Committed to long-term value creation
EME supports ethical governance, responsible business practices and continually strives towards the Namibianisation of the local fishing industry.
25 February 2020 | Supplements
“We fish to empower, equip and transform lives,” says Dr Martha Uumati, Managing Director of EME and one of the first female MDs in the traditionally male dominated fishing industry.
“From the outset our aim was to empower local stakeholders and transform the fishing industry through a dedicated Namibianisation strategy across the entire value chain.”
She says that as early as 1997 the company partnered with previously disadvantaged Namibians to grow the local horse mackerel sector, then a fledgling industry with limited export markets.
“[Since then], we’ve expanded our markets and greatly contributed to the success of horse mackerel as an affordable source of protein for vulnerable communities throughout Namibia and southern Africa. In fact, we are one of the preferred brands in the SADC market.”
She adds that the company employs locals to market its product.
EME is among the leading employers in the local fishing industry and one of the leaders in the horse mackerel sector as an operator, supplying top-quality products to the local, SADC, and other African markets.
The company currently owns and operates two Namibian flagged trawler vessels. At present 73% of the crew are Namibians whilst 26% are expatriates, a significant progress in comparison to two decades ago when the vessels were mainly manned by expatriates.
Non-Namibians are only employed in cases where the necessary specialized skills and expertise are not available locally.
“EME is committed to continue with skills transfer and understudy development until the vessels are eventually manned by Namibians only. In response to Namibia’s limited training facilities, the Oceana Group has identified the need to establish a specialised maritime academy. We hope to improve on these statistics even more once the maritime academy is up and running,” Uumati says.
EME’s land-based staff is 100% Namibian and in other areas of its business operations, especially support services, only Namibians are employed. Through its procurement policy, the company also ensures local supplier development and job creation, as well as SME empowerment.
As a good corporate citizen, the company has impacted the lives of countless ordinary Namibians through its socio-economic development programmes, both regionally and nationally.
In 2017 EME made history when it became one of the first fishing companies in Namibia to introduce broad-based economic empowerment for its employees with the establishment of the Harambee Workers Trust.
Think global, act local
EME is a Namibian registered fishing company and part of the Oceana Group, a leading global fishing company and Africa’s largest fishing company with dual listing on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange (JSX) and the Namibian Stock Exchange (NSX).
The Oceana Group is an important participant in the South African, Namibian and US fishing industries, and ranked as one of the top 20 seafood companies in the world by market capitalisation. The Group is also ranked amongst the most empowered companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
“At Oceana we promote global thinking, while always ensuring that we act local,” says Uumati.
She emphasises that investment in the local fishing industry is paramount to the growth of the sector and the country’s economy as a whole.
“The industry relies heavily on foreign direct investment to develop and contribute to the local economy, especially in terms of employment. The social impact of countless jobs lost in recent years is headlined in the media frequently,” she notes.
Since the establishment of EME in 1994, the company has devoted substantial funds through capital and working capital investments and considers itself a long-term investor in the local fishing industry.
Since obtaining horse mackerel fishing rights through partnerships with Namibian right holders, the company has purchased three fishing vessels.
Through its vessel company Erongo Sea Products, EME in partnership with its Namibian right holders, bought the F/V Desert Rose and F/V Desert Jewel in 1998 and 2000 respectively. In 2008 EME invested in another mid-water trawler, the F/V Desert Ruby, to be able to catch its allocated quota.
Since 2011, EME’s right holders saw a continued and drastic reduction of fishing quotas. As the allocated quotas were not sufficient to sustain operation of all three its vessels, EME was forced to purchase additional quota from the new right holders at unsustainably high costs.
As a result, in 2015 Erongo Sea Products was forced to sell the F/V Desert Rose. This not only impacted the investment of the local right holders, but also resulted in the retrenchment of 110 of the company’s mainly Namibian crew.
The sale of the vessel had a further ripple effect on service provider revenues, including the port, stevedoring services, packaging suppliers and fuel suppliers, among others. Government revenues were also affected due to loss of taxes and levies. “Most painful remains the loss of income and livelihood of our Namibian crew,” says Uumati.
“We cannot sustain our business if we have to continually buy quotas at exorbitant and unsustainable rates from other right holders,” she says, adding that the situation is compounded by poor catch rates, poor size mixes, the fluctuating exchange rate, inflation and increased fuel and quota levies.
The current proposed 50% target as indicated in NDP5 for value addition in the horse mackerel sector adds increased pressure to the sustainability of the business as it requires substantial short-term investments.
“One fears that there will be a repeat of 2015 where the company will have to let go of another vessel, again affecting the livelihood of our Namibian workers.” Uumati says, adding that amid uncertainty in the fishing industry, large investments are simply not justifiable.
EME is extremely mindful of its responsibility towards the sustainable harvesting of one of Namibia’s most precious natural resources.
“As any other company that is granted the right to fish, we continue to prove our ability and commitment to converting our fishing rights into broad-based social and economic benefits in a sustainable and inclusive manner. We strive to do so efficiently, entrenching in our operational mind-set the reduction of energy and water usage, waste, emissions and our carbon footprint,” Uumati says.
Within the framework of Namibia’s development goals, creating and sustaining jobs is a key business focus area. In addition, NDP5 highlights value addition as a key enabler of economic growth in the fishing sector. In line with these objectives, EME in 2018 established an Onshore Processing Plant (OPP) employing an additional 40 persons.
In response to consumer demands, the company diversified its product range to include a variety of smaller package options suitable to different market needs at different price points.
As part of its ongoing efforts to transform and Namibianise the local industry, EME established the Harambee Workers Trust in 2017, giving ownership to its Namibian employees in one of the quota-holding companies in which EME is a shareholder.
What’s more, the company has a strong empowerment drive and is committed to continued skills transfer and understudy development.
“Empowering our people means providing job security, satisfaction, recognition and opportunities for skills and career development; it is also about enabling our, clients, suppliers and SMEs to grow with the company and share the value created through our business,” Uumati says.
As a good corporate citizen, EME actively seeks to empower and support vulnerable communities throughout Namibia as part of its corporate social responsibility outreach. Specific focus areas include education, health, the youth and enterprise development.
In partnership with its Namibian rights holders through the Arechanab Community Trust and Unity Community Trust, EME over the past 10 years alone invested approximately N$40 million towards the upliftment of various communities across Namibia.
“We continuously try to find ways to support government objectives in terms of skills development,” Uumati says, highlighting that apart from the company’s own internship programme, it also seeks out partnerships with dedicated vocational training centres to enable them to provide and create job attachments and training opportunities for students.
“We all say that our future lies in the hands of our youth, but what future do we offer them if we do not provide them with the opportunity to shape their skills.”
Through its flagship enterprise development initiative called Fish-4-Business conceived in 2015, EME continues to actively support small business entrepreneurship.
Existing small shop owners in rural Namibia were given the opportunity to grow their businesses whilst creating and sustaining jobs through the promotion of local fish consumption. The project also made provision for formal and specialised SME business skills training. An initial seven shops were established across Namibia which have since grown with successful shop owners adding another four satellite shops.
“We are constantly overwhelmed by new applications. Hopefully with the new rights to be announced, we’ll have the opportunity to partner with more SMEs to further expand the project and create even more employment opportunities,” Uumati says.
However, she reminds that the company’s business focus remains the protection of its investment, ensuring sustainability of its business, and ultimately the protection of jobs.