African Chapter President's Column - June 2020
On 25 May, Africa celebrated its annual Africa Day, which is the commemoration of the formation of the Organization for African Unity (OAU) about 57 years ago. The OAU was disbanded and replaced by the African Union (AU) in 2002. Unfortunately, commemorations were held in a somber mood this year. No doubt everyone is talking about the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), which is taking its toll on the world, causing deaths, illnesses and economic despair. The pandemic has spread to all 55 countries in Africa. According to the latest data by John Hopkins University and the Africa Center for Disease Control (CDC), as of 27 May, the continent had nearly 120,000 confirmed cases, with just over 3,600 deaths.
It is widely believed that the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic could plunge the whole continent into poverty in the short to medium term. Just like anywhere else in the world, almost all African states have put in place unprecedented lockdown measures designed to contain the pandemic’s impact on public health and are working with international development partners such as WHO and the AU’s CDC in their efforts to strengthen health systems and improve surveillance, emergency response, prevention and control of the pandemic. They are also trying hard to put in place some stimulus packages to address the economic fallout.
Our aquaculture sector supply chains have been bitten by the pandemic. We are hearing some retrogressive news everywhere, including from some of the key producer countries in Africa. For instance, in Ghana there are reports of a drop in demand for fresh tilapia and catfish products due to social distancing policies and general lockdowns imposed in major urban market centres, including hotels, restaurants and tourist centres.
Similarly, in Nigeria, because of low market activities, fish farm stocking plans and harvesting projections have been badly affected. There are reports of fish farmers incurring debts in feeding stocks because they are not harvesting. Procurement and transportation businesses for farm inputs (seed, feed and other implements) are getting frustrated by the national public health movement restrictions.
In South Africa, producers and exporters of abalone are decrying reduced exports of abalone products to Asia, especially China, due to COVID-19. Export of abalone products to Asian markets rakes in nearly US$50 million per annum and has become the backbone of South African aquaculture.
And in Egypt, the continent’s biggest aquaculture producer, there are assessments being done on the ground to gauge the impact of COVID-19 to the sector. We are already hearing similar reports of some producers experiencing financial difficulties due to the suspension of exports, a halt in tourism and the closure of other related businesses such as hotels and restaurants. The travel and tourism industry is a leading economic sector in Egypt, representing 20 percent of GDP, and losses up to US$5 billion in tourism revenues have been projected. The loss of these markets is reported to have led to fish being sold at very low prices. Some fish markets in Alexandria have closed to reduce gatherings, according to a recent report from WorldFish http://blog.worldfishcenter.org/2020/05/covid-19-updates-egypt/
Speaking of Egypt, many of you are no doubt wondering about what will happen to the inaugural Aquaculture Africa Conference (AFRAQ20), scheduled for November this year. At this present moment, the situation is still volatile and unpredictable with all the lockdowns and general travel restrictions in place. We are closely monitoring the situation and praying that the restrictions will continue to be relaxed to a point that will allow us to proceed with the event without any worries. We are also getting regular updates from our hosting party, the government (through the General Authority for Fisheries Resources Development - GAFRD). Registration remains open and we continue to promote the event and remain upbeat that it will go ahead. The WAS Conference Management has announced that, should the meeting be postponed or cancelled for any reason, attendee and exhibitor payments will automatically roll over to the new dates or refunded if desired. Any decision to cancel will be made by 1 August.
On the regional scene, the Aquaculture Association for Southern Africa (AASA) Conference, another important regional event that was billed at the end of March, has now been postponed to September 2021, still in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
On a positive note though, it seems the Zambia government has affirmed its commitment to proceed with hosting the Second Aquaculture Africa Conference (AFRAQ21) in Lusaka, Zambia, tentatively planned for June 28 to July 1, 2021. We have begun putting together the conference brochure and we will soon make an announcement on our media platforms.
Soon, the African Chapter of WAS, in partnership with the Africa Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), will launch an online survey to hear from our members and partners regarding how the pandemic has impacted their operations. There are several other surveys being carried out by individual countries and globally by our partners such as WorldFish, FAO and others to examine and understand the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on aquaculture production and to food and nutrition security, human health, wellbeing, and livelihoods. We intend to publish some of the findings in the September issue of World Aquaculture.
Like nearly everyone else in the business world, we have switched to virtual working, where teleworking has now become our ‘new normal’ as we aim to stay connected with our members, partners and the aquaculture community at large. On this front, I owe gratitude to our media and publicity partner, Aquaculture Africa Magazine (AAM), which has launched a monthly webinar series on our behalf as a precursor to AFRAQ20. The first introductory webinar was launched at end of April, with an overwhelmingly positive response. The next special webinar on Aquatic Animal Health in Africa is scheduled for 28 May, with renowned international experts on the panel. Please connect to the AAM Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/aquaafricamag/) for regular announcements on planned future webinars.
Moreover, there are other exciting regional webinars discussing some of the major issues to aquaculture development in Africa. Our West African regional office, based in Nigeria, is facilitating a series of such webinars with special international guests invited.
There is so much to say this quarter but let me end here as usual by thanking you, our membership and partners, for continued support. My thoughts and prayers to those who have succumbed to the pandemic and to those on sick beds awaiting recovery. And I pray that our aquaculture community will remain resolute and alert to delivering resilient responses to meet the challenges ahead as we weather these testing times. I once again wish you and your families safety and good health. — Sherif Sadek, President