Fishing provides a livelihood for many people within the Lake Tanganyika region of Southern Burundi, but fish processing can be unhygienic, time consuming and fraught with a high rate of post harvest losses. But a system of raised drying racks, introduced by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2004, allows the fisher folk to process fish more efficiently and in a more sanitary way, increasing producers’ incomes and allowing them to expand into new markets.
Sitting one meter above the ground, the drying racks keep fish safe from contaminants, animals, and insects, and reduce fish drying time from three days to just eight hours, FAO says. The racks are also less labor intensive than sand-drying, which allows workers to process a larger volume of Stolothrissa tanganyikae, regionally known as ndagala, at a lower cost.
An 18-month pilot project in Burundi’s Myugo fishing village introduced locals to the tools and techniques necessary for the process. Following the FAO project, trained locals spread their knowledge to others in the region, increasing participation by nearly 300 percent.
Sustained by a local fisherman’s organization, the original FAO site is now used as a setting to train and advise people on the drying-rack method of fish processing.
The drying method has spurred development of small industries that build and provide materials for the racks. FAO estimates that the income generated by the new processing method allows more than 12,000 Burundians to eat each day.
The new drying method allows for fish to be exported to inland areas of the country, which has positive implications for both nutrition and food safety in the region. The National Agriculture Investment plan says that 60 percent of individuals in Burundi suffer from protein deficiency, but the increased shelf-life of fish because of the new drying racks is an added benefit that can help address this widespread deficiency.
Many fishing communities in Burundi are now committed to making further progress in their fish-processing methodology, such as developing better means of storing fish, and introducing microfinance programs that will help women maintain their power and role within the business as it grows.