Is Indonesia a sleeping seafood giant?

In December, Indonesia proclaimed that it’s looking to become the world’s largest seafood producer. Fadel Muhammad, the country’s minister of marine affairs and fisheries, predicted this would happen by 2015, although he did concede that Indonesia needs to allocate more resources for developing its fisheries if it is to achieve this ambitious goal.

There is no doubt that Indonesia has the wherewithal to massively increase its seafood production; it has a sea area of 7.9 million square kilometers, four times that of its land area. However, despite ranking second in global seafood production with just over 8.8 million metric tons in 2008, the latest year for which Food and Agriculture Organization statistics are available, Indonesia was still far behind China, which produced more than 57 million metric tons of seafood.

In terms of seafood exports, Indonesia is way down the list. According to the FAO, in 2007 Indonesia languished in 11th place behind Canada, the Netherlands and Spain, with exports worth USD 2.2 billion (EUR 1.6 billion), a mere 2.3 percent of the world total.

However, help is at hand to push Indonesia up the world seafood export rankings. The FAO is implementing a project to create an organisation in Indonesia that will focus on developing its seafood exports.

Since 2008, a pilot project called Fish Marketing Information Service (FMIS) has been operated in Aceh Province, the region hardest hit by the 2004 tsunami. The project has focused on providing updated prices from various alternative markets and on helping producers and exporters market their products, develop new ones and expand their customer base.

The organization will follow the blueprint of INFOFISH, the regional intergovernmental organization for marketing information and technical advisory services for the Asia-Pacific seafood industry. Based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, INFOFISH, which was set up by FAO but is now an independent organization, has served the region since 1981.

The establishment of the national pilot project in Indonesia is the first time, however, that FAO has built a local/national organization linked to the so-called FishInfoNetwork, which, in addition to INFOFISH, consists of regional offices in Africa (INFOPECHE), Latin America (INFOPESCA), the Middle East (INFOSAMAK), eastern Europe (EUROFISH), China (INFOYU) and southern Africa (INFOSA).

According to Erik Hempel, the FAO consultant advising the FMIS and Indonesian government, the original idea was to set up a marketing information service, but experience has shown that trade promotion is also needed, he said.

“Today’s seafood trading environment is extremely complex, and seafood export agencies have an important role to play,” explained Hempel. “The help they provide can range from information collection, analysis and dissemination; market analysis/market research; assistance and training in marketing; promotional activities such as participation in trade shows; formation of sales organizations; and provision of advice to the country’s government.”

Export promotion agencies have been set up in a number of countries, including Ireland, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Vietnam and Norway.

“And by and large they are doing a good job,” said Hempel. “This is particularly true in Norway and Vietnam, where the establishment of the Norwegian Seafood Export Council (NSEC) and the Vietnamese Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) has helped to dramatically increase their respective country’s seafood exports.”

Whether this can be achieved in Indonesia remains to be seen, but at least the early signs are encouraging. FMIS has, for example, organized joint participation by Aceh seafood companies in a Malaysian seafood exhibition, market visits by Acehnese exporters to Malaysia and Singapore, and exchange of information that has led to product development in Aceh.

“Consequently, we are now looking at the possibility of expanding the scope of services to also include trade promotion,” said Hempel. “But it is, of course, first and foremost a matter of finding the money required.”

For the sake of the Indonesian seafood industry’s future, which has the potential to become a major contributor to the global seafood trade, let’s hope that the necessary funding is forthcoming.

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