When Suzana Hamimu Kaleju began working as a fish processor 30 years ago in the port of Kigoma, she used to lay the sprat, a type of herring, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika before selling her dried fish in local and regional markets.
They would get dusty or sandy so they would fetch lower prices. Sometimes goats would even eat them, but that was all she could do without drying racks or other tools. It was what she and the other local fish processors always did.
Suzana, like her mother before her, grew up in the United Republic of Tanzania, right on this lake, which borders Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia. It is the world’s second largest freshwater lake and accounts for 40 percent of Tanzania’s annual fish catch.
Small-scale fishers and fish processors, like Suzana, account for a large share of the workforce in Tanzania’s sardine, sprat and perch fisheries, a sector that employs 27 000 fishers and 11 000 processors in total.
Although the men still do most of the fishing, it is the women who dry and process the fish for selling. Nearly 90 percent of the fish processors in Tanzania are women and many work as roadside vendors, restaurant owners, wholesalers and retailers.
While two-thirds of the catch is consumed locally, exports of Lake Tanganyika’s sprat, sardine and perch are worth almost USD 1 million a year.
However, poor fishing methods, climate change impacts and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing have all contributed to declining yields in recent years. Furthermore, fish processors in the region lose much of their harvest due to poor refrigeration, inadequate handling or poor processing techniques.
Through its FISH4ACP programme, FAO is aiming to address these post-harvest challenges, as well as declining yields by implementing more sustainable value chains for sardines, sprat and perch, while contributing to the conservation of Lake Tanganyika’s natural resources.
An initiative of the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States, FISH4ACP contributes to food and nutrition security and prosperity and job creation by safeguarding the economic, social and environmental sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture value chains.
FAO’s FISH4ACP is funded by the European Union and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and, in Tanzania, the programme is implemented in partnership with the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute.
Through the FISH4ACP programme, Suzana and other participants have learned new methods for handling and processing fish, such as how to build and use drying racks and solar tent dryers, as well as how to better market their fish products. These new methods help reduce food losses and increase revenue for the fish processors.
“With the knowledge gained from trainings, I have managed to build drying racks, which improved my products, and now I am getting good quality products with better prices,” says Suzana.
With her increased income, she has been able to send her kids to school and invest in other areas of her life like building a house.
“Fishers and fish workers are gaining new business skills and learning ways to reduce post-harvest losses that have been a problem for many years,” says Hashim Muumin, FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Officer in Tanzania. But the initiative is not just about improving processing technology, he says it’s also about building the capacity and business skills of fish workers at Lake Tanganyika.
“We are also providing fish processors access to institutions for microfinance and loans to help them grow their businesses, as well as potential markets to help them unlock opportunities in the value chain,” concludes Muumin.
Tumaini Godfrey Luhingulanyi, a 60-year-old grandmother, is another fish processor from the lake region. In addition to the training received from the programme, she has also installed a modern kiln processor, which is more efficient for drying fish than traditional kilns and produces higher-quality fish products with a longer shelf life.
“I now employ 10 people who help me with everything from carrying fish from the landing site to drying and smoking the fish at the processing site to packaging, transporting and selling at the market,” she says.
“Through my business, I’ve been able to build my own home, buy land, start a poultry farm and even pay the tuition for my son who recently graduated with a diploma in clinical medicine.”
Women work together for change
Through FISH4ACP, women have learned that there is power in numbers. Over the years, female fish processors have suffered from poor access to capital and microfinance and complained of sexual harassment, workplace abuse and robberies.
They are now forming cooperatives and associations to advance their interests, gain greater access to finance and improve their trade and marketing. Suzana joined the local chapter of the Tanzania Women Fish Workers’ Association, which was launched by FISH4ACP last year.
She and others have joined forces to build their businesses and expand trade, as well as learning from each other and raising awareness about their rights.
FISH4ACP has also analysed the entire value chain and has proposed further improvements in improving processing techniques, increasing participation by women, better coordinating access to urban markets and complying more fully with legislation to ensure the sustainable use of fishery resources.