Speaking during an international workshop of ten countries, which benefitted from the five years programme that ends next year, the traders and fish processors said high interest rates, demand for collateral and other lending condition hamper them from accessing such loans.
“We only hope that the newly established agriculture bank will ease lending conditions to small scale fish processors,” said Simon Mkwera from Mafia Fisheries Technologist Group (MFTG).
Mkwera noted that despite exporting sardines and other fish products to as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo, MFTG has not been able to access bank loans which has frustrated growth plans.
“Without the SmartFish Programme, even the equipment for processing and packaging sardines which our group has would not have been possible,” Mkwera lamented, echoing similar sentiments from many of his peers from nine other African countries.
The programme gave MFTG a grant of 20,000 Euros (about 49.8m/-), which enabled the group to buy a processing plant, drying racks and package facilities. The group which has branded its fish products also export to the Comoros and Zambia.
Gratian Maganga from Mwanza Sardine Processors voiced similar concerns, saying banks charge small scale business people high interest rates compared to big companies.
“Our banks should lower interest rates on loans given to small scale businesses so that we can grow,” Maganga argued, saying capital remains their main challenge.
The group, which has received training and a grant for fish processing equipment and packing facility, supplies supermarkets with sardines in major cities of Arusha, Dar es Salaam, Mwanza and also exports to neighbouring countries.
“Apart from lack of capital to grow our businesses, we also face numerous taxes some of which are paid even before selling our products,” he lamented.
SmartFish Programme senior officials, Chris Short and Ansen Ward, urged the fish processors to hire people to help them write good business plans which banks can accept.
“If you have a good business plan with a good management team, you can get loans from banks,” Short told participants who came from ten different countries, mainly on the Indian Ocean coastline.
He said as the programme ends next year and with no more funding secured as yet, the Indian Ocean Commission programme will undertake training of the beneficiary groups to help them write better business plans and impart some management skills.
“I hope we can train you to get skills before we finish this programme so that your businesses can be sustainable,” Short noted, saying entrepreneurial skills will also be taught.
“It is important that you continue to operate even after the SmartFish Programme has finished,” Ward stressed, noting that equipment and training which many groups have acquired over the years are enough to sustain such groups.
He insisted that SmartFish has assisted many cross border fish traders meet quality conditions required to export fish products to other countries, pointing out that at East African Community level, many traders are now conversant with value addition of sardines which were formerly used as animal feeds.
“Sardines and small pelagic fish are an important source of food to many consumers in Africa which is the reason SmartFish has invested to allow you add value to the fish before selling,” Ward pointed out.
SmartFish is one of the largest regional programmes for fisheries in Africa covering 20 beneficiary countries in the Eastern, Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean region. It is funded by European Union and implemented by Indian Ocean Commission jointly with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).