Demand for fish in Mogadishu has come to a standstill

Posted By Orbital Design:9th Oct, 2020

Liido Beach, Somalia, 12 June 2020 – Abdirahman, the owner of Shirkada Benadir Fishing Company, steps off the road through an open section of a cement wall and onto some rocks at the base of Liido Beach. It is still dark, but on the horizon, day is breaking. A fisherman walks ahead with some rope, a bucket and a mobile phone with a small flashlight. The light illuminates a small circle of the sand passing by the fishermen’s feet. This morning, neither of the men are in a hurry.

Normally, Abdirahman would be busy making sure that the fish arriving to the beach is offloaded carefully. Before, the crew of the vessels would arrive and just start throwing the fish off the boat directly onto the beach. The fish would be damaged and immediately lose market value. Over the years, Abdirahman has worked hard to train fish suppliers how to properly handle the fish. He also worked with local boat owners to introduce the standard practice of ice storage onboard the vessels. All his work has paid off and Abdirahman’s business has grown to nearly fifteen hundred kilos of fish per day and his company has become well-known for its rigorous quality assurance practices. Now, Abdirahman has even begun to focus on exporting some of his catch to international markets.

This was before COVID-19.

Back in February, when people in Mogadishu first began to hear about COVID-19, the disease seemed like a problem happening far away from Somalia’s borders. However, as soon as a Somalia national, who had been traveling abroad, returned to Somalia and tested positive for COVID-19, the authorities understood the severity of the disease and took immediate action. By mid-March, the airport was closed for international flights.

Earlier this year, Somalia has been facing the worst locust outbreak in 25 years and heavy floods have displaced half a million people, now with an added pandemic, it is a nightmare scenario. Somalia ranks 194 out of 195 on the Global Health Security Index and has 15 ICU bed for a population of more than 15 million. This in addition to the ongoing conflict and widespread corruption.

For Abdirahman, the Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating for his business – “Since the lockdown, all government agencies, hotels and restaurants have been closed. I do not have any customers. I have had to lay-off my workers. Normally, during this time of the year, my facility handles around one thousand kilos of fish per day. Now, I am down to 20-30 kilos that goes mostly to friends and family. There is simply no demand.

In addition, because the lockdown is affecting the whole economy, Abdirahman is also having difficulty sourcing fuel for the generators that run his 10 tonnes cold-storage unit. “At the moment, essential suppliers are not coming into the country because there are no buyers.

If fuel was not an issue Abdirahman would face other challenge – “I can say, that even if I did start marketing and processing fish, my staff would need to wear the same personal protective cloths and equipment, that nurses, doctors and healthcare personnel wear in order to protect themselves. Currently it is almost impossible to find these types of medical protective equipment and it is not worth it just to sell the few pieces of fish I do have.

As the daylight approaches, Abdirahman looks at the several fish in the bucket – “When my business was growing, before the COVID-19 pandemic, my main concerns was the quality of the fish I was selling to my many customers. Now I am worried if I will have any customers that can even afford our fish.

The fisherman switches off the light from his cell phone and tosses his rope in the bucket. In a country, that has spent decades working its way out of insecurity and poverty, wealth is health and health brings hope, and food, such a fish is the surest path to health. Both men stare at the bucket of fish, only half full of hope.

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