Magical solar tents add value to fish products

Analysis by Charles Mkoka

Malawi is naturally blessed with resources and one of these important resources is the presence of different species of fish in its water. It is an undeniable fact that lake shore communities have over the last 30 – 50 years been able to catch thousands of tons of this rich protein food that is on high demand among many people across the region.

However, despite the food security and nutritive component present in fish, a new threat is threatening the fishery sector in recent times amidst challenges of dwindling stocks in the face of climate change. This is the problem of post-harvest fish losses, largely blamed on poor handling of fish, processing and packaging before marketing.

In Malawi post-harvest losses account for about 40 percent of the fish catches. This is a worrying development looking at the food security and nutrition benefits that are derived from fish, as a major protein source.

Post-harvest fish losses can be translated into production of food and nutrients that ultimately nobody benefits from. This is a highly unacceptable situation within the prevailing global trends of population growth, rapid urbanization, ever increasing food demand amidst scarce resources, especially dwindling fisheries resources, environment degradation and climate variability.

The fishing industry in Malawi alone supports over 300,000 people including other economies of agglomeration within the fish value chain. Realizing the important role that fish play, it is pleasing to note that interventions have been put in place by a variety of interested partners locally and internationally together with affected communities in order to reduce losses incurred during processing and along the value chain.

Cultivate Africa Future Fund (CultiAf) a partnership between Canadian International Development Agency and the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research deserves recognition for supporting this applied research to improve long term food security in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Through CultiAf, there have been different approaches that have been used to empower communities to remain climate resilient. One such method is the group approach that has resulted in five groups of 15 – 20 members being formed and trained at Nsaka, Malembo, Madzedze, Lifuwu and Chikombe on the use of environment friendly solar tent fish dryers owned and utilized by the groups.  The sharing of ideas, skills and knowledge, reduced labour and buying and selling in bulk have been some of the added benefits. Although there have been challenges, the benefits have been able to outweigh them in the long term.

Another approach used has been the individual approach where 20 youths (14 females and 6 males) have been participating. They utilized the technology through renting from individual fish processors. The technology has rewarded users with good results while they eye the lucrative chain market stores with value added products.

The use of fire to process fish through smoking, has been very destructive to the environment as it leads to large chunks of wood being cut from forest areas. This is different from the CultiAf solar tent fish dryer that only use the sun radiation to dry fish. This has been very instrumental in ensuring it adds value to processed fish products produced by diverse groups of different demographic age brackets including the youth and women hence breaking gender barriers.

There is a strong linkage between African youth and agriculture, food security and nutrition benefits to the growing population. The agriculture sector provides incomes opportunities for both rural and urban youth in Africa.

The solar tent fish dryers have created the platform for youth employment as they stand shoulder high to compete with others having been empowered with business plans by the fund. This has given them an edge as the processed fish they take to the market has reduce microbial load, increased shelf life but also improve sensory characteristics.

Better packaging and storage protect the fish from contamination and prevent it from spoilage. It also extends its shelf life, facilitates distribution and display, and gives greater consumer appeal among other benefits.

What have been dubbed as “Tipindule ndi nsomba” for Lake Chilwa and “Nsomba m’chuma” for Lake Malawi; the multiplier effect from this model have been empowered participating families that are capable of supporting their children to access better education, build better houses, and more importantly remain food secured throughout the year. But more importantly, it builds the resilience of the young men and women and their families in order to still remain relevant in the face of the vagaries of climate change.

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