EAST AFRICA – Fishermen in the East African region are fast transforming the region’s fishing industry with the adoption of rack drying, a technique that promises to reshape the fish preservation landscape in East Africa.
By ingeniously combining traditional techniques with modern innovation, the racks furnished by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) seek to address the longstanding challenges of fish spoilage and post-harvest losses.
Drawing inspiration from the ancient art of sun-drying, a practice that has long been used for preserving various food items, the masterminds behind this innovation have reimagined the process by introducing specially designed racks that ensure optimal air circulation around the fish, facilitating even drying and minimizing the risk of spoilage.
This in turn shortens the drying time from a whooping three days to just eight hours which allows multiple batches of fish to be dried in a single day, resulting in better quality and increased market prices.
Prior to this, fishermen used to dry their catch on the ground, which created a number of issues. Fish left on the ground were vulnerable to loss during heavy rains, contamination, and animal damage. As a result, throughout the drying process, up to 15% of the catch would be lost.
The wire-mesh racks were first introduced, with great success, in Burundi. The 48 inexpensive racks can be covered during rain to prevent spoiling and keep the fish out of reach of animals while hanging a meter above the ground.
The use of racks throughout the lake’s shoreline exploded as soon as word got out to fishing towns.
Due to improved drying techniques, there is a significant reduction in the amount of fish lost or wasted, which has increased market values by more than 100%.
The use of rack drying methods has increased the quality of dried fish while also easing the physical burden on fish dryers, especially women who are no longer required to stoop to spread and rotate fish on the ground.
Small-scale enterprises have developed, providing raw materials for rack building and giving fishing villages economic opportunity. Surprisingly, despite the increased supply, the lake’s resources have not been put under further strain because fish harvest levels have stayed largely unchanged.