Uganda's fishing communities are exploring novel, hygienic methods to process silver fish or 'Mukene', to penetrate new markets and enhance people's nutrition. These tiny fish are now being dried on elevated racks, and the implementation of solar tent dryers is thought to further boost the quality of the dried product, particularly during the rainy season.
I was drying my fish in the sun.
This shift in practice is most notable among fish processing groups at Lake Victoria, inspired by the training received from NutriFish.
This project is promoting the nutritional content of silver fish and the need for safeguarding their quality during processing. "The rain, sometimes starting as early as ten in the morning", can deter customers from buying and lead to significant losses in sales, says Teraza Wilimina, a member of the Kikondo women's fish processors group.
Amanna Bashir, another Lake Victoria fish processor, notes an improvement in her business. "I was drying my fish in the sun and managed to sell only two crates a day. But, since the solar tent drier was built, I've seen an improvement and been able to sell up to five crates a day," she reports.
However, the fish consumption and production shift is not solely due to improved processing methods. NutriFish, funded by the International Development Research Centre, Canada and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, has also launched radio campaigns to educate the public about the nutritional benefits of silver fish.
This educational push seems to have affected some fishermen like Musa Odwoka at Lake Albert. "I thought I could not eat small fish when I am a fisherman, and I spent a lot of money on buying tilapia and Nile perch for my family."
These small fish are quite nutritious.
However, he adds, "The training made me realise that these small fish are quite nutritious and good for the body." This shift, he further explains, has allowed him to allocate more funds for his children's education.
Jackson Efitre from NutriFish points out that while these are promising developments, much work remains to be done. Recent statistics from the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey indicate a high prevalence of malnutrition among children under five years old and women of reproductive age. Encouragingly, there has been a 30% increase in silver fish consumption, a source rich in micronutrients like iron, zinc, and calcium, since NutriFish's initiatives.
Another outcome of NutriFish's work is the emergence of entrepreneurial initiatives. Eunice Muwanguzi, inspired by the project, now operates a small business drying and selling silver fish. She earns around USh120,000 (US$32) daily, primarily from clients in Kikondo and towns like Jinja and Kampala.
Despite these promising developments, challenges remain. As the project nears its end, there is concern about the continued need for more solar tent driers and the high costs associated with their construction. Nevertheless, Micheal Aloya, the district fisheries officer in Pakwach District, remains hopeful, "We have seen private partners coming in who are interested in helping them."