China is exporting fish to Kenya and Tanzania in record numbers raising fears it may be flooding the market

Within the past two years, China's fish exports to Kenya have doubled buoyed by rising demand, much to the dismay of local traders.

Kenyans are on average consuming seven kilogrammes of fish per person annually, up from two kilos a decade ago, raising the demand pressure.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the country spent $22.17 million on the fish imports in the first 11 months of 2017 from $10.2 million the previous year, and $6.24 million in 2015.

Data from Chinese Customs reported by The East African shows that Kenya was among the top 20 export markets for the Chinese fish last year, at number 17, receiving more than 357,000 tonnes of tilapia worth $11 million.

Frozen fish, including tilapia and mackerel, was the highest imported fish stock from China, at more than 19,000 tonnes worth over $18 million.

Kenya is not alone however,  in consuming fish from China, Tanzania, which controls more than half of Lake Victoria, also saw a 23 per cent increase in its fish imports from China, costing some $8 million.

The country was China’s second largest fish source in 2017, with the Asian giant exporting more than 1.300 tonnes of fish worth $1.13 million.

Dar es Salaam imported frozen pacific mackerel, Indian mackerel, chub, frozen sardine and tilapia.

Tanzania and Kenya both share Lake Victoria, a source of fish apart from individually having other water bodies which also sustain fish life which raises the question why they should be importing fish in the first place.

Lack of sound policies coupled with centuries of underfunding continues to work against the local fish industry in the two countries, which has resulted in low fish production.

Kenya requires one million tonnes of fish annually for instance but only 200,000 tonnes were produced domestically, leaving a gap of 800,000 tonnes.

Prices also favor imported fish over local fish produce which has further isolated local fishmongers.

Brokers have also been blamed for inflating the cost of local fish produce making it out of reach to local consumers.

Tilapia, which is the most sought-after fish on the market trades for as low as $1.7 a kilogramme to a minimum of $2.8 a kilogramme while locally sourced variant can go for as high as $5 a kilogramme, blamed on transportation and storage costs.

In February, Kenya’s Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohammed defended these imports saying that they were as a result of low local production and growing demand.

“We only import fish to fill the gap in supply. We don’t necessarily ban imports but we make sure that importers pay the necessary duties and levies as they are easing the local shortage,” said Mr. Mohamed.

Besides China, Kenya is also currently importing fish from Uganda, Tanzania and India, according to KNBS data.

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