Revitalizing Cabo Verde’s Fishing Industry

How USAID helped a promising business devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic

USAID
U.S. Agency for International Development

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Simone Duarte (left) in a local fish market doing business with fishmongers. / Akua Mensah, USAID

Fresk D’Gustinh, a family-owned business in Cabo Verde, has roots that extend for four generations. It all began in 1934 with Nha Gaida, a fishmonger in São Nicolau, one of the country’s 10 volcanic islands near the West African coast.

Nha was the great-grandmother of Simone Duarte, who runs the business today. Simone recounts how her mother followed in the family’s footsteps, working for nearly 40 years as a fishmonger in Saō Nicolau and Santiago, the largest island on Cabo Verde.

For Simone’s mother, business was often unpredictable, and after a long career, she began to plan her retirement. Simone was pursuing a career in engineering, but having grown up with her mother’s optimism about the fish trade, she took over the business, including fishing, fish selling, and boat construction. Along the way, Simone realized the fishing sector in Cabo Verde has solid economic growth potential.

The fishing industry is active and growing in Cabo Verde, providing employment opportunities to many of the archipelago residents. / Akua Mensah, USAID

The fish value chain accounts for up to 10% of Cabo Verde’s gross domestic product. With 1,700 fishing vessels in operation, the industry has high productivity and scalability potential. The primary catch is tuna, cod, halibut, herrings, and sardines. These sustain local consumption and drive valuable export revenue.

Beyond its economic impact, the fish value chain supports over 10,000 jobs, spanning various sectors such as commerce, processing, and shipyard activity, thereby serving as a crucial source of livelihood for many Cabo Verdeans.

Simone consolidated the family’s assets and network and, in 2017, founded the Fresk D’Gustinh company, named in memory of her grandfather. Cabo Verde is a popular tourist destination for Europeans, and because of the company’s reputation for quality, it quickly became a major seafood supplier to restaurants and hotels.

Simone’s sister, Yara, eventually joined the company as the financial and administrative lead. By 2019, two years after Simone had begun working in the fishing trade, Fresk D’Gustinh was on a steady path to growth and success.

A busy fish market in Cabo Verde is bustling with commercial activity. / Akua Mensah, USAID

However, the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020 and the subsequent closure of the tourism industry brutally cut the company’s revenues by nearly 80%.

This is when USAID stepped in.

At the time, Frantz Tavares, a USAID West Africa Trade and Investment Hub representative, was in Cabo Verde in hopes of striking agreements with new business partners.

USAID’s Trade Hub boosts economic growth and food security in West Africa by building partnerships with promising businesses. After agreeing on a growth plan, USAID invests in a company with a grant proportional to the amount the company is willing to invest with its own resources — a process called co-investment.

“The Trade Hub grant was a lifeline for us,” Simone said. “The pandemic hit us hard, but the grant brought us hope.”

Fresk D’Gustinh diversified its business from direct fish sales by pioneering innovation in the processed fish product market. The company developed inventive recipes for fish balls and fish burgers that were marketed to families who wanted to make quick, healthy meals after long days at work and school.

The company used the investments to expand product lines, enlarge facilities, support fishing communities, and execute a strategic marketing program. It also built two fishing boats and a new processing plant.

Simone Duarte (left) inspecting her company’s product placement and storage in a local store. / Akua Mensah, USAID

As a result of this partnership with USAID, the company gained more corporate clients, increased its sales by 350%, and hired 30 people. Fresk D’Gustinh also secured an additional private capital investment totaling nearly $578,000.

Because of this boost, the economic activity around the company increased. For example, merchants, suppliers of goods, and service providers suddenly had more business because of the rising production of Fresk D’Gustinh. This resulted in the creation of 90 additional jobs in the local economy.

To fulfill the family’s aspirations to empower workers in the fishing sector, Fresk has provided instrumental support for the establishment and formal registration of the “Nos Coop” cooperative, founded by seven dedicated fishers and fishmongers to promote knowledge sharing and strengthen social support for workers in the fishing industry.

“We want to support the people in the fish sector to feel empowered so we can build the industry in Cabo Verde,” Simone explains.

Simone expressed optimism for her company’s future and its impact on Cabo Verde’s fishing industry. In the next three years, she hopes the company will expand to export markets. She credits the USAID Trade Hub partnership as pivotal in its success.

“[Our] achievements wouldn’t be possible without the Trade Hub, and for that, we want to thank [USAID] Trade Hub for the phenomenal partnership,” she said.

Simone Duarte (right) with fishmongers in a fish market in Cabo Verde. / Akua Mensah, USAID

About the Authors

Olivier Le Blanc is the Regional Development Outreach and Communication Advisor for USAID’s Mission in Senegal and the Sahel Regional Office. Akua Mensah is the Communications Specialist for the USAID West Africa Trade & Investment Hub.

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USAID
U.S. Agency for International Development

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