Free fishing campaign to change the eating habits of Mauritanians
NOUAKCHOTT from Mauritania
Although Mauritania has many fish-rich ocean coasts with a variety of high-quality fish types and their prices are affordable, most Mauritanians do not prefer to eat fish and prefer to consume red meat instead.
Fish consumption is concentrated among residents of the capital Nouakchott and the coastal town of Nouadhibou, while the majority of residents in other states are not keen on eating fish.
Most Mauritanians prefer to eat red meat because the North African country has an estimated livestock wealth of over 22 million, according to the country’s economy ministry.
In an effort to encourage higher consumption of fish, the Mauritanian government last week launched a massive campaign to persuade locals to change their eating habits and introduce fish.
In a statement, the Ministry of Fisheries said the aim of the campaign was to strengthen food security in the country, which has enormous fisheries wealth.
“The campaign will last three months and mainly targets people who suffer from low living standards and fragile food security,” the ministry added.
“This campaign also aims to promote the benefits and advantages of fishery products and encourage their consumption, by educating the population on the nutritional benefits of Mauritanian fish and by modifying the dietary habits of the population,” the ministry said.
According to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), 35,000 women and children suffer from malnutrition in Mauritania.
In fragile areas of the country, one in six children suffers from malnutrition.
According to a WFP press release issued on March 8, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the hunger crisis in Mauritania, as malnutrition has become a major public health problem in the Arab country of four million people.
WFP predicted that food shortages would increase in some parts of the country in the coming months, especially in rural areas.
To encourage the population to eat fish, the Mauritanian authorities are keen to distribute large quantities of fish each year, free of charge, to the population, in particular to people affected by poverty.
The government’s National Fish Distribution Company said it distributed 5,202 tons of fish last year as part of efforts to include fish in the country’s eating habits.
The government claims that its policy in this regard has resulted in an increase in the proportion of fish consumers in recent times, but it aspires to make fish an essential part of the daily meals of Mauritanians.
The government has set up a fish distribution network in most towns across the country, where fish is sold in these towns at nominal prices (less than 25 cents per kilogram of fish).
Coasts rich in fish
The Mauritanian coast overlooking the Atlantic Ocean which stretches for 755 km (some 470 miles) is among the coasts richest in fish and marine species in the world.
Local residents describe this fishery wealth as “Mauritania’s oil wealth”.
The fishing sector has always been a major source of revenue for the public treasury, through agreements the government has entered into with a number of countries and agencies, including the EU, Japan and China.
According to figures from the Ministry of Fisheries, Mauritania’s territorial waters contain around 300 species of fish, of which 170 are internationally tradable.
Mauritania is the largest Arab exporter of fish, accounting for around 44% of total Arab exports. In 2018, it exported around 900,000 tonnes, according to local agency Al-Akhbar.
Notably, around 95% of its total fish production is exported to the European Union.
Fish production increased from 90,000 tonnes in 2009 to 773,000 tonnes in 2016, according to statistics from the Ministry of Maritime Fisheries.
Fish accounts for 58% of Mauritanian exports and the sales income is 10% of the national GDP and constitutes 29% of the state budget, while it secures half of the sources of foreign exchange, according to local media.
In June 2020, the World Food and Agriculture Organization ranked Mauritania second among African countries in fisheries production after Morocco and 20th in the world.
* Writing by Mahmoud Barakat
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