A fish market tracking system launched by the Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri) on Lake Victoria is recording benefits among fisheries stakeholders three years later.
The mobile phone technology piloted and implemented on the lake for the past three years to improve fish trade has permeated the country and is shielding dealers from losses previously caused by lack of market information that saw over Sh50 million worth of fish lost annually in post-harvest handling.
The Electronic Fish Market Information System (EFMIS-Ke) co-ordinator Dr Ojwang’ Oweke said the system has been a success, reaching over 30, 000 fishers on Lake Victoria alone and thousands of fish traders and processors across the country.
The system includes complete coverage of Lake Victoria, Lake Turkana, Lake Naivasha, Lake Baringo, the whole length of the marine coast, not less than 30 main urban markets in Kenya and selected fish fingerling and feed producers in the aquaculture sub-sector.
Beach management units (BMUs) officers, fishermen and fish traders interviewed by the Business Daily said the system had caused positive changes in the sector, resulting in improved efficiency.
The chairman of Kisumu County BMUs Network, John Ouya, said losses previously suffered by fishermen and traders, occasioned by poor market information, have been reduced significantly
“Real time communication reaching traders as soon as the fish land on the sites has reduced losses since they quickly arrive to make purchases,” he said.
Ruth Anyango, a trader at the Kisumu municipal fresh fish market said the technology has witnessed stability in supply and prices of fish since it has eliminated unscrupulous middlemen who took advantage of disorganisation to exploit fishermen and traders.
The targeted beneficiaries of EFMIS-Ke are small-scale fishermen, fish farmers, fish processors and traders at landing sites and markets.
Studies say small-scale fisheries in developing countries often perform sub-optimally owing to lack of vital market information, leading to inefficiencies, inequity, and post-harvest losses.
According to Mr Robert Oketch, the Efmis database manager, the mobile phone, which is the fastest growing communications media in Africa, was the most suited for addressing market information gaps.
“Efmis, an ICT pilot project based on mobile phones, has been implemented in Kenya’s Lake Victoria fisheries for three years to enhance fish trade and incomes for the fisher community through improved access to market information.
Through the system, data from fish landing sites and inland urban markets is continuously relayed to a central database where it is appropriately packaged into a format that users can access in real time by sending a query through mobile phone SMS. The system is automated and responds within 10 seconds. Market information is also disseminated through monthly electronic bulletins,” he says.
By early last year, the project had spread to the other inland lakes and fish markets across the country. In August this year, the system was endorsed by Uganda whose fisheries resources account for over 12 per cent of the gross domestic product, second chief foreign exchange earner after coffee.
In Kenya, fisheries accounts for less than one per cent, a factor Kemfri has attributed to as cause for low government support.
Efmis was established following intervention Micro Enterprises Programme Trust to create fish market information and traceability systems to promote fish trade and improve fisheries incomes by providing fish market information accessed through mobile phones, enhanced transparency in pricing systems and compliance to certification requirements. It was also aimed at instituting an electronic traceability system in the Nile perch value chain.
Another electronic traceability system, known as TRACEFISH-Ke, includes BMUs contained within the Lake Victoria Nile perch supply chain of one participating fish processing and export company. Traders in the export species are united by the system.
A major constraint on micro and small-scale fish producers and processors has been lack of information on fish prices and the availability of fish at different fish markets; and for fish traders, the lack of information on prices and availability at different landing sites.
These information gaps allowed widespread exploitation of fish producers and processors at landing sites by middlemen offering below market prices. It also results in considerable inefficiencies in market operations and, when fish landings are high combined with rains, leads to substantial losses in fish volumes and value.
The package provides market information, quantity of fish and transportation of various species from lake beaches to major markets across the country. The European Union through the Micro Enterprises Support Programme Trust supported the project to a tune of Sh18 million to cover all Kenyan lakes.
Kemfri biennial reports for the year ending August 2012 show that pressure on fisheries has gone up in the past two decades as the sector undergoes intensive commercialisation. This has brought with it a surge in illegal fishers, derailing the success recorded by the system.
Poor infrastructure, irregular price fluctuations have also been cited as challenges to the system.