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An age-old industry gets a facelift

Interview - April 23, 2013
Victor Borges, Mozambican Minister of Fisheries, speaks with Upper Reach about the importance fishing has long held in the economy, and how reforms and investments will raise its status and allow it to raise its contribution to the economy
The last decade has molded an outstanding economic context for Africa, in which Mozambique is a prominent player among all countries. The General Peace Agreement provided a consolidated base to overcome challenges and further advance the economy and society. With the discovery of natural resources, we are seeing an even more promising future in the long term. As one of the key ministers of the country, what is your assessment of the last 20 years and what lessons has the country learned to take every right step in the future?

Mozambique has a history of a successful post-conflict management. It suffered a war that lasted 16 years and ended in 1992 with the signing of the General Peace Agreement, which contained the ceasefire agreement, so we never fought again. Since the General Peace Accords, we have been reconstructing the country – the first ten years for rebuilding. At the earlier stage, our growth was very high, around 17-19%, because the base that we started from was very low.
Over the past ten years we have entered a path of pace and growth, averaging an annual growth of 7% to 8%. Of course, there are sectors that contributed significantly to this: agriculture, tourism, energy, transport, financial services in general. The fisheries sector had a great contribution in the period of the war because fishing areas were not much affected. There was no conflict at sea – at that time the fisheries sector contributed about 50% of the foreign exchange that the country received. The contribution of fisheries then moved to around 20% to 30%, but then the war ended and the potential sectors that had been paralysed by the war began to contribute more and thus fisheries dropped to about 2% to 3% of GDP and also in exports.
Over the past three years, the fishing industry grew 11% in 2010. In 2011 the growth was of 13% and last year, 2012, it grew by about 5%; this growth follows the Fisheries Master Plan defined in 2010, about what the industry could do the next ten years (2010-2019). The fisheries sector contributes in four aspects. First, food safety: animal protein is essential for the health of people, and in our country animal protein is represented by fish, chicken, beef, pork or lamb (fish makes up 40% of the animals protein consumed in the country). We produce around 200 tons of fish and around 60,000 tons of other meats.
WHO and FAO recommend as minimum consumption, 18kg per year (1.5kg per month) of fish protein, these rules must be followed and we seek to produce to cover these needs. The world average consumption of fish in round 17 to 18kg, we work in this direction and we are in the group of countries that consume between 10 to 20kg per year, but we still have a long way to go, since we are at just 10.5kg. 
The Master Plan for food security says we should double our production from the current 150,000 tons in 2010 to 300,000 tons in 2019. Let’s double this number using the potential existing in the sea, rivers, lakes and ponds. This potential has been assessed since independence and it has enjoyed the cooperation links we established with other countries. We count with oceanographic research vessels, which help us to assess fish stocks. For the inside zone, we have made more statistics based evaluations.
Because we are in a warm sea area, where temperature stays around 25° C, and our productivity, relative to other areas, is 200Kg to 1 ton per km². Add that to fact that we have 2,700km of coast in a straight line but the entire maritime area to Mozambique is 550,000 km². If you assume that all the sea produces 1 ton per km², we would be producing 550,000 tons, and so, if it produced 200 kg, which is the minimum, the sea would produce 110,000 tons. Knowing that we are 23 million people, we need at least 500,000 tons, but, we are only producing 330,000. These numbers reveal to be insufficient to feed us all; even if we add the inland waters, which produce about 70,000 tons, this still doesn’t get us close to the 500,000 tons we want and so we have to import it.
We also have the aquaculture sector that, along the coast can produce 800 to 1 million tons, which have not been explored, yet. In the inner zone, we can produce around 5 million tons, which is, also, not being explored although only 1,000 tons were being produced. The Master Plan indicates that this growth from 150 to 300 thousand tons will be achieved gradually; 70,000 would be the increase of the capture and 80,000 tons would be from the aquaculture activity, even though this is still far from reaching its full potential.
The message we want to convey is that Mozambique can, in aquaculture, produce 5 million ton, in the same way the oil, gas and coal were found. If we have investment we cannot only cover the needs of 500,000 ton, but also export to the world. There are countries where consumption of fish is higher, such as China (although they import most of it), where each person consumes about 35kg/year, although the global average 18kg/year.
We can feed the Mozambican people. Before the boom of investment in mineral resources, because I was born and raised in Tete, I saw that the most that was produced were about 500 thousand tons of coal. Today we talk about millions. Coal has always been there but had to have someone who had the ability to exploit it. In fisheries, the same thing happens – we only lack the capacity. This is the main objective of the Master Plan: to increase production and food security, taking advantage of the potential of capture and aquaculture.
Second: contribution to development. Fishing is a source of employment, income and development – an ancient activity, one of the first that man ever developed to survive. Fisheries still represents all of that, but in another context and level of development. We want to continue to contribute to the development of the nation, creating jobs, income and a larger contribution to GDP growth. Three million tons of fish do not cost as much as 3 million of coal; it costs three to five times more. While we are exploring other resources, if we were developing this business as well, the fisheries sector would contribute more to food security and development.
In terms of employment, Mozambique has more people in the artisanal fishing area than in the industrial fishing, (unlike South Africa which has only industrial fishing). Of the 208,000 tons produced last year, 85% of production was artisanal and only 15% was commercial fishing, which was more focused on shrimp: the commercial fishing, produced 2,500 tons, and the artisanal, 3,400 tons. These numbers reflect the crisis in the industrial shrimp fishing by the increased production costs, the low productivity and because the fishing season had to stop earlier – to return in April. It is clear that who is exploiting the fisheries resources of Mozambique, are the Mozambicans themselves, but the foreign capital has plenty of room for investment in aquaculture.
In Norway, the Minister of Fisheries talked about fishing not just as an economic activity but also as an intrinsic part of the coastal identity of the country. Norway, just like Mozambique, was at the bottom of the list in terms of development in their own continents. Norway discovered natural resources like gas and oil which allowed the country to further develop. However, there is one thing Norway always kept alive, and that is its fishing industry which continued to be the hallmark of the country (not the oil but salmon). Could we assume a similar path for a country like Mozambique?

