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Transformation for women fish dealers

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SUSTAINABLE—Wood utilisation when smoking fish

By Charles Mkoka:

Malawian fish traders have been using traditional methods, which include open rack drying and smoking of processing their catch.

Although fish can be preserved, it is more susceptible to contaminants and vulnerable to microbial activities, says Daveson Chatuluka Paulosi, who is based at Malembo fish landing site at Nankumba in Mangochi.

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Paulosi says, today, there are more opportunities with the coming in of improved fish processing methods through the ‘Nsomba N’chuma’ programme.

Previously considered a male-dominated area, fish processing opportunities are now extended to women to level the playing field as part of gender and economic empowerment initiatives.

“Fish easily goes bad when processed using traditional methods. Improved methods protect the catch. It is even interesting to see more women getting involved in the fish value chain,” Paulosi says.

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Fish is the major source of animal protein for Malawi’s 18 million population. It is also a good source of calcium, vitamin, iron and zinc.

However, the contribution of fish to the country’s economy, food and nutrition security is at risk as a result of high post-harvest losses, estimated at 34 percent.

Significant losses occur when fish is sun-dried in the open air after capture, which exposes the catch to flies, dust and other contaminants, leading to spoilage.

Low temperatures and humid conditions during the rainy season also impact the fish-drying process and consequently the quality of the dried fish.

To reduce post-harvest losses and improve quality and prices, Cultivate Africa Future (CultiAF) is empowering women to capitalise on improved methods of processing fish.

The programme, co-funded by the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), is promoting adoption of technologies such as solar tent dryers and improved smoking kilns through improved access to finance to support women, who undertake most of the processing activities.

Financing the adoption of the technologies is achieved through FDH Bank Limited.

“After thorough consultations, it was agreed to offer short-term loans to fish processors of both genders,” says Joshua Masangano, FDH Bank Agribusiness Manager. “The loans are meant to finance the acquisition of solar tent dryers and improved smoking kilns for fish processors and traders.”

As part of the gender empowerment approach, women fish processors were given a preferential interest rate of 9.1 percent above the base lending rate of 12 percent.

Three trainings were conducted to sensitise applicants to information about the bank’s accounts and loan products, and on issues related to business planning. Initially, 60 fish processors (30 women, 30 men) applied for the loan.

However, after a rigorous screening process, only 18 applicants, 10 women and eight men, were approved based on their monthly turnovers.

According to Masangano, the proposed repayment tenure for the loan was agreed at 12 months, payable in equal monthly instalments.

Upon request from a customer, the payments can be aligned to coincide with peak months only, but full repayment has to be made within 12 months.

So far, K19.6 million has been distributed to six fish processors (three women and three men) who have constructed six solar dryers, five smoking kilns and two warehouses.

The women beneficiaries praise the mode of financing. In Mangochi, 28-year-old Atusaye Msiska, based at Madzedze fish landing site on the eastern arm of Lake Malawi, has successfully accessed a K2.9 million from FDH.

The financing, provided in the form of materials, has enabled Msiska to construct a solar tent dryer, a fish smoking kiln and a fish processing shelter.

The processing shelter is a secure, open house that is roofed, enabling Msiska to fry or boil her purchased fish when it is raining and keep flies and other contaminants away.

“When the business environment is fine and demand is high, I make a profit margin of K50,000 per week. With this profit, I take care of my child and acquire some household items,” the single mother says.

Another beneficiary is Adija Mtenje, based at Malembo, Traditional Authority Nankumba. She has been in the fish processing business for almost 20 years.

Mtenje also received a K2.9 million FDH loan. The bank paid for the materials for her to construct a solar tent dryer and smoking kiln.

Boniface Nankweya, a research analyst at WorldFish, an international centre for agriculture research, says women are the main actors in processing small fish species.

The project is applying the Gender Transformation Approach (GTA) to address causes and consequences of gender inequalities and ensure equitable allocation of resources to both women and men to spark change at community and household levels.

Nankweya adds that applying GTA will result in increased adoption of improved technologies, engagement of women, youths and men in lucrative fish businesses, and enhanced supply of health and safe fish products.

This will eventually increase incomes and create employment, improve household food and nutrition security and economically empower more women and youth.

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