In Burundi, fishing is a major source of livelihood for many people living near Lake Tanganyika. For many years, women in this region have made a living by preserving small fish from the lake and selling them in the market.
These small, sardine-like fish, locally called ndagala, are preserved by laying them on the sandy ground to dry out. However, this unhygienic method makes them susceptible to animals, contamination, and rot, especially during the rainy season.
The fish often take days to dry, and if spoiled, they become impossible to sell at market. In total, about 15% of the catch is wasted using this drying method. The high rate of waste contributes to lost income, overfishing, and lack of access to the dried fish that is a regular part of the local diet.
In 2004, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) worked with Burundi’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department to set up a pilot project to test a new, more sustainable drying method for people living a village called Mvugo on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. The FAO constructed 48 wire mesh racks, offered training, and distributed information on how to use and build the racks. The racks sit one metre above the ground and keep the fish clean from dirt and away from animals and insects.
Because of increased air circulation, the racks also reduce the drying time from three days to just eight hours, and can easily be covered to reduce spoilage when it rains. People who participated in the pilot not only adopted the techniques, but continued to share them with others after the project ended. Today, although the project has long since completed, the technique is still employed and promoted by local fisherman’s organizations.
In total, more than 2,000 people now use the improved drying technique, feeding an estimated 12,000 family members with the income they generate. Many report that the quality, taste, and texture of the fish has improved, and demand is high. New markets have sprung up specializing in the construction and sale of the drying racks. Because post-harvest losses have decreased so dramatically, the level of fish stocks in the lake remains stable, even with the increase in fishermen.
The new method has also helped refugees and former fighters to resettle, make a living, and support their families. However, there have been challenges; fish drying used to be primarily a woman’s role, but more men have begun to participate, increasing competition for the women. The FAO has begun to offer microcredit to women to help them more easily access the market.
The improved drying methods, tested 10 years ago, have contributed immensely to the local economy near Lake Tanganyika over the years, without putting extra pressure on fish resources. The local fishing communities also continue to improve and make more progress, such as designing better crates to store and transport the fish.
The fish provide valuable protein in a country where 60% of people suffer from protein deficiency, and the drying methods allow for the fish to be transported to more markets. Due to the success of this project, the FAO is attempting to implement the technique in other countries, including Uganda, Kenya, and Zambia.
For more information, see this report by the FAO.