Jobs and livelihoods hit hard by COVID-19 in Kenya

Posted By Stop Illegal Fishing:3rd Aug, 2020

Mombasa, Kenya, 2 June 2020 – Salim is standing at the top of the hill of the Liwantoni fisheries complex in Mombasa. He stares up at the tree on the hill and notices how big it is.

 

Many men are offered jobs under this tree. It was under this tree, Salim got offered his first dockside job working for the old tuna factory, which closed years ago. In those days, there would be so many boys looking for work, Salim sometimes did not get to sit in the shade of the tree. Salim holds out his hands to show the immense size of the tuna they used to offload from the large foreign-owned ships that brought their catch to the Kilindini Port in Mombasa. Each night after work, the foreman would give the dock workers their own large fish to take home. Salim remembers passing by the tree, with a 30-kilo yellowfin tuna on his shoulders, going to his mother in law’s house.

 

Today’s wind blows through the tree leaves and even though at this time of year, the south-east Monsoon can make Mombasa cool and pleasant, this year Covid-19 has made life almost unbearable. Even with the absence of foreign trawlers, which stopped calling at port years ago, the artisanal fishers are having trouble selling their catch.

Jobs and livelihoods hit hard by COVID-19 in Kenya

Mtwapa beach managaement unit fish market

 

Kenya, as most countries, developed a range of safety measures to control the spread of COVID-19 within the country. It has resulted in considerable challenges for the fisheries sector, affecting over 13,000 fishers and over 100,000 people in the upstream value chain.

 

In commercial fisheries, currently only three longliners, two pot vessels and two trawlers are operational in Kenya. The pot vessels were affected by the closure of the Chinese market for their live crabs. Trawler companies were reluctant at the onset of the prawn fishing season (2 April 2020) to recruit and place crew on board fishing vessels due to the spread of COVID-19. To ensure crew safety preventative measures, incurring extra costs, were introduced onboard the vessels including water, soaps, sanitary equipment, gloves, face masks and thermometers.

 

Artisanal fishing activities have also been affected. The implementation of state curfews has greatly reduced fish production as fishing activities are now mostly conducted during daytime. Due to cessation of movement, fish transportation to marketplaces by public means has stopped and fish is retailed locally at exceptionally low prices. This has led many fishers to stop going fishing and take up alternative activities to support themselves such as farming and construction work.

 

Fish traders and processors mainly get their raw materials from artisanal fishers. The raw materials are delivered to fish processing establishments either by their own trucks or through agents using public transport. The curfew and restriction of movement has limited these activities and establishments are not receiving sufficient raw materials to sustain their operations. In addition, the closure of the international markets and the suspension of international passenger flights reduced the volume of cargo that could be exported. Exportation of frozen, fresh and live fish and fishery products have been directly impacted. All fish dealers and processors have currently stopped their operations and 37 establishments directly employing about 2,000 workers are currently not operational.

 

Salim talks from experience – after months of curfews, transport restrictions, and social distancing measures – “People simply don’t have the money to buy fish now.” His friends in Kilifi County, at the end of April, had to sell their catch for 100 Kenya shillings ($1 USD per Kilo). “Before COVID-19, this fish would have fetched four of five times this price,” says Salim.

 

According to Financial Sector Deepening Kenya, a trust that promotes financial inclusion, more than 90 per cent of Kenyans have seen their incomes fall as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and nearly threequarters of families have had to dip into savings, typically money set aside for school fees.

 

Today’s sun is heating up the day and Salim turns to watch a teenage boy approaching the big tree, sit down and take out the daily paper. The boy nods his head and waves at Salim; both men settle-in, wondering if today they will get work.

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