Uganda: Fish smoking kiln cuts cancer risks and women’s labour (SciDev.Net)

| February 2, 2024

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In Uganda, a new fish-smoking kiln is transforming women’s work and health. Traditionally, women who work in the fish processing industry faced health risks and challenges with local ovens. The kiln, developed by Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization, significantly reduces cancer-causing air pollutants. This not only reduces health risks but also improves the efficiency of smoking fish, extending report less stress, improved family relationships, and expanded market opportunities, enhancing their livelihoods and quality of life.

Pioneers of a fish smoking kiln designed to reduce the risk of cancer and other health problems say it is improving the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of women in Uganda.

For decades, women leading the country’s fish processing industry have faced hardships from using locally-made ovens to smoke fish. They frequently spend sleepless nights to prevent their fish from burning or being stolen. 

The new fish smoking kiln was developed by scientists at the engineering arm of Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation. John Yawe is a scientist at the organization. He said it was developed to reduce cancer risks as well as the burdens women face while smoking fish.

He says, “In addition to reducing the cancer-causing agents, it was largely designed with women at the centre because it is mostly women involved in the fish smoking industry.”

Mr. Yawe says that the kiln reduces impurities and cancer-causing elements such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from the locally smoked fish, from as much as 40,000 parts per billion to two parts per billion.

He explains: “The polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are as a result of burning wood, garbage, plastic and they are associated with increased cancer cases in addition to reduced lung functionality, asthma, lung, and heart diseases.”

Mr. Yawe explains that the kiln has a smoke filter that removes all impurities from the generated smoke.

Members of the Women of Hope Katosi Fish Processing Association are among those benefiting from the kiln. They say it is improving women’s livelihoods by making the process more efficient and keeping the fish edible for longer.

Priscilla Nakato is vice-chairwoman of the association. She says, “The women used to smoke fish for two to three days and it would go bad within two days. With the new fish kiln, they smoke for 12 hours and the fish will last for a month.”

Mrs. Nakato says that the women take pride in being part of the association because it enables them to earn a living to look after their families and educate their children.

Fatuma Nassiwa is a member of the association. She says that the new kiln has improved the quality of life of the women. She says, “Since we started using the new kiln, we are more peaceful and less worried about the safety and quality of our fish.”

She adds, “I can load the fish and do other house chores or even go to the market—unlike before, when I would sit there throughout, monitoring the fish so it does not get burnt.”

Mrs. Nassiwa said that before they had the new kiln, marriages were in distress because of the fish stench.

She says, “However much we bathed and soaked our clothes in detergent, the fish stench would stay. This caused our husbands to abandon us for ‘cleaner’ women.”

Kamya Simon is a fish kiln cluster coordinator at the National Agricultural Research Organisation. He says 165 women fish processors from the Kaliro fish farmers cluster have also benefitted from the kiln.

Mr. Simon says it has made fish processing easy for the women and helped expand their market beyond Uganda to include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, and Rwanda. He says this is because they are able to meet the required standard for the export market of less than two parts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons per billion, as recommended by the World Health Organization and the European Union.
This story is adapted from an article published by SciDev.Net called “Ugandan fish smoking kiln cuts cancer risks.” To read the full story, go to: