Malawi: Women benefit from solar fish dryers (by Norman Fulatira, for Farm Radio Weekly in Malawi)

| January 30, 2012

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A successful pilot project is transforming the way that fish are processed on Malawi’s Lake Chilwa. And women fish processors are reaping the benefits.

Sellina Naphwinya is chairperson of Tadala women’s fish processing group, which works on one of Lake Chilwa’s beaches. She and her group are now using solar fish dryers. She says they are far better than previous ways of processing fish. She explains, “Solar fish dryers improve hygiene and the quality of fish processed because, compared to other methods, the fish has good taste and comes out clean, since it is dried inside the tents.” Another important advantage is that  solar dryers reduce time for drying.

The shoreline of Lake Chilwa is dotted with small fishing villages, and provides 20 per cent of all fish caught in Malawi. For many years, fish processors around the lake relied on traditional open-air drying and smoking. But open-air drying exposes fish to flies. And smoking uses a lot of firewood, causing environmental problems.

To address these issues, the World Fish Centre designed a pilot project. They started by building solar dryers and handing them over to two women’s groups on Lake Chilwa. The pilot project was successful, and now women fish processors around the lake are calling for the program to be scaled up.

The chairperson of a group of women fish processors from Swang’oma beach says that solar dryers have many benefits. “Most women fish processors in my group have also liked this new technique because at the market, buyers now prefer fish from solar dryers to either smoked or open  sun-dried, due to the quality of fish processed.”

The solar dryers are small tent-like houses wrapped in transparent plastic sheeting. The sheeting allows the sun’s light and heat to dry small fish placed on racks inside the tent. Drying fish takes no more than 24 hours with the solar dryers, compared to two days using traditional means.

The solar dryers are now in high demand. Dr. Jamu is the director of the World Fish Centre. He states that the Centre is ready to collaborate and reach out to women fish processors on more beaches around Lake Chilwa. Dr. Steve Donda is Deputy Director of the Department of Fisheries. He says the technique will be scaled up to all the beaches on the lakes in Malawi.