Frozen produce: A sea change for local fisheries in Benin

Benin-based Awa Fish is one of the leading frozen seafood firms, a position it has established by working closely with its suppliers – small-scale fishermen. But like many companies, it finds it hard to raise funds and faces recurring power cuts.

Awa Fish owes its success to founder, Awa Codjo, and her ground-breaking business model © MCC

Awa Fish, based at Cotonou port, is a leading player in the frozen seafood market. The firm owes its success to founder Awa Codjo’s ground-breaking business model. By bridging the gap between traders and more than 400 fishing families, the company stands apart from its competitors, most of which source their produce from outside Benin.

“One day, I saw how fishermen at the port were throwing away their unsold daily catches in high season,” explains Codjo. “It seemed like such a waste. So I came up with the idea of storing the unsold catches in cold stores.” The firm was founded in the 1990s, when it produced 170 t of frozen fish a year. Now that figure has risen to 700 t, and Awa Fish is one of the top-two frozen seafood exporters to the vast Nigerian market.

The company’s growth has also helped improve the livelihoods of local fishing families, who no longer have to sell their produce to traders – sometimes at a loss – or throw away unsold catches. Some 4,000 fishermen land their catches at buying centres along the country’s coastline every day.

In 2009, Awa Fish secured a US$350,000 loan as part of a five-year compact between the Government of Benin and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) – a US development assistance agency – to purchase new cold stores and fund an accounting training course for its staff. With its new equipment, the firm has gone from strength to strength, leaving it better placed to negotiate prices with traders. Some fishermen have even brought in bigger catches to meet demand. The company has also doubled its line of credit thanks to its improved credit rating.

But the firm is still grappling with an unreliable electricity supply – a major challenge facing businesses across the sector. In 2015, the government of Benin and MCC signed the Benin Power Compact – a €335 million agreement to boost local electricity production, improve distribution and introduce reforms to public-private energy sector investment. Reflecting on her meeting with Codjo, then-MCC CEO Dana J. Hyde said: “A reliable electricity supply means she will no longer have to rely on an expensive generator to keep her fish frozen during power outages.”

Claude Biao

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.