Against the wider backdrop of high fish prices in the country, The Namibian Fish Consumption Promotion Trust is of the view that calls to make fish more affordable to Namibians should not be to the disadvantage of those tasked to get fish to the people.
Fish prices in Namibia can be contrasted with the high volumes that are exported out of Namibia. And although government has set up the company to promote fish consumption across the country, a project that has so far yielded enormous fruits, affordable fish prices remain elusive for the ordinary Namibian.
But while Namibians continue to wonder why fish continues to be an elusive delicacy to them, NFCPT CEO Victor Pea during an interview with The Patriot explained why promoting fish consumption should not overshadow the sustainability of the trust.
Fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau has launched a robust two-pronged campaign in recent years-mainly premised on increased fish consumption and value addition.
Since the launch of the Fish Consumption Trust in 1992, Namibia was one of the countries on the continent with the lowest fish consuming nations.
At Independence, the consumption of fish in Namibia stood at about four kg per capita annually and currently it stands at 9.5kg – still significantly below the world capita consumption of 20.4kg per person.
Pea says although it is difficult to judge the performance of NFCPT since its inception, he is confident that it has delivered on its mandate.
“It’s always difficult for you to be judge of your own self – in fact its more ideal for the public to judge us. But from our perspective the mandate has been implemented and we have made progress in terms of fulfilling our founding mandate,” he said.
He said more needs to be done to boost fish consumption in the country.
Pea said “the problem with affordability is that it is very subjective ”.
“We must keep in mind that the fish should be affordable to the consumer as well as to us [NFCPT] because it requires resources to get the fish to the markets. We are self-sustained and as such affordability should be a two way street, both to the trust and consumer. We need a balance because if the trust is not operated in a sustainable manner, we might become a burden to taxpayers and at the end of the day the public may start complaining,” he cautioned.
He added: “We are however trying to explore means and ways on how best we can try to get cheaper fish to the nation.”
Pea also indicated that NFCPT makes use of private fishing companies when it comes to harvesting fish for the trust, saying it influences the prices.
Although the trust has been around for some time, but there are still those who are not able to distinguish between fish consumption trust and other fishing companies.
“We have been around for about 26 years, from the look of things the trust is seen as a fishing company. We are here to promote the consumption of fish. We do not export any fish and we do not pursue profit. We are here to make fish accessible and affordable for consumption and that distinguishes us from private companies,” he said.
Pea said NFCPT has forged several partnerships with private fishing firms to make its operations more efficient.
Asked why the trust does not invest in assets such as factories, cold storage facilities and vessels and whether it will make their operations cheaper, he retorted: “Not really [cheaper operations and fish ] from the trust point of view I think we had such investigations and found it is not an cheap operation and saw that it was not viable to own vessels. We rely more on the partnerships and the cooperation with the private sector because the vessels which are in the fishing industry are sufficient to harvest.”
Pea also touched on the potential of informal traders to get fish products to all corners of the country.
“At the moment we have been operating through our own retail shops, but I think for us to accelerate the consumption of fish we need to involve them[informal traders]. The private sector needs to know that the demand for fish is there and we have long queues of people who want to buy fish. We have been approached by business people who want steady fish supply. We have sufficient fish for our own fish shops for the whole year. But if we have to involve informal traders we will have to facilitate such a process to make sure we turn the trust into a distribution centre. This will then make room for SMEs to distribute fish further,” he said.
In terms of marketing, Pea said “our marketing team have targeted promotions which are more focused on regional promotions to educate the public on how to clean and cook fish as well as the benefits of consumption of fish.”
NFCPT currently has outlets in 12 of the country’s 14 regions. Pea said NFCPT wants to have a footprint in all the regions.
Pea also shared what the company is doing to ensure that measures are in place to ensure that its operations are secured.
“We do not operate like the typical SOE’s, we are trying to be as lean as possible so that we are able to achieve efficiency by doing more with less. That is the philosophy we follow at the trust. We are still able to deliver and not compromise on the quality of your service,” he said.
Speaking on the status of the fishing industry and its impact on the economy, Pea particularly welcomed the increased participation of Namibians in the sector.
“When Namibia started showing signs of slow economic growth I thought fisheries should be the one to carry the economy. But unfortunately, it seems like we are also contracting. But at least since 2011 we have more Namibians participating in the sector with quotas,” he said.
Pea called for a study to be commissioned into the fishing sector on why many Namibians only participate in the fishing sector to make quick money instead of reinvesting the proceeds to grow their companies’ asset base.
“The issue of rights and quota allocations should be understood in the correct light because currently it is seen as a money making scheme,” he said.
With the application process for new allocations set to commence later this year, Pea touched on the changes he would you like to see when applications are scrutinised.
“I would like to see consolidation in the industry and rights must be given to those who have the capacity to utilise them. Let those who have facilities get first option instead of dishing out rights to individuals who only have their eyes on money-making.
Land processing is the driver for job creation, so the allocations should also favour those who promise to set up factories and other onshore processing facilities,” he concluded.