August 23, 2021

Rwanda, The ‘Fish-less’ Country?

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Fierce competition from Chinese imports

The local fish production industry is also suffering from fierce competition from Chinese imports. We also established that because retailers buy Chinese fish at Rwf 1,500 ($1.53) per kilogram, they make more profit selling them at a market price of Rwf 3,500 ($3.57) than when they deal in local fish.

Businessman and fish breeder Munyangeyo explained in the October 2020 interview: “What retailers in markets do is they for example buy 10 kilograms of Chinese fish, then buy 5 kilograms of local fish and mix them. Remember, however, that the Chinese fish would have been in containers for up to three months. Government has to stop these Chinese fish if they want our sector to develop.”

Imports of fish have seen huge expansion since the year 2000, from just 144 kilograms in that year to over 35,000 tonnes this past year 2020, according to data from the Trade and Industry Ministry, which was provided exclusively to The Chronicles. Imports came mainly from Tanzania and Kenya, and some from Asia, largely China. Some imports came from cage farms in Uganda, and small dried Indagara (Lake Tanganyika Sardines) from Burundi. But as relations between Rwanda and its two neighbors have severed, imports have been hit, causing high retail prices of fish in Rwanda today.

By 2016, a kilo of Burundian Indagara (dried Sardines) was selling for Rwf 7,000. Local traders attest that as the border was closed by Burundi after imposing a trade embargo on its northern neighbour, supplies dried away – sending prices to more than Rwf 12,000 for the same kilo. In the markets, traders say they cannot get supplies today for the much loved Indagara compared to the local Isambaza from Lake Kivu in Rwanda. Traders say the Burundian Indagara were adored because they have good soup and don’t have sand in them.

Private firm Alpha Choice Rwanda Ltd. allowed us a glimpse into its fish import business. Pankaj  Kapse, the company’s managing director, said they have been bringing in approximately 100 tons of fish monthly for the Rwanda market. They import different fish types from Kenya, Tanzania, Korea, Japan, Oman, India and China.

The company imports mainly sea fishes and also the common Tilapia.

The company’s business is said to cover at least 40% market share of general fish imports, and has invested $3 million in the Kigali Special Economic Zone, Masoro to develop a cold storage facility.

But why does the company import Tilapia, yet it is produced locally? The managing director Kapse said: “Tilapia can be produced locally, but the production is limited in Rwanda due to [high] cost of production.”

Even with the country’s relatively low fish imports, much of it is re-exported from Rwanda to DR Congo and Burundi.

Rwanda’s local exports of fish have grown tremendously in the past 15 years. In 2005, only about 37 tonnes were exported, but this figure grew by more than 500 times to 20,986 metric tonnes last year, accruing USD $20.5 million,  according to data from the Trade and Industry Ministry. Still, fish imports remain higher than exports .

On the local production cycle, Kuradusenge Pelagie, known by her business name ‘Madam Samaki,’ has harvested 5 tons of fish per month since 2017 from her cages located on the Karongi side of Lake Kivu. She would like to reach no fewer than 10 tons monthly. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, she was selling much of the produce to hospitality facilities, since Karongi was a major tourist destination. This demand from big hotels has since dried up, affecting everyone in the sector.

At a special state of the nation event held virtually by President Paul Kagame on December 21, 2020, Kuradusenge spoke from Karongi district. 

She told the president that her business faces a tough challenge of getting feed for fingerlings, which is all imported from outside Rwanda. Even though the government has removed all taxes on imported fingerlings feed, as well as on other materials needed for fish farming, the industry wants more incentives to survive. For example, they want the government to require local feed producers to start producing their own fingerlings feed.  

At the same time, Kuradusenge, like competitor Munyangeyo, also complains of imports especially from China. “You find a Kilo of Chinese fish costs about Rwf 2,500, while consumers will be asked for about Rwf 3,800 for our locally harvested fish,” she said. 

Efforts to build Rwanda’s fisheries continue. During a press briefing on May 26, 2020, the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) announced that in early 2019 it started a research project on the Burera and Ruhondo lakes. Solange Uwituze, Deputy Director General of Animal Research and Technology Transfer, said they had introduced sardines (Isambaza) fish in those two lakes, and had found they grow there very well, like they do in Lake Kivu.

Actually, the RAB official told the nation that the new project could theoretically provide up to 500 tonnes of fish per week.

We put RAB’s analysis to our independent experts including Dr Veverica, from Auburn University.

For her part, Dr Veverica said: “The low temperatures [in those two lakes] mean the growth rates will be a bit slower. And there is a chance that lake turnover will kill all the fish occasionally. But it’s worth a try. Hopefully they didn’t spend too much money. Even if the occasional disaster occurs, they can re-stock.”

This story was produced in partnership with InfoNile with support from Code for Africa and funding from JRS Biodiversity Foundation. Editing by Annika McGinnis and Fredrick Mugira. Artwork and static graphics by Jonathan Kabugo.

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1 Comment

  1. Very interesting – too cold for tilapia, too warm for trout. Are there any older literature on fish species surveys in Rwanda, to now what may have been there naturally? I remember villagers near the upper Nyabarongo tributaries mentioning that fish do not exist any more in those rivers because they have become very muddy.

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