Fish drying method changes lives in Burundi

posted in: Africa

(PANA) – A project by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to equip small fishing communities with the tools and know-how to dry fish on simple raised racks instead of on the sand has changed lives along the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Burundi, FAO said in a statement this week.

Women had always dried catches of small sardine-like silver lake fish called ‘ndagala’ on the ground, where they were easy pickings for animals and vulnerable to being trampled and contaminated. During the rainy season, many fish would be washed away or start to rot.

“If the fishes got spoiled and began to smell awfully it was impossible to sell them at market,” said Gabriel Butoyi, president of Rumonge fishing port.

In total, around 15 percent of the catch was lost or spoiled during the drying process.

Working with Burundi’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, FAO first set up a tiny project in the village of Mvugo ten years ago, constructing just 48 cheap wire-mesh racks suspended a metre above the ground, offering training and distributing leaflets on how to build the racks.

Driers quickly saw the benefits, with racks reducing drying time from three days to just eight hours, meaning producers can dry multiple batches of fish in the same day. The fish are out of reach of animals, and racks can also be covered when it rains, preventing spoilage.

“Our fishes are of a good quality without small gravel or stones and they are dried in hygienic conditions,” said rack owner Domitien Ndabaneze. “With our products, customers are no longer concerned with eating sandy fish.”

According to FAO, word spread fast among fishing communities, and the use of racks exploded along the shores of the lake. The area dedicated to fish drying near the village of Mvugo has increased from one acre in 2004 to five acres today, and the number of driers at all official fishing sites along the shores of Lake Tanganyika has increased from 500 to over 2 000

The quantity of fish lost or wasted due to inadequate drying practices has more than halved, and as the quality of the dried fish has improved, prices have more than doubled, from 4 000 Burundian francs (US$2.5/kg) in 2004 to 9,000 (US$6/kg) in 2013.

“I am able to look after my child because of the business I do trading fish,” said Pelousi Ndayisaba, a former rebel fighter who turned to fish drying. “It is the only activity that provides me with a living.”

The rack drying technique also reduces daily drudgery for the driers, as women no longer have to bend down to spread and turn fish on the ground.

Small-scale operations have sprung up providing the material for, and building, the racks, also helping to improve the livelihoods of fishing communities and the local economy.

The longer shelf life of rack-dried fish means that the high-protein ndagala can be transported not only to inland but also trans-border and regional markets, contributing to the nutrition of communities who live far from sources of fresh fish.

Yet at the same time, the increase in supply has not put greater pressure on the lake’s resources, as the amount of fish being taken from the lake has remained relatively stable.

“The extraordinary thing is how this one very small project has created a snowball effect along the shores of the lake,” said FAO Fishery Industry Officer Yvette Diei-Ouadi. “It’s extremely rare now to see people drying fish on the ground – if driers can’t afford wire-mesh racks they will improvise with wood and fishing net. Even fishing communities in neighbouring countries have taken up the rack-drying technique.”

The new way of drying fish has brought other changes. Whereas in 2004, about 80 percent of driers were women, now men keen to join in the lucrative enterprise comprise 30-40 percent.

FAO is meanwhile continuing to promote and strengthen the use of drying racks in other countries including Kenya, Uganda and Zambia, where the success of the technique has resulted in dried fish being exported and sold in Zimbabwe, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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