fish drying
A new fish drying method pioneered by a tiny U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization project in Burundi has had tremendous results. Instead of laying the sardine-like ngagala in the hot sand, raised racks were implemented to dry the fish. This simple strategy has cut fish waste by half, created employment for hundreds of Burundians and caused a boost in the economic prospects of fishing.

Ndagala have been a staple of the Burundian diet for centuries. With some 60 percent of Burundians currently lacking the essential amount of protein in their diets, the nutrients from ndagala are a precious commodity.

However, before the FAO project, the ndagala drying process was wasteful, inefficient and extremely physically taxing.

The old method of drying the fish took place on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Burundi. Women laborers would lay the ndagala on the sand to dry in the sun, where they were easy targets for animals and ran the risk of being trampled and contaminated.

According to the FAO, around 15 percent of the fish catch was lost or spoiled during the drying process.

But 10 years ago, with the help of Burundi’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, FAO launched a project in a village called Mvugo. This project installed 48 cheap wire-mesh racks suspended a meter above the ground, offered training and distributed leaflets on how to build the racks.

The benefits of this tiny project were almost immediately apparent.

This new method reduced drying time from three days, to only eight hours. The racks protect the fish from animals, and can be covered from the rain to prevent spoilage. Workers need not bend over to spread and turn the fish, reducing the physical toll of the labor.

The overall quality of the fish improved. According to rack owner Domitien Ndabaneze, “Our fishes are of a good quality without small gravel or stones and they are dried in hygienic conditions. With our products, customers are no longer concerned with eating sandy fish.”

The price of fish has more than doubled, from 4,000 Burundian francs in 2004 ($2.5/kg), to 9000 ($6/kg) in 2013. The increasingly lucrative trade has attracted more men workers, and the total acreage dedicated to fishing on the shores of Lake Tanganyika has expanded dramatically.

Manufacturers of the racks have sprung up on the coastline, and thanks to the increased shelf life of the fish they can be transported inland to feed other Burundi villages.

This impactful project is an example of how small-scale solutions can have large-scale benefits. The FAO plans to continually promote and strengthen the use of drying racks in countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Zambia, in hopes that more villagers will experience the life-improving benefits of this simple invention.

–Grace Flaherty

Sources: FAO, UN
Photo: UN