It is 8am and Elizabeth Adhiambo sits patiently at Ukwala market in Kisumu waiting for suppliers of dagaa fish, popularly known as omena. She has been waiting for two hours and is almost losing hope of getting her supplies for the day.
“Normally, they are supposed to be here by 6.30am or 7am, so I am worried they may not come,” she says.
Waking up early every morning to wait for daily supplies of the fish has been a routine to this mother of four for the past one year now.
After erratic supply and rising cost of tilapia and nile perch fish drove her out of the business, a trade that was a source of livelihood for five years, Mrs Adhiambo had to seek an alternative source of income.
“I used to earn a tidy sum from fish-mongering, but suppliers kept raising the cost, citing poor catch and the business is no longer attractive,” she said.
Mrs Adhiambo is not alone. Every morning the Ukwala market is full. But even with selling dagaa, business is not as rosy as she would want. So scarce is the commodity that Mrs Adhiambo says it gets to a point where one’s clan and not money determines if or not they get supplies.
“Sometimes if the supplier is from one area and the buyer also comes from there, they are given priority over others in case the supplies are not enough for everyone,” she said.
“We have no option but to scramble for whatever there is, even when they say it is enough for everyone,” said Roselyne Adongo, another dagaa vendor. She, too used to sell tilapia but quit after the lucrative trade in Kibos market turned into a loss-making venture due to high prices against a shrinking customer base.
The dagaa supplies come from Usenge beach in Yimbo, Siaya County, a section of Lake Victoria with low water hyacinth coverage.
The fish is shared among vendors in Ahero, Kisumu town, Nyahera, Kibos, Katito and Rabuor and suppliers have increased the cost. A 20-kg bucket of dagaa costs Sh1,200 while a 10-kg bucket is Sh600.
“They do not fill the buckets as you can see but again they do not force you to buy...we have no choice but scramble for it,’’ says Mr Adhiambo.
“I have to fend for my family in one way or the other, there are days you get and others you miss due to the high cost or scarcity,” says Ms Adongo.
A two-kg tin, quantity purchased by most vendors, is sold at Sh200 up from Sh100 two years ago with prices expected to rise.
“Traditionally, we expect increased supplies in November and December but I can tell you that we get next to nothing in fact I ran out of stock the moment I get to my stall,’’ said Mrs Adhiambo.
Though poor in supply, Mrs Adhiambo agrees that returns from dagaa are better compared to what she used to get from the other fish.
This is because selling dagaa entails fewer overheads unlike fish that has to be deep fried or smoked.
The low fish stocks in Lake Victoria has been largely blamed on low quality fishing gear, poor fishing methods and water hyacinth that forms a thick green carpet afloat the water surface making it impossible for fish to thrive or fishing boats to move.