In Uganda, anaemia a deficiency caused by low iron consumption, is commonplace and represents a serious challenge to human health and economic development.
It affects women of reproductive age and children under five years in particular because these groups struggle to access food of animal origin, especially fish, due to unavailability and expense.
Rich in protein and other nutrients essential for good health, fish is considered a ‘superfood’ and optimal for child development.
In Ugandan lakes, three highly nutritious, finger-sized fishes, known locally as ‘muziri’, ‘ragoogi’ and ‘mukene’ dominate fish catches. However, their nutritional – and economic – benefits are not being realised because high post-harvest losses, caused by improper handling and processing techniques, impact quality and consumer appeal.
The NutriFish project is making the most out of these fish through the development of five nutrient-packed, fish-enriched food products, including a cooking sauce and maize meal for mothers and babies. The fish sauce, which is used in place of beans as a source of protein, cooks in just 10 minutes compared to 1-3 hours for beans.
Local families are therefore able to cut down on their energy requirements and reduce their environmental impacts whilst meeting their nutritional needs. The project has also engaged street vendors who make chapatti, normally served with beans, to encourage them to sell their flatbread with the fish-enriched sauce to increase uptake.
To help communities reduce their post-harvest losses and access a more reliable supply of processed fish products, NutriFish has introduced solar tent drying technology as an alternative to traditional open-air sun-drying.
The tent drying process is faster and cleaner than traditional methods, whilst also being sustainable, and is enhancing the livelihoods of women who constitute the majority of local fish processers. Processed fish quality has improved, increasing the shelf life from 6 to 8 weeks, to nearly 5 months, and has doubled incomes for the women processers.
To further improve the sustainability of small fish processing businesses, the electronic Catch Assessment Survey (eCAS) assessment survey, a simple app, has been developed by the project. Fishers can use this on their mobile phones to collect and transmit catch data on a daily basis.
The information provided by the fishers informs the project when fish stocks are low. This data is passed on to local policymakers and feeds into recommendations that help avoid overfishing and ensure sustainable management of the fish stocks.
Betty Mercy Timbe from Ntoroko landing site on Lake Albert never ate small fish whilst growing up: “I thought they were too small to eat,” she explains. But after attending a training session with the project to learn about the nutritional benefits of fish, she tasted fried mukene for the first time – “It was very delicious,” she enthuses. Betty has since become a project ‘champion’, taking the information she learnt back to her community and encouraging more people to eat small fish by offering them as snacks at her local bar. She has also been able to mobilise 11 women into forming a fishing group. Previously, the women had to buy fish from other fishers – who would determine who got what number of fish – but now, they own seven boats themselves and since coming together, have been able to enhance their earnings to an estimated US$1,200 per month from various fish-trading activities. The women are using the income to meet their family needs and expand their businesses.
Photo caption: Betty Mercy Timber with members of the Ntoroko Women Mukene Fishers Association at Ntoroko landing site, Lake Albert, Western Uganda.