klandau | Indy Week

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Re: “Lake Victoria perch

According to the above article, 50,000 local fishermen were fishing the lake before the "evil" westerners entered to exploit the local resource. These menacing profit-seeking firms were so good at capturing the well-being of the local communities they increased the price of fish to levels local citizens were not able to afford. So now these people starve?? I don't get it.

Seems to me that what is happening is the following:

There was a large "natural" resource (I have no stance on the environmental state of the lake as I am not a marine biologist but do believe that without a drastic increase in fishing a dead ecosystem by overpopulation would have occurred) of perch that was currently too large for the local demand to consume. So, western enterprises, motivated by profit, started to engage in fishing activities. As a result, they demanded fishermen, processing employees, and the appropriate infrastructure to carry out their business.

The large “boon” to the fishing industry came as a result of western capital investment. I am not sure on the specifics but I imagine they imported machinery to aid in the fishing process. This could have been bigger boats, mechanized processing, etc. I bet they didn’t import a bunch of people to fill these jobs though since local labor is much more affordable meaning new positions were created for local workers. In ten years the fish production of the region increased 100fold. That’s an impossible increase for the local population to create without mechanization. That would mean over 5million people would need to be fishing the lake based on historical productivity. The importation of western technology and capital made the local people more productive. The use of such technology would have to make each person more than 100 times more productive if employment in the fishing industry would have decreased so I question that claim.

The part that makes least sense though, is when we talk about an increased price for fish being a devastating blow to the wellbeing of the locals. In my mind, an inflated price would encourage more people to fish since they will be paid more and therefore have to fish less (a risky job) for the same amount of income. It would be logical then, to assume that the inflated price for fish helped these fishermen realize higher wages due to the larger market price supported by the western consumers. If foreign demand was larger than the foreign production and the fishermen sold their produce to the Europeans, they would benefit from the higher prices. If the overseas market was fully served by the western companies then the local old market would still be very much alive, even if at lower than world prices. A price increase is a gain to the locals because it means the domestic resource is much more valuable.

The western investment brought with it the ability to import goods at a cheaper price since the air freight infrastructure was improved to support the exportation of perch. The claim that weapons were brought in by these planes may be true but let’s look at the countries they are flying into. Tanzania boasts one of the most stable, long-standing governments in Africa and Kenya, despite some post-election violence in 2007, is in the same category. Uganda has a slightly darker past but it is important to realize that the continent of Africa is very diverse. The human rights violations you hear about in the news are not located in this region. Africa is four times the size of the United States. Conflict in one part of the continent may have no effect on the other.

My point is this: Don’t feel bad about eating Lake Victoria perch. If you stop eating the fish you will be hurting the exact people you want to help. By not purchasing the fish, the price will decrease resulting in lower wages for the fishermen the author victimizes. It is also likely that the western companies will pull out more quickly resulting in loss of jobs for local laborers. I understand that I am a capitalist but I am also someone who will be traveling to Africa in two weeks for the second time to volunteer for two months. I will be located in a town called Mwanza, Tanzania located on the shores of the lake. I care about the people and the social palatability just as much as the next person but I believe that understanding how market forces are actually affecting these people’s lives is important. So the next time you wish to purchase Lake Victoria Perch from Whole Foods, GO FOR IT! Because doing so is the socially responsible thing to do for the poor lakeside communities.

As a last note I want to acknowledge the effort of the article’s author for raising the questions and concerns stated above. The problems of the developing world are not always easy to solve but online discussions do have a valuable place in the dissemination of thoughts and ideas.

10 likes, 5 dislikes
Posted by klandau on 05/23/2011 at 2:30 AM

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