Jonglei fishermen bag $200k monthly in fish export

In many African countries, the fishery sector plays multiple roles in the transformation of the national economy. In Jonglei, one of the states in South Sudan, the fishery has contributed not only to employment, exports, and tax revenues but also to an economic bonanza in the region where fishermen now make $200,000 monthly in fish sales.

The small-scale sector has also become an avenue for food security and poverty reduction in a region devastated by floods over the past three years. To some young people, the fish industry shines a ray of hope in times residents are recovering from climate shocks and subnational conflicts.

Mabior Samuel Garang, a 37-year-old businessman and chairperson of a cooperative society dealing with fish business in Bor, the capital of Jonglei called it quits with conventional employment to establish his own fish startup specializing in preserving salty fish.

Mr Garang who quit his jobs with NGOs citing insufficient payment now says his business is currently employing up to 600 youth in Bor.

“Approximately, 500 – 600 youths are currently employed including women, most of the youth in Jonglei are working at the fish startup as a part of their income-generating activity,” he told Juba Echo.

Mr Garang tipped on the government to speed up the process of peace implementation to give investors confidence to invest in the fish industry.

“For every business to go smoothly, there must be peace because business people and investors fear when there is no peace. So, we need peace, we are tired of war,” he said.

“Most of us have 20 years in business but due to war, businesses are started today and they are destroyed the next day and sometimes you lose your life. Most of the youth are suffering, we need peace, let our leaders be together and I think there will be developed in this country,” Garang added.

The idea of preserving fish, he said, was initiated when fish was too much for local consumption leading to the rotting of many species of fish.

“The project was initially challenging in the year 2020 but when the flooding came, it brought along a lot of fish which were too much for local consumption. The presence of too many species of fish made us think of how we could preserve the fresh fish which are easily perishable. We then came up with the program of salting the fish for export purposes. The program is doing well now because many youths have joined as part of employment,” Garang explained.

He said preserving salty fish is a process and there are many groups involved. The first group are the fishermen who bring the fish from the river and sell them at the landing site for 400 SSP. The next group who buys from the fishermen bring and sells the fish to us at 800 SSP in large quantity. The fish are then transported to Juba. And if they are packed in large quantities, he said, the traders will order the track to load them for direct export to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr Garang told Juba Echo that amid the business success, many challenges abound including the prevalence of illegal roadblocks where drivers pay highly for so-called taxes. Despite efforts by the government to get rid of illegal roadblocks, Garang said they are persistent.

“Roadblocks can be removed today and tomorrow they come back. Between Bor and Juba, there are four roadblocks. They include the Bor exit, James, Mapau and Nasitu each of these charges up to SSP50,000. By the time you reach the border town of Nimule, SSP200,000 – SSP300,000 have gone on taxes,” he lamented.

“There is no direct market for us to sell the fish. We struggle and take this fish to look for the market in Uganda, especially in Arua but the main consumers are Congolese for us so taking the fish to the market in Congo is not possible. There is insecurity in our border with Congo and the transport route connecting Juba, Yei to the border in Congo is very insecure.”

Dealing in the fish business means owning at least a truck to export the product to the market. For Garang and his cooperative group, they hire trucks from neighbouring Uganda; the cost is taking a toll on them.

“The trucks we are hiring are owned by Ugandan traders. One trip for a track is hired for 4,000 United States Dollars but if our government was to have tracks for hire, especially the production unit of the national army or police, we would be able to hire their tracks at an affordable rate which will benefit all of us. This will also lead to the economic development in South Sudan,” he said.

Another challenge Mr Garang mentioned is the high tax in the neighbouring countries which he appealed to the government of South Sudan to intervene and help them solve.

“We are being charged a lot by the Ugandan Revenue Authority. One track is charged 4,000 United States Dollars. We have raised this concern to the government of South Sudan to help resolve this issue but there is a slow response.”

Better roads, easier market access

“Exportation of fresh fish has been a challenge due to poor road network. But with road construction between Juba and Bor, I was one of the traders for four years working in that business of fresh fish but due to some challenges, there is no market. We have tried to make research outside the country but we have not gotten any market,” Garang said.

“Because the road is one of the indicators of development. When this road was constructed, it was very important and it’s very fast for us now. We can take the fish from Bor up to Juba within three hours which is okay compared to last time when there was no road. We appeal to the government to complete the remaining part of the road on that side of Malithor to be completed so we can do our work without challenges. “

There are many challenges in the fresh fish business and many traders dealing with them collapsed.

“Most of the traders who were working in the business of fresh fish now have collapsed because there is no market. If the government can help us to research for us a market it can be one of the great things for the youth who are working in that field.”

Another youth, Atak Deng Aleu, A 29 years old businessman who hailed from Awiel town of Northern Bhar -El – Ghazal State, said he has been working in the factory preserving fish for the last two months and his life has changed positively

“I prepare fish and preserve them; our work is very fantastic. Packaging fish is my main job and each bundle packed is paid for at 3,000 SSP. Some of our members here go to the river for fishing.”

The Small and Medium Enterprises in South Sudan have realized growth since the signing of the peace agreement in 2018. The country is currently reliant on oil as a major export but with peace prevalence, fish could be a valuable addition to the list.  

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