Zambia: Improved post-harvest handling brings hope to fishers (IPS)

| November 30, 2015

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Hadon Sichali has been employed in the fish trade for more than 20 years. The 55-year-old entrepreneur is from Mongu, 600 kilometres west of Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. After many years of work, he says that only now is he a true businessman. He says, “I now make [a] reasonable income after struggling for so many years.”

Mr. Sichali recently learned about improved post-harvest handling techniques from a project run by researchers from the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, the University of Zambia, and the NGO, WorldFish. The researchers are working with Mr. Sichali and others in the fish industry to reduce losses, and to promote greater equity among the men and women who work in fisheries.

Mr. Sichali now earns up to 5,000 kwacha [US$420] per month. He used to earn an average of 700 kwacha [US$60]. He says: “Over the years, I have just been making enough for my family; it has been a subsistence kind of trading, from hand to mouth. But I … have reduced [my] losses through improved post-harvest handling [methods] such as salting. My capital has grown and I have even diversified into [other] business.”

Mongu is a community that relies heavily on fishing. But poor post–harvest handling of fish is contributing to declining consumption. Alex Chilala is the Agricultural Coordinator for Zambia’s Western Province. He says, “Some literature put[s] post-harvest loss figures at 30 percent countrywide, but Western Province could be slightly higher.”

Fishers often have to walk as much as 25 kilometres to get to the harbour after harvesting their catch. Mr. Chilala explains: “Most of those involved in fish processing and trading are women. And you can imagine the stress they go through walking long distances across the vast flood plain to the harbour.”

Traders sell only a small amount of fresh fish. Most fish are sun-dried or smoked. But this makes the fish brittle and easily damaged during transportation, which destroys the quality and reduces the value of the fish.

Dr. Kate Longley works with WorldFish. She believes the best way for people to learn about new techniques is to try them out. She says, “We give them the ideas and they put them into practice, and then adapt them according to their local context to meet their needs.”

Dr. Alexander Shula Kefi works with the Department of Fisheries, and is leading the project. He says, “It is always important for the people to discuss the weakness and strengths of the innovations amongst themselves, of course with the guidance of the researchers.”

The new techniques include smoking sheds that use less firewood, cooling with ice, and solar tent drying, in which a tent made from plastic sheeting protects fish from dust and flies during the drying process.

Robert Lubilo is the Chief Fisheries Training Instructor. He says, “Apart from materials being locally available and cheap, solar dryers have the advantage of elevated temperatures for fast drying and an assurance of a clean end product.”

Mr. Lubilo says that another method which is gaining popularity among locals is salting. Salting firms the fish and reduces the risk of damage during transportation and storage. Mr. Lubilo says, “Salting is an ancient method, but people here in Western Province [ignored] it.”

Mr. Sichali has learned the value of salting, and is delighted with the change in his fortunes. He says: “We used to lose a quarter of our stock due to [breakage] during transportation, especially over long distances. But now we have learnt salting, salted fish does not break—no matter what.”

To read the full article on which this story is based, Improved Post-Harvest Fish Handling Brings Hope to Western Zambia, go to: http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/improved-post-harvest-fish-handling-brings-hope-to-western-zambia/

Photo: Hadon Sichali at his fish stand in the market. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS