It is a chilly morning at the Busia Polytechnic.
From a distance, one is welcomed by a fish aroma which whets your appetite for freshly cooked fish.
On approaching the institution, you find tens of dealers who have displayed fish in various forms.
Though Busia is a major fish trade hub, this is the first time the border town is hosting a fish exhibition.
The exhibition is the brainchild of World Fish, a non-governmental organisation that runs a project dubbed Fish Trade.
Fish Trade is funded by the European Union, New Partnership for African Development (Nepad) and the African Union.
On this day, stakeholders in the fish sector from Uganda and Kenya have gathered to showcase various products and services in this sector. Some of them have brought dried fish, others have fillet, others fresh fish, ice cubes and others have omena.
Yet others are busy, making different fish dishes and traditional accompaniments from both Kenyan and Ugandan cultures.
“We are here to showcase our products as well as address issues affecting fish trade across the border,” says Charles Achieng’ the Kenyan chairman of Busia Cross Border Traders Association.
Trade along this boarder, he adds, can only thrive if there is harmonisation between the Kenyan and Ugandan traders.
By the look of things, there are various stakeholders who interact with fish before it lands on the table.
First, there are the fishermen who go out fishing, then they sell to wholesalers who in turn sell to retailers. Other stakeholders include fish transporters, those who do value addition and suppliers of ice cubes used for keeping the fish frozen.
Some traders sell fish locally, while others sell to neighbouring countries including Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But there have been challenges in the cross border fish trade even after the launch of free trade across East Africa. While these challenges may be viewed as teething problems in an emerging free market, they may become a hindrance, rather than fuelling integration among countries.
Fish Trade’s Programme Manager Idris Ali says the four-year project has been working towards addressing challenges that are faced by small-scale fish traders who operate across borders with the aim of empowering them and improving their businesses.
The project, which is soon coming to a close, involved working with researchers from six universities across Africa. The researchers and professors explored the challenges and opportunities in the small-scale fish trade across borders in 21 African countries.
“We realised that Africa was not trading with herself as much as she was trading with the outside world,” noted Mr Ali.
While Africa is known for exporting food to other countries, inter-selling of food, particularly fish, among the African countries themselves, is still done more informally than formally and this calls for streamlining.
Mercy Kawala, a researcher from Makerere University who was funded to research on fish trade at the Busia boarder, says there is need to formalise the informal fish trade.
This, she notes, is especially because fish is currently the leading agricultural commodity that is traded informally.
She recommends that informal fish traders should have a formal organisation, while governments should reduce tax and time taken to clear fish for the cross-border market.
Her research, titled ‘Economic Analysis of Fish Trade at Busia’, involved in-depth interviews and data collection from at least 115 stakeholders in cross border fish trade at Busia Boarder.
Among the challenges to smooth trade within Africa are inadequate infrastructure and lack of sufficient knowledge on market availability.
Findings and recommendations from the researches, Ali says, will be forwarded to policy makers across the continent for appropriate action towards harmonising fish trade.