Published on 27 Jul 2023

Kenya exports anchovy to China for the very first time

Nairobi exported US$40.5m worth of fish and fishery products in 2022

Photo credit: FCWC

Chinese company Huawen Food recently exported the first consignment of dried wild anchovy from Kenya to China. The initial 315kg was destined for the third China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo, which took place in Changsha earlier this month.

Huawen Food, the local Kenyan subsidiary of the Jinzai Food Group, has put down roots in Kwale County, a coastal region that borders Tanzania. The company has set up a processing plant where locally caught anchovies are dried and packaged. Drawing supply from hundreds of local fishermen, Huawen Food is licensed by Chinese customs to export both dried and frozen anchovies to China. The company currently employs 150 individuals and manages a production capacity of 20 tonnes per day. However, expansion plans are in the pipeline to boost the workforce to over 500 personnel and more than double daily production to 50 tonnes.

Liu Zhiyong, managing director of Huawen Food, told local media that anchovies are primarily used in the snack market in China and noted that the company’s Kenyan operation is a high-margin venture. Despite this, he highlighted supply challenges related to inefficient fishing methods and poor storage equipment among local fishermen, factors that have negatively impacted the company's production.

The export of Kenyan-sourced anchovies to China was made possible through a bilateral agreement between the two countries, signed in January 2022. This agreement, aimed at facilitating trade in avocados and aquatic products, sets out specific phytosanitary, quarantine, and veterinary sanitary requirements that producers must meet before export.

Kenya's fishing industry is mostly small-scale, artisanal fishermen with only a few commercial operators that mostly target shrimp and lobsters. Total fish production has crossed 170,000 tonnes. Inland fisheries contributed about 70% of Kenya’s total fish production, with the principal catches coming from Lake Victoria. Fish supply from marine and aquaculture accounted for 17% and 13% respectively. However, Kenya's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – an oceanic area stretching 200 nautical miles from the coast, where a nation has special rights to explore and use marine resources – is significantly underexploited. Estimates suggest this zone could potentially yield an additional 150,000 to 300,000 tonnes of fish annually. 

According to reports released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) the republic exported fish worth US$40.5m in 2022. The increase was mainly due to a reported surge in fish landings on the back of more government investments in infrastructure at several inland and marine fishery sites, as well as an uptick in aquaculture production. In 2021, Kenya exported 19,868 tonnes of fish and fishery products, merely US$25m. Top exports were Nile perch; fish heads, tails and maws; octopus, lobster, and swordfish. But it also imported 21,386 tonnes of fish in 2021, valued at KES2.9bn (US$20m). The imports were majorly composed of tilapia (50% of total), mackerel (23%), and Nile perch (6%). Improved access to the Chinese market is set to bolster the fisheries sub-sector, which presently contributes around 0.5% to Kenya's gross domestic product.

From Ethiopian coffee and Kenyan flowers to essential oils from Madagascar, African agricultural products are gaining increased traction among Chinese consumers. China has become the second-largest buyer of African agricultural exports. Over the first five months of 2023, imports of African agricultural and food products to China rose by 26.5% year-on-year, reaching a total value of about US$2.3bn.

At the 2021 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed China's commitment to establish "green lanes" for African agricultural exports, accelerate inspection and quarantine procedures, and expand the range of products receiving zero-tariff treatment. Last year, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that since the 2018 FOCAC summit in Beijing, China has given market access to 25 kinds of food and agricultural products from 14 African countries.



Full text: Keynote speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping at opening ceremony of 8th FOCAC ministerial conference’, Forum on China–Africa Cooperation, 02 December 2021

Newly signed trade deal paves way for avocado, aquatic farmers to export produce to China’, Capital FM, 06 January 2022

Fisheries annual statistical bulletin 2021’, Ministry of Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs, May 2022

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s regular press conference on August 16, 2022’, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, 16 August 2022

Kenya flags off 1st batch of anchovies destined for Chinese market’, The Star, 24 June 2023

Fish processing firm awakens sleepy Shimoni town in Kwale’, The Star, 26 June 2023

First batch of wild anchovy products exported to China’, Xinhua, 01 July 2023

China-Africa expo consolidates trade links, builds brighter future’, China Daily, 02 July 2023

Kenyan fishermen upbeat over exports to China’, China Daily, 04 July 2023

Kenya’s infrastructure investments paying off in seafood export earnings,’ Seafood Source, 08 Jun 2023

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