Sun-dried – simple technology helps Malawian traders improve fish market

Traders in southern Malawi are being encouraged to effectively process their fish and increase incomes by using solar tents to dry fish. Researchers say the innovation provides a more conducive environment for drying fish rather than putting them out in the open which exposes fish to contamination and predators.

ZOMBA, MALAWI (REUTERS) – This low tech solar tent is helping fishing communities along Malawi’s Lake Chilwa change the way they do business.

The tent made from polythene and a wooden frame is able to trap warm air and allow fish to dry faster in a clean, controlled environment.

Traders say they are now able to sell better quality fish that fetch a higher price. They say the fish dried here also has a longer shelf life.

“I can tell you that I am a very happy and thankful woman because of this solar dryer project. When we collect fish from the lake, we dry them inside this solar fish dryer and it does not take long to dry because it is so hot,” said Jennifer Mussa a fish trader.

The project is part of a study by Cultivate Africa’s Future, a fund supported by the Australian and Canadian governments that wants to develop new business models for fish processors here.

Dr. Mangani Katundu is a fisheries expert based at the University of Malawi, an implementing partner of the project.

“Normally they would take one and a half to two days to dry; in here they will put in the morning by the evening they would be taking the fish out. So it reduces the amount of time that the fish processors would take to dry it. It also prevents loss of the fish due to predation… some birds and what have you and dust. And ideally it does increase the quality of fish as you can see, it is said that the fish in here dries with nice colour because it does not take so long. So, the fish would be of a very good, shiny quality,” he said.

Fishing is a crucial source of employment and nutrition in Malawi, yet 40 percent of fish is lost during processing according to Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Fish here is mostly processed through sun-drying, frying or smoking.

Traders are being encouraged to adopt improved processing methods like using kilns that require less wood to smoke their fish.

Loveness Mphongo is a fish trader who uses an energy saving kiln to smoke her fish.

“This method is effective and is a simpler way to smoke fish. We are using very little wood and it takes a short time to smoke lots of fish as you can see here,” she said.

Malawi’s fishing industry employs over 50,000 people in various sectors including fishermen and processors.

Fish provides 70 percent of animal protein in people’s diets in the country according to IDRC.

Fish is also a rich source of important nutrients like protein, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.

Many traders like Meke Maulana, still use old methods like spreading the fish out to dry in the open.

“With this traditional method, I face a lot of challenges. Chicken and ducks come to eat my fish. Cats, dogs and flies also are a menace. As a result, business is not good and most of the time I lose a lot of fish also due to poor hygiene and sanitation,” he said.

The simple solar drying technology is also being used in Zambia and plans are underway to start similar initiatives in other parts of Africa, once researchers finalize on tent designs that provide optimum ventilation and warmth.