Kenyans shun fish over high prices

July 10, 2012
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Women spread Dagaa fish (omena) to dry in Rusinga Island, located in Nyanza province/XINHUA

, China, July 9 — Fish is one of the most revered meals in Kenya, but high prices have conspired to keep the healthy source of protein away from plates of most Kenyans.

Most people in the east African nation cannot afford fish, whose prices have been consistently on the rise in the past couple of months.There are mainly three types of fish and fish products consumed by majority of Kenyans namely tilapia, Nile perch and dagaa. The three, which are found particularly in fresh water Lake Victoria and Lake Naivasha, are favorite delicacies for many consumers. However, other kinds of fish found in the east African nation are trout, salmon, tuna and catfish, which are mainly fished from Lake Turkana and Indian Ocean.

Most areas across Kenya have been hit by high fish prices, including in source markets of Nyanza province, where the cost of fish is higher than other parts of the east African nation. “Fish prices here are higher than in some other parts of Kenya, ” recounted Conrad Onyango, who lives in Rongo in Nyanza. “It is ironical because most of fresh water fish comes from Lake Victoria, which is in this province,” he added.

The worst affected is tilapia, a favorite, followed by Nile perch and a kind of small fish called dagaa, whose prices have increased but remain affordable. Onyango noted a sizeable piece of tilapia in the town, which is a few km from Lake Victoria, goes for 3.8 U.S. dollars. “That seems to be the standard price in the area and neighboring districts. But sometimes prices reach 4.5 dollars especially when supplies dwindles,” he said. The result, according to the 27-year-old, is that most people cannot afford fish.  “Fish is a staple meal in this province. Its consumption goes way back in the 18th century and is believed to have some cultural value, but high prices have made it unaffordable now,” said Onyango.

In the capital Nairobi, a survey indicated the price of tilapia ranges from between 3.3 dollars to 8 dollars, depending on the size. Bernard Aruma, a fish monger in Kayole, an estate on the east of Nairobi, said prices of fish have been on the rise since September last year. “Supply was low across the country pushing up prices. But things have not changed since then. Prices are continuing to go up discouraging many consumers,” he said.

Aruma buys his stock from Nairobi’s Gikomba market. “There are middle-men who transport fish from Nyanza and Turkana. They are the major supplies in the city,” he said. He buys a sizeable piece of tilapia at an average of 2.6 dollars. Nile pile perch prices are, however, lower, going at an average of 1.7 dollars. Thereafter, Aruma transports them to Kayole, where he operates his business. “After frying them, I sell each tilapia at 3.5 dollars. For Nile perch, the prices range from between 2.2 dollars and 3.1 dollars,” he said.

The huge price differences, according to Aruma, have made people to shun tilapia. “I used to bring tilapia most of the time because people loved it but high price has made it unaffordable and thus not good for business,” he said. In an attempt to make fish affordable, Aruma said he no longer sells full fish but divides into three parts, each going at an average of 0.71 dollars for Nile perch and 1.2 dollars for tilapia. “This ends up being more expensive than buying a whole fish but it makes it affordable for most consumers. The practice has also helped me increase sales,” said Aruma.

The fish seller noted sometimes he is forced to close his business when he finds suppliers’ prices are too high. “There are times I go to Gikomba and find that tilapia is going for 2.9 dollars each. Instead of buying, I just leave because I know that I will not find market since my customers will not afford,” he said. With tilapia prices biting hard, Kenyans have switched to alternatives that include dagaa, beef, tripe, eggs and chicken, whose prices, however, are equally high. “Most of the time I buy dagaa. A tin goes an average of 2.2 dollars. When I buy this, I know my family of four will eat several times, unlike other fish which I must buy at least two for a meal,” said Florence Okwanyi.

One kg of beef in the capital is sold at 4.2 dollars and tripe goes for 3.5 dollars. “This is even a better deal for my family since they will eat the meat or tripe for several meals. But the two do not equal fish since it is more nutritious,” noted Okwanyi, who said she does not remember the last time she bought fish.

In an effort to improve fish production and encourage consumption, the Kenyan government rolled out an aquaculture program across the country as an economic stimulus program three years ago. The project was also implemented in areas where fish is not a traditional meal. While the government has noted the project has helped to raise fish production, it has done little to check high prices.

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