South Africa) is about 15 percent of fish production or 150,000 t product weight with some US$ 200 million. Most of this trade is informal. Smoked and dried fish form the bulk of the trade. Both may be slightly fermented. A rough estimate of the trade in truly fermented products in this part of Africa is 10,000 t per annum.

Constraints to an increase in the trade of fishery products among African countries include the following:

(i) trade and tariff barriers;
(ii) increasing demand within countries due to high population growth;
(iii) decline in the economies of various African countries resulting in foreign exchange constraints;
(iv) differences and fluctuations in the value of local currencies and exchange rates;
(v) differences in establishing uniform quality standards and acceptable packaging;
(vi) official action to curtail imports;
(vii) poor road infrastructure which hinders easy flow of products across countries.

In spite of these constraints, the export of cured, including fermented, fishery products, mainly on an informal basis, is still quite important for certain countries. For instance, Uganda and Tanzania export salted dried fish (slightly fermented) to Zaire where there is a big market for this product.

Congo and Zaire import significant quantities of salted fish from the Gambia and Senegal. Egypt imports nearly 70 percent of fessiekh produced in the Sudan. The bulk of the dried fish produced in the Lake Chad Basin is marketed in Nigeria and Cameroon, while Cameroon exports considerable amounts of cured fish from Lake Chad and the coast to Nigeria.

In the West African sub-region, the flow of fermented dried fish is mainly from the Gambia, Mali and Senegal to Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo. Currently, Mali is exploring the trade opportunities for exportation of its cured fishery products to Ghana.

Senegal exports fermented fish to various West African countries. Recent reports indicate that small quantities of salted/fermented dried fishery products are exported from the Gambia and Senegal to France where they are patronized by the resident West African communities.

In Ghana retail trading of fermented fish is exclusively a female activity.

In some African countries men are engaged in retail of fermented fish (Senegal)

Dried fermented fish are arranged on elevated rachs to build up stock before distribution (Gambia)


4.8.3 External trade (imports)

Very little cured fish is currently imported into Africa. The main products imported are the inexpensive, popular frozen fish such as scomber, mackerel, horse mackerel and sardinella.

Stockfish kako which has the characteristic fermented fish flavour similar to locally produced ones were imported on a large scale from Iceland and Norway into Ghana and Nigeria in the 1960s. Stockfish imports were, however, stopped in Ghana in the early 1970s. Nigeria also banned stockfish imports in the early 1980s. As a result of trade liberalization in recent years, small quantities of this product are imported by the private sector in Ghana. Salted, partially fermented dried fish are also imported by nongovernmental agencies as food for work packages for community projects.

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