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By Marian Amaka Odenigbo, Eric Rwabidadi and Richard Abila

Eritrea has an untapped gold mine…. And that is the Red Sea. This body of water is rich in biodiversity and home to a vast variety of fish species. Literally, fish run to you when you get to the sea bank, as if they are asking you to catch them!

Sitting on such an abundance fisheries resources, one wonders why  malnutrition remains persistently high in Eritrea. Eritrea is among the sub-Saharan African countries with critical state of malnutrition and a stunting rate of 50.3 per cent.

Mountain Highland view: Asmara to Massawa, Eritrea 
In late November, we had the opportunity to participate in the IFAD and Government of Eritrea joint implementation support mission of the IFAD-funded Fisheries Development Project (FDP) and the National Development Project (NAP) and were tasked to support the nutrition mainstreaming interventions in this project.

During our interactions with different ministries and government officials we were very happy to see the high level commitment to nutrition.

‘We have a meeting today which is specifically focused on nutrition and the Minister will participate in that meeting’ said Amanuel Negassi Hagos, the Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture.

Hagos informed the mission about the government's intensified activities on nutrition, the establishment of a Steering Committee on National Food and Nutrition Security to improve nutrition situation of vulnerable groups.

 Hagos informed us of the following  initiatives which the government of Eritrea has put in place to improve nutrition:

  • Production of fortified baby food-DMK plant in Dekemhare, a small agricultural town South East of Asmara
  • Creation of the dry Fishmeal processing plant in Massawa City on the Red Sea
  • Increased productivity of locally produced complementary foods such as mushroom and sweet potatoes

We wanted to better understand the reasons for low fish consumption and poor nutrition among the traditional fishers and communities in the coastal areas, most of whom are the target group of  FDP.

We therefore embarked on a trip to Massawa, the Pearl of the Red Sea. It was a breathtaking two hour ride; scaring mountains heights, view of varied livelihood, changing landscape from the green forest to the sandy sea shore You can imagine  the spectacle as we got an experience of three seasons: thick fog, bright sun and extremely cold weather during our  drive from over 2000m to the Red Sea level! All this in a span of less than two hours! Incredible, you need to see it to believe!

Sea View: School of fish, literally will come to you
as you get to the sea bank
Eventually we got to the magnificent view of the Red Sea and immediately our attention was drawn to the abundant fishes in the sea.  What came to mind was- why Poverty and Malnutrition where there is such an abundance of Fisheries Resources?

We met and interacted with the Ministry of Marine Resources at Massawa,  to learn about FDP's progress. The Fisheries Resource Development Department (FRDD) is doing a tremendous job in strengthening the capacity of fishers’ cooperatives and artisanal Fishers.   The Director of FRDD, Tewolde Woldemikael, a very interesting and highly motivated person, told us that IFAD's support to FDP has given the department a good sense of direction to build the capacity of fisher folks.

‘There is very high demand for fishing input now and the capacity of artisanal fishermen is rising’ said Woldemikael.

The visit to the landing sites at the Fishing Port in Massawa, was an eye opener, as we witnessed the progress that the Ministry has made, thanks to FDP's activities.

One of the ice plants established through FDP 
Today, the provincial office is keeping immaculate records  of the fishing activities, including records on the quantity of fish catch for each boat, income of fishermen, and number of days the boats take out to the sea. The ice-making machines installed by FDP are functioning to full capacity.  The demands for ice from fishermen has increased tremendously and FDP is trying to meet that demand. This means the fishers need more ice making machines.

Still on our journey to understand the underlying causes of poor nutrition among the traditional fishers and communities in the coastal areas we had a consultative meeting with the Dean and staff of Massawa College of Marine Science and technology (COMSAT).

COMSAT is one of the implementers of FDP supporting the activities and training on fish processing and handling. They highlighted the following challenges for poor utilization of fish:

  • some of the fishing communities live in very remote areas with few facilities
  • unfamiliarity with fish as a source of food 
  • lack of awareness raising campaigns on benefits of fish
  • poor handling and processing technologies for value addition
  • cost of fish in the market

Acknowledging that fisheries resource is essential to ensure food and nutrition security of these coastal communities, FDP has renewed its focus on:

  • Capacity building of women groups/cooperatives to improve dietary intake at household level. These women can play central roles in improving family diet and care giving since the fishing activity takes the men out in the sea for several days.
  • Strategic dissemination of new and simple technologies on fish handling, processing and value added product development by COMSAT for community outreach.
  • Inclusion of nutrition education in the curriculum for Fisheries Trainings and nutrition sensitization in the training plan and capacity building provided by the Fisheries Resources Development Department and Fisheries Regulatory Services Department. 

We are confident that with the commitment of the government to nutrition and FDP's focus on nutrition together, we will be able to take concrete actions to achieve the goals set by Sustainable Development Goal #2 and to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture in Eritrea.

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