The handling, processing, and marketing of fish products are essential complementary functions of all food production systems. Women traditionally play a major role in these activities. In most developing countries women dominate the markets either as buyers or sellers of food.
For most women marketing is a secondary activity which provides the only source of needed cash income. The marketability of fish products is an important constraint in the development of aquaculture. Moreover, processing and marketing activities provide the greatest
opportunities for employment within the aquaculture industry.
1. Fish Handling
Pond harvest is highly labour intensive especially in the developing countries including Nigeria. The help of the entire family, as well as other villagers, is generally required in order to reduce cost of labour. Men seine the pond, while women use baskets to catch the remaining fish.
In most rural areas all fish are seined at the end of the culture period. The smaller fish are kept for home consumption and the larger fish are sold. All people involved in harvesting the pond receive a share in the production.
Multiple stocking and harvest imply careful handling and restocking of fish of unsuitable size. This practice is usually found on well-managed farms in Asia. Multiple harvests offers better opportunities for women than single harvesting; small quantities (up to 20 kg) which require less
time and capital can be marketed more easily by women. Large-scale production farms generally use other marketing channels; often women traders are only found further down the marketing chain.
The timing of pond harvests must be tailored to meet the local supply and demand patterns. The time lapse between fish harvest and purchase by customers is critical for fresh fish. In Asia, the harvested fish are kept in fish holding cages for on-farm sales for a maximum of one day before
being sent to the market. Men are trained to transport and sell fish to hotels, supermarkets, and wholesalers. Market facilities (such as containers with aeration devices) may not be accessible to smaller, private retailers.
Fresh fish cannot be held for long periods of time without serious losses. If necessary they are processed. Fresh fish, especially live, are highly preferred by consumers but they present transport and storage problems.
Local transport may include baskets or containers carried on the head, on bicycles, or in small pickup trucks. Transport by boats can be found in estuarine areas in the riverine areas along River Niger and Benue as wells as along Lagos lagoon. This practice is also found common in places such as Bangladesh, China, Guinea Bissau, and Benin.
The transport of fresh or live fish requires: (a) location of ponds close to the market to minimise handling and to limit transportation time, (b) early morning harvests to transport fish at cool temperatures, and (c) markets equipped with ice facilities or water tanks (cement or small tin containers) with aeration devices and a drainage system.
Transport of live fish to remote markets is a more complex handling operation and requires investment in trucks with fish holding cages, pumping systems to circulate the water, and aeration devices in the tanks.
Long distance transport of fresh fish further requires ice, or trucks with cooling devices. It may not be economically feasible to transport fresh or live fish to rural markets unless economies of scale can be achieved through high-volume transport. Transport is expensive and
may be unreliable or unavailable along bad roads during certain seasons.
Live transport may only be feasible for urban centers where consumers are willing and able to pay higher prices for quality products. Women do take part in the transportation of fish, but only at a minor level with less professional means. Most women do not have the necessary cash to
invest in modern means of transport or the time for long distance travel
2. Fish Processing
Women have always predominated in the fish processing sector on small-scale private, cooperative, or industrial levels. Small-scale enterprises can be characterised by a high degree of flexibility, and are capable of responding to the supply of fresh products and consumer preferences.
Although most processing enterprises are run on a small-scale basis, their importance to the economy needs to be stressed. Large numbers of woman can find employment and income in this type of industry.
The processing methods used can vary greatly and are dependent on:
(a) Consumer taste
(b) Availability and costs of the processing materials
(c) Technical knowledge
(d) Time needed for processing
(e) Price of the final product
(f) Storage facilities
(g) Marketability and seasonal fluctuations
In extensive and semi-intensive production systems, fish are processed when the product cannot be sold fresh, when cold storage plants are not present, or when the product is destined for remote markets. Small-scale salting, smoking, drying, and fermenting are performed by women nearor inside the house, and are considered domestic activities.
The introduction of special processing facilities off-farm or near the market is often not acceptable to women. Processing at home is preferred because women are able to combine processing activities with other domestic duties.
Young girls often help their mothers with different methods of processing. The final product is stored in or near the house for fear of theft. The processed fish is either sold to wholesale traders in large quantities, or brought to the markets for private selling.
Economic pressure to shift from production for subsistence to commodity production has often resulted in reshaping the role of women. Small-scale enterprises tend to be taken over by modern processing plants.
Most of the fish processing plants are oriented towards export markets and not for home consumption. The range of fish species available on local markets and the marketing opportunities for women changed as a consequence of the development of industrial processing.
Women have been seriously affected by this process. Inadequate analysis and neglect of the possibilities of traditional processing and marketing structures have excluded women from their main source of income.
The need for cash income to buy basic goods has driven large numbers of women to the fish processing industries. Lack of education and vocational training push women into less skilled and lower paying jobs. For example, the deheading of shrimp is primarily a processing task executed by women. Most of these women do not have other options for work and generally belong to the lower social strata of the society.
During periods of peak supply they often work through the night to earn some extra income. The number of female workers in the fish processing sector in this aspect of fish business tends to be very high and it is similar to the situation in Southeast Asia.
