Life, Africa

Free fish campaign to change Mauritanians’ food habit

Fish-rich Mauritania pushes to convince citizens to add fish to their daily meals

Mohamed al-Bekay   | 21.04.2021
Free fish campaign to change Mauritanians’ food habit

NOUAKCHOTT, 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 favor eating fish and prefer to consume red meat instead.

Fish consumption is concentrated among the residents of the capital Nouakchott and the coastal city of Nouadhibou, while the majority of people in other states are unenthusiastic to eat fish.

Most Mauritanians prefer to eat red meat as the North African country has a livestock wealth estimated at more than 22 million, according to the country's Ministry of Economy.

In an effort to encourage higher consumption of fish, the Mauritanian government launched last week a massive campaign aimed at persuading the country's residents to change their food habits and introduce fish to it.

In a statement, the Ministry of Fisheries said that the aim of the campaign is to enhance food security in the country, which has a huge fish wealth.

"The campaign will last for three months and is mainly targeting people who suffer from a low standard of living and fragile food security," the ministry added.

"This campaign also aims to value the benefits and advantages of fish products and encourage their consumption, by educating the population about the nutritional benefits of Mauritanian fish and changing the eating habits of the population,” the ministry said.

Combating malnutrition

According to UN 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 statement by WFP published 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.

The WFP expected that food shortage would increase in some areas of the country during the coming months, especially in rural areas.

Free fish

To encourage the population to eat fish, the Mauritanian authorities are keen to distribute large quantities of fish annually, free of charge, to the population, especially those stricken by poverty.

The government's National Fish Distribution Company said that it distributed 5,202 tons of fish last year as part of efforts to include fish in the country's food habits.

The government says that its policy in this regard has enabled an increase in the proportion of fish consumers during the recent period but it aspires to make fish an essential item in the daily meals of the Mauritanians.

The government has set up a fish distribution network in most of the country's cities, where fish is sold in these cities at nominal prices (less than 25 cents per kilogram of fish).

Fish-rich coasts

Mauritania's coast overlooking the Atlantic Ocean that extends 755 km (some 470 miles) is among the fish and marine species-richest coasts in the world.

Local residents describe this fish wealth as "the oil wealth of Mauritania".

The fishing sector has always been a major source of state treasury revenues, via agreements concluded by the government with a number of countries and agencies, most notably the EU, Japan, and China.

According to figures from the Ministry of Fisheries, Mauritania's territorial waters contain about 300 species of fish, 170 of which are internationally marketable.

Mauritania is the largest Arab exporter of fish, with about 44% of the total Arab exports. In 2018, it exported about 900,000 tons, according to the local Al-Akhbar agency.

Notably, about 95% of its total fish production is exported to the European Union.

Fish production increased from 90,000 tons in 2009 to 773,000 tons in 2016, according to statistics of the Ministry of Maritime Fisheries.

Fish represents 58% of Mauritania's exports and the selling revenue is 10% of the national GDP and forms 29% of the state budget, while it secures half of the foreign currency sources, according to local media.

In June 2020, the World Food and Agriculture Organization ranked Mauritania the second largest African country in fish production after Morocco and the 20th worldwide.

*Writing by Mahmoud Barakat

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