By Bonifacio Taban Kuich
September 17, 2013 (BENTIU) - Fishermen in South Sudan’s Unity state say lack of access to bigger markets for their products has continued to hurt business activities, despite their huge catch.
- A fisherman hands over ` variety of fish to customer at Manga, 17 September 2013 (ST)
Jany Kom Riek is one of more than 200 men in this area who get up every morning and head to the White Nile in narrow canoes, carved from coconut trees.
Riek casts his nets into the river and waits for either Tilapia, Nile perch or catfish to get trapped.
The young man says he spends three hours every morning and evening in his boat.
"The work is hard, but on a good day, I can catch up to 100 fish, which he I sell locally for 1000 South Sudan Pounds," he told Sudan Tribune.
- A fisherman sailing a boat in the White Nile, 17 September 2013 (ST)
Riek, however, reveals that he is capable of spending a lot more time fishing, if there was a mechanism for preserving his catch.
"When we catch fish, they will only last four or five hours before they are rotten. We are urging the government to provide us with fridges so we can fish for longer periods", he says.
Michael Koang Gatkuoth, a fellow fisherman, says they have repeatedly asked government to provide them with refrigeration trucks, better nets and hooks.
Their request, he says, has so far fallen on deaf ears.
"Most of us have been fishing for more than five to six years and we are tired of looking at the government to improve our situation. We need better equipment and better roads to be really effective", said Gatkuoth.
He says fishermen can only sell their catch in the local markets because the roads to other areas of the state are in terrible conditions.
According to Gatkuoth, the 45-kilometer trip to the capital Bentiu from his village, takes more than two hours by road.
Peter Gaw Ngundeng, Unity state director of fisheries for Unity admits the challenges facing fishermen, but says the current austerity measures limit efforts to intervene.
An austerity budget was introduced last year after South Sudan shut down oil production following a dispute with Khartoum over transit fees.
Juba resumed production in April, but government officials say austerity measures will not be lifted until the beginning of next year.
Ngundeng, however, promised the fishermen will be supplied with better equipments, including refrigeration trucks, once the austerity measures are lifted.
“So we have a lot of plans, we have general planning for the department to improve the livelihood of the community. We need to capacitate them when the oil will yield well and the government will have daily revenue from the oil, so we have a lot of plans targeting the fishing community," he said.
At the moment, the best advice he can give the fishermen is to dry or smoke some of their catch, the official added.
South Sudan, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates, could earn up to half a billion annually from the fishing industry, if fully developed.