The fish and seafood processing industries in particular suffer from seasonal fluctuations in supply. These fluctuations affect women more than men because most women are employed as low category workers on a casual basis. Although these fluctuations in supply often
predominate in artisanal fisheries, the small-scale processing industry is capable of compensating for periodic deficiencies in supplies.
Seasonal fluctuations can be somewhat offset by planning aquacultural harvests. For example, instance shrimp farmers can try to plan their harvest to coincide with a time of slack supply of marine products.
Close contact between the industry and the producers, and knowledgeabout market fluctuations is needed. In Asia for instance a market survey and analysis of world shrimp aquaculture is regularly published which includes wholesale price trends and projected supplies. In the catfish industry in the USA, 88% of the catfish production is sold to the processors, so that 85% of the plant can be utilised during the year.
The remaining 12% of catfish production is sold to live handlers who carry the fish to distant markets. This centralisation in processing regulates the supply to the markets, stabilises prices, and guarantees long term employment for the processors.
3. Fish Marketing
Restricted time budgets, and social and cultural factors limit women’s ability to participate in marketing. Marketing of home products usually provides rural women with their only source of income. Part of the gains are often reinvested in business dealings, with the rest spent to cover
domestic and personal expenses such as food, clothing, health care, school fees, etc.
Both in rural and urban areas the fish customers become aware of a pond harvesting by informal contacts and buy their fish at the pond site. Most of the customers are women, who use the fish for home consumption or local marketing. Presently a kilo of live catfish sells for N350-400 depending on location and average size of fish.
The closer the market is to the farm, the fewer intermediaries and the greater the chance that women become actively involved in marketing aquatic products. The catfish farmers association of Nigeria is presently working on this aspect of fish marketing by creating various sales outlets around in the cities so that fish can reach the final consumers at affordable prices. In general, women have been quick to respond to opportunities created by growing demand for their produce.
Confined to domestic tasks, the majority of women are small entrepreneurs on a part-time or seasonal basis. Only a few women have established themselves as full-time fish sellers. Women fish traders either handle the crop of their husbands or buy fish from different sources.
There are often distinctive patterns of division in selling different products. Generally, the sale of products requiring large capital investment or long-distance travel is in the hands of men.
Although it is impossible to separate factors like freedom of mobility, the efforts and costs of travelling, and transporting goods to the market, etc., women are less mobile and have less access to financial support than men, so in most cases they hire cabs for this purpose. In the eastern part of Nigeria it was observed that three categories of dried fish were sold in Afikpo market.
First, the stockfish from Europe was sold exclusively by the men. Indigenous river fish like the bonga and the enyaoca, were sold by both men and women and the smaller dried river fish was exclusively sold by the women, often in combination with a wide range of other food products.
4. Fish Price Determination
Fish can be obtained by money, barter, or through gift exchange. In non-monetised societies, the barter equivalents are fairly standardised, although bargaining does occur at the retail level as well as in transactions between traders and wholesalers.
The transition from barter to a money economy has seriously affected existing market patterns. The increase in production as a result of the modernisation of the fisheries sector has attracted traders formerly not engaged in fish processing and marketing. Women have often been
displaced by new groups of traders with bicycles, greater access to cash, and greater mobility.
In a free market system the prices of fish are not fixed and are determined by a complex of factors. These include:
(a) Transport cost,
(b) Production cost,
(c) Supply and demand,
(e) Processing technique,
(f) Variety of fish.
Traders will take into account their transport and marketing costs as well as prices of substitute foods when deciding what price to charge. Price fluctuations can be explained largely in terms of availability, quality, and purchasing power of the customer.
Prices are generally lowest during fish harvest, and rise as supplies diminish. The purchasing power of rural consumers is greatest just after the agricultural harvest while it is greatest in urban centers at the beginning of the month after pay day.
Greater capital investment in aquaculture will lead to higher market prices. Intensive systems usually supply urban centers where large quantities can be absorbed and high prices obtained.
Depending on the intensity of the system, the investment in aquaculture can be quite considerable, compared with the family budget. In the absence of banks, fish farmers often have to borrow money from a money-lender(including market women).
Sometimes money is borrowed in exchange for the fish yield. In such a case the money-lender makes a contract with the fish farmer at an agreed price.
In more intensive systems the fish harvest is often sold to fixed traders or by auction. The fish farmer has to know the costs of production to determine his lowest acceptable price. The price obtained will depend on the quality of the fish and the numbers at the auction.
On the one hand this can give the fish farmer the security that his products are all sold, while on the other the price might be below the average price for that moment.
Road construction around the intensive farms makes the fish landing sites more accessible to traders with modern trucks. Most fish mammies are not able to modernise because of time, education and cash constraints.
Their role is consequently reduced to petty trader of less valuable fish, or as a wage labourer in the processing industry. Only those women who have established an independent financial position are capable of keeping and extending their position as fish traders in this situation.
On the other hand, the flow of money which comes from the development of market transactions and urban centers has opened up new possibilities for market women to extend their trade and even become money-lenders. The dependency of urban centers on rural production is in fact greater and more direct than it first appears.
However, urban wholesalers must buy bulk quantities from retailers in local markets. High preservation, transport, and purchase costs therefore raise the prices in urban markets. Consequently, many city dwellers are still willing to travel to rural markets to buy at low prices.
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