Fishing, as I already said, is an ancient activity in the world and it is in Mozambique as well, it gives us a certain identity. We are creating a fisheries museum, to be ready by July or August, to perpetuate what has been done in the fisheries sector. With it, we’ll show the ancient and the most modern arts, to remind people that fishing is older than it seems.
Norway had about 100,000 fishermen before they discovered the natural resources of gas and oil, and after the discovery, they adopted rules to better preserve and conserve their resources. Then, the number of fishermen decreased to 10,000 and they turned towards more modern fishing techniques and potentiated aquaculture (which is what we want to do). They used to produce 15,000 tons of salmon but today, they produce 1 million tonnes in aquaculture. We can also do the same – we had in 2003, 90,000 fishermen; in 2007 the number rose to 150,000, and today there are about 800,000. In terms of fishing, this large number is not good because it makes it more difficult to manage and monitor, and some people living on the coast rely exclusively on fishing. We cannot, at the expense of the poor, do politics and keep them from doing what they do, but we have to get alternative employment elsewhere to relieve the fishing sector, otherwise, it will collapse. And that’s what happened in Norway.
We are following the example of Norway. We have Norwegian assessors from the CDCF (Norway’s Centre for Development Cooperation in Fisheries) and we also have specific funding for institutional capacity and fisheries investment of Norway and Iceland working with us. They financed us for many years. Recently, we got access to World Bank funds; possibly for the next year we can count on it, but so far it is with Norway, Iceland, IFAD – International Fund for Agricultural Development – as well as other partners such as the International Development Bank, BADEA and the ADB.
While these commercial investments do not appear, the Government defined the Aquaculture Massification Programme: we want the Mozambican families to ‘embrace’ aquaculture; we are looking for ways to fund it. We will see if we can join the Aquaculture Massification Programme with big investments to increase the production.
UR: And regarding the restrictions to shrimp exports, what has been the exit strategy of the ministry?

What happened about not being able to export shrimp was that in all other countries that produce aquaculture shrimp, suffered from this disease called white spot virus. Only three countries did not have this problem: Mozambique, Madagascar and Australia that produced shrimp without facing this disease – the countries that did, managed to overcome and continue to produce. When the white spot virus was identified, the production was suspended. In fact, it is not a health but rather a trade issue. We had to suspend the export of shrimp and the wild shrimp caught last year was all exported to the European Union, America, Asia, etc, and we continue to export it. The season will open up and we will continue to catch shrimp again.
In Norway, there are companies working intensively on the supply chain that adds value to the fishing industry: products related to fish feeding, the aquaculture services, a chain of services to complement the final product and not just plainly export it. Does Mozambique have the entrepreneurial and scientific structure that would add value to local production and aggregate industrial manufacturing and employment to the local community?

