Innovations to reduce post harvest fish losses
Fish in Malawi has a key role in food security, at one time contributing 70 percent of animal protein in rural and urban areas. Overall, the fishing industry contributes four percent to the Gross National Product, according to the Fisheries Department.
However, several factors have led to depletion of the resource in Malawi waters. Overfishing, caused by an ever increasing number of fishermen, is one problem. The fishery sector is riddled with the use of illegal gear and, of late, mosquito nets that reduce malaria attacks are being used to catch juvenile and immature fish.
The country’s most favourite delicacy, the tasty Chambo fish has suffered from violation of their closed breeding season. According to the department of fisherise, Fishermen have been illegally catching fish during the breeding season, resulting in loss of eggs and young fish.
A new threat is also threatening the sector in the face of such challenges as dwindling stock in our waters. This is the problem of post harvest fish losses, largely blamed on poor handling of fish, processing and packaging before marketing.
Deputy Director of Fisheries, Steve Donda, recently told the media in Mangochi that post harvest fish losses account for about 40 percent of the catches from the Lake. This is a worrying development, considering food security and nutrition benefits that are derived from fish as a major protein source.
Post harvest fish losses translate into production of food and nutrients that nobody benefits from, a highly unacceptable situation in an era characterised by population growth, rapid urbanisation, ever increasing food demand amidst scarce resources, environmental degradation and climate variability, according to findings of a 2012 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization regional training on post harvest fish losses in small scale fisheries.
CultiAF realises that the youth who are interested in agriculture face challenges such as limited access to natural and financial resources, limited opportunities for upward mobility skills and experience to run successful business.
CultiAF is supported by two international institutions namely; Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research and International Development Research Centre through research to achieve long term food security.
CultiAF, therefore, invited youth who are involved in entrepreneurship in the fish value chain to generate and test novel, creative and bold models that increase the participation of youth in the fish industry in Malawi and Zambia, as well as the youth involved in the maize post harvest agribusiness sector in Zimbabwe, according to Loreto Lekhoaba, an agri-business consultant under by ATDH Entrepreneurship Hub.
“Selected awardees that have received grants are being trained in assessing the agri-business environment, identifying viable opportunities and targeting market segments for selected fish. They are also mentored on developing a portfolio of youth managed business and high growth firms and are then linked to business development services,” Lekhoaba explained in an interview on the sidelines of the training in Lilongwe.
There is a strong linkage between African youth and agriculture. The agriculture sector provides income opportunities for both rural and urban youth in Africa. The sector also benefits from young people’s resourcefulness, technological savvy and organisational capacity.
However, there are a few programmes that seek to encourage young people, especially women, to realise that agribusiness opportunities in fish and maize post harvest value chains serve as vehicles for commercialising research outputs.
Youth Action in Agriculture Development (Yaad) based at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) came in as one of the youth movements with multidisciplinary programmes in nature with synergies in horticulture, animal science, crop science, human ecology among various other disciplines, says agriculture economist Lusungu Banda Moyo.
“We are in the business of buying and selling fish here at the university. We make use of equipment housed in the department of fisheries and aquaculture science laboratory,” answers Moyo, when asked about what they are doing in the fish value chain.
Her sentiments are echoed by another Yaad member, Charity Kanono, who explains that the fresh fish comes from Salima, Nkhotakota and Mangochi districts. Kanono says the prices are unpredictable and depend on demand and supply factors on the market.
“As such, we realised that it would be easier for us to engage in the fish sausage business,” says Moyo and her colleagues.
They hope that sausage production will increase shelf live for the fish.
Priscilla Nsandu agrees that, in order for the sausage enterprise to flourish, they need to procure equipment such as mixers, grinders, casing and packaging devices. The group is of the view that the presence of the food science department within the campus will help it raise the bar in terms of standards, nutrient identification and quality assurance aspects before marketing.
Another group, Youth against Darkness, based at Monkey Bay in Mangochi, is actively involved in fish processing using technologies that are friendly to the environment. Among other advantages, fish processing reduces the quantity of fish lost after post-harvest.
Hamisi Nyampesi, the group’s leader, says the processed fish is packaged in well labelled packets of 75 and 100 grammes as part of value addition.
Nyampesi says, when they buy a bucket at K4, 000, they are able to generate a profit of over 50 percent from the sales after processing and packaging the fish.
“Our processing and packaging reduces microbial growth, and the air vent on solar tent dryers allows circulation of air for the fish to dry. The solar dryer also keeps them safe in all seasons,” says Nyampesi in an interview during the training in Lilongwe.
Another innovative youth entrepreneurship initiative is the use of vacuum fish storage devises. This is being done by M and K Cooling System, who specialise in refrigeration and cooling systems. According to Enock Palapandu, vacuum storage in the fish value chain slows down microbial activities in fish storage.
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.
“I wrote the proposal on technology-transfer-method of the fish. Now that we have received the grant, I will start ordering materials. I should be through with the innovation in three months. Thereafter, we will do pre-testing [of the product] with one of the users,” says Palapandu, a graduate of renewable energy from Mzuzu University.
It is hoped that with such innovative technologies, the youth in the three countries will become self-reliant and offer employment to unemployed youth. They can support the suppliers by keeping them in business, uplift their communities through economies of agglomeration, and contribute to the development of the country.
More importantly, they will address food security and nutrition-related challenges through the provision of proteins to those living far away from the lake.
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