These are unprecedented and uncertain times. COVID-19 has taken us where few ever talked about. A global disease pandemic and its economic effects seemed utopian, with all the advances in science and medicine. Today as of April 2020, some sectors such as travel and tourism have been completely obliterated, without a known date of a comeback. However, in bad times there are always winners and losers. It’s a boom for internet chat software companies. Zoom (the internet chat software company) usage grew by 3,000% from 10 million calls a day before COVID, to 300 million calls as of April. Many other online trading and delivery businesses are making brisk business. Producers of sanitizing and cleaning materials and equipment are also making a kill. Such revolutions are not only in business but also in behaviour. One revolutionary behaviour resulting from COVID-19 is the obsession, if not widespread awareness and practice of hand-washing and maintenance of hygiene. This practice encouraged by widespread media, governments and non-state actors has brought the call to hand-washing to a new level. It has permeated to deep villages, even in remote parts of Africa.
Kenya in April initiated the National Hygiene Programme to create a healthier environment and jobs, with an initial target of 26,148 workers and over 100,000 youths. This illustrates how seriously governments have taken up the call on improving hygiene practices.
It is at such times that fisheries can also take advantage of the opportunity to improve fish handling and hygiene. There have been long-standing struggles, especially in small-scale fisheries (SSFs), to improve and maintain fish quality, due to low levels of fish handling and hygiene practices. Many SSF practitioners have little training in fish handling and hygiene. Yet to get to the next level of fisheries processing and export or even local up-market trading, a high degree of good handling and hygiene practices is needed. This is especially important now that henceforth consumers will be keener about hygienic conditions of products.
Due to the widespread messaging on hygiene practices, today, rural folks including SSFs operators around the world understand a lot about good hygiene practices. This revolutionary mindset has been created for free without any cost to fisheries. However, it needs to be further enhanced, otherwise, it will be still-birthed. Early action once COVID subsides is advised before people get back to old habits. The current widespread practices on hand-washing and hygiene will need to be contextualized into fisheries Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary (SPS) principles. Fish handling and hygiene manuals will need to be revised and implemented through training. There will also need to invest in appropriate hygiene maintenance equipment for communities. Such measures are necessary to drum up fish handling and hygiene practices again and again until it is as ordinary as eating fish.
Patrick Kimani is a fisheries specialist working with COMRED. He has an interest in all aspects of small-scale fisheries. He can be reached at info(at)comred.or.ke