This is another objective of the Master Plan. We reviewed the Master Plan of 1995, in which fishing was done only by a poor fishing license that was renewed annually; this situation does not attract investment. There is a new Fisheries Law that was now submitted to the Parliament, and discussion was brought to the session started last week. The access to the fishing activities will have, as primary element, the access to Fishing Rights that are valid up to 25 years depending on the production volume one wants. There are also obligations: to process or to add value to a share of production; promote national employment; build processing infrastructures and contribute to the economic and social development of the country through social responsibility.
Accordingly, we want to transform some fisheries that take place in offshore, for example, with tuna. We have about 135 fishing boats, but only one brings national production, the others – foreigners – fish tuna and take it to process elsewhere without discharging at or requiring our ports. We want to transform this form of offshore fishing into onshore. In the new Fisheries Act, and with acquisition of the fishing rights, the percentage of the internal processing production will be expressed, especially for the fishing of shrimp and other species that are exported as raw material.
In many cases around the world we have witnessed that when fishing rules are too rigid, it drives companies to disregard the law and conduct their business illegally. How do the local institutions, the country and the Southern African regional authorities keep non-Africans countries, that do not pay taxes or have any standards, from coming to Mozambican waters and taking the country’s resources?

At the meeting of the world COFI - FAO Committee on Fisheries in Norway in 2008 on illegal fishing, it was decided that the Second Workshop on Illegal Fishing would be in Mozambique, in February 2011, due to the work the country had been doing to combat illegal fishing. The effort for combating the illegal fishing is worldwide because one country alone cannot combat it. The plan for SADC was to create a Regional Centre and the country chosen to host this centre was Mozambique; we demonstrate clearly our commitment by accepting this responsibility.
We have worked with three control platforms: one by satellite (we were able to identify illegal tuna fishing), two patrol boats and the port inspections. Mozambique, on the international level, is known as a country of great commitment to combat illegal fishing. We have done joint patrols with the countries of the region and with Greenpeace to monitor our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ); during the 20 days they were here, there was no record of illegal activity. Our maritime area is 550,000Km², as well as our EEZ.
Another objective of the Master plan is to improve the quality of life of the fishing and aquaculture communities. Last year, we made inquiries about the welfare of the fishing communities, how the fishing activities interfere with other activities; and we presented the results to the Council of Ministers. Clearly, fishing contributes, year after year, to improve the quality of life because it gives them access to food, school, incomes, etc. We still have a long way to go: we come from a situation of backwardness and high threshold will still take time.
The final objective of the Master Plan is to contribute to the country’s balance of payments. Three million tons of fish has a very high value, depending on the price that we want to adopt. If it costs, for example, US$4/kg, we would have $12 billion of fishing products.
Our objectives are food security, the country’s overall development and to improve the quality of life of the community of fishermen. With very clear goals and directions, we can reach our goals. The review that we did last year was around 808,000 tons, which makes us believe that for the next seven years we can get there, especially if we can harness the potential of the area.
In this context, in which areas should the ministry focus to achieve the stipulated 8% growth?

To transform the offshore economy into onshore we need infrastructure such as ports; for developing the coal, will be built three to four railways to transport coal. What we need, right now, is to improve the ports of Beira, Nacala and Maputo because without landing and processing rooms we cannot get the fisheries products.
Along the coast, our fishermen should be able to land their catch and treat it. We designed a project where along the coast we identified 30 key centres. This is what we can do, right now, with the money available (about $60 million); the 30 centres do not solve the problem but it is a start.
Without power, roads or water, we cannot operate. We have decided that if the national network of energy does not reach these designated centres, we will put solar panels to ensure that fishermen have a place and conditions for conserving the fish while negotiating prices. What happens is that when the fishermen arrive at the beach, he finds no place to store it, so the buyer can dictate the prices he/she wants and if until the evening the fish is not sold, he agrees to sell it at the buyer’s price, leaving the seller to lose money, since he is the one making the major efforts.
The large incomes that are generated must be used to promote a holistic growth. The Government is preparing a National Development Plan, so the amount of resources that will inflow our country must serve to ensure maximum gains.