Enhancing food security and the livelihoods of fishing communities in Uganda
In Uganda, nutritional deficiencies are widespread in poor rural and urban communities, particularly among women of reproductive age and children under five. Limited access to animal protein and micronutrient-rich foods, especially fish, is a major contributing factor. Fish has become less available due to declining stocks, coupled with high exports and post-harvest losses. As a result, the country consumes half the recommended amount of fish – and, as the population grows, intake is anticipated to further decline.
A solution lies in silver fish – an underutilized, small pelagic fish species abundant in Ugandan lakes. Known locally as Mukene, silver fish is affordable and highly nutritious, containing 11 micronutrients. However, it is traditionally considered as food for the poor or animal feed. Unhygienic processing has further compounded negative attitudes about consumption, with sun-drying – often on the ground – leading to a poor-quality, contaminated product. The NutriFish project, which started in April 2019, is looking to find ways to improve post-harvest processing of Mukene and increase product quality, acceptability and distribution. NutriFish is part of Cultivate Africa’s Future (CultiAF) – a partnership between IDRC and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research – and is led by Makerere University’s College of Natural Sciences in Uganda. Through enhanced Mukene consumption, the research aims to contribute to sustainable food and nutrition security, and improve the livelihoods of vulnerable groups within Uganda’s fishing communities.
Five innovative fish-enriched products are for sale in local retail shops.
Consumption of Mukene (silver fish) has increased by 30%
Solar tent dryers have tripled fish shelf life and doubled women’s incomes.
Savings among women’s groups have increased by about 100%
A mobile app adapted by the project has cut the cost of fisheries data collection by 80%
Nutreal, a local processing company and NutriFish partner has used Mukene to develop five high-value nutritious products: baby food, sauce, maize meal, snacks and seasoning. The sauce is garnering positive feedback from street vendors and retailers for being quick to cook (saving low-income families time and energy resources), and the baby food is a favourite for mothers of young children.
“The baby food is prepared in less than a minute, using warm water,” said Dorothy Nakimbugwe, Nutreal’s founding director. The baby food is packed in 50 g sachets for hygiene and affordability, with one sachet costing 1,000 Ugandan shillings (USh), or CAD0.37. The product has also been introduced in five pre- and post-natal clinics in low-income communities in Kampala.
During COVID-19 lockdowns, the maize meal product was particularly important for families finding it harder than ever to access nutritious foods – so NutriFish pivoted to fast-track its development. “A 50 g portion provides more than one-third of a child’s daily protein, iron, zinc and folic acid requirements,” Nakimbugwe explained. All five Nutreal products received certification from the Uganda National Bureau of Standards in November 2021 and are for sale in retail shops in Kampala.
To further encourage consumption of Mukene products, NutriFish developed a radio-based awareness campaign. From September 2021 to March 2022, more than 12 million listeners were reached by 29 different “spot” messages – short and concise advertisements – in local languages and four 15-minute in-studio conversations. Thanks to the project, silver fish consumption has increased by 30%.
To help communities reduce post-harvest losses, the project team constructed two solar tent driers, which are greenhouse-like structures made from wooden poles and covered with ultra-violet-treated polythene. The driers provide a clean and efficient storage and drying facility and halve the drying time for Mukene – from eight hours to four. The enhanced quality of the dried fish has seen the price double to the equivalent of CAD2.70 per kg, and the product shelf-life has tripled to almost five months.
“Since the solar tent drier was built, quality has improved and I have been able to sell up to five crates a day,” said Amanna Bashir, a fish processor from Lake Albert. The project continues to raise awareness about the solar tent technology among policymakers, NGOs, the private sector and women’s groups. This success has led national and regional organizations to express interest in upscaling the technology. A parliamentary committee on agriculture, animal industry and fisheries also recommended the use of the driers in April 2022.
Real-time fish monitoring
Sustainability of the local fish sector is also being enhanced by the electronic Catch Assessment Survey (e-CAS), a simple app developed by the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI) – a NutriFish partner – and adapted to the local context. The app, free through the Google Play Store, captures vital fisheries data in real time, including catch quantity, type of fishing nets and boats used, and how much money the fishers expect to earn. With the potential to accommodate an unlimited number of data sets, including on fisheries surveys, aquaculture, socio-economics and marketing, the system is an invaluable resource for the sustainable development of fisheries for wealth creation, employment and food security.
Following e-CAS’s Uganda launch in 2021, the app had collected 12,000 records of catch data by April 2023. More than 690 stakeholders use the application, including Uganda’s Directorate of Fisheries Resources and the Fisheries Protection Unit, which relies on the data to prevent overfishing. The app has increased the frequency, accuracy and reliability of data collection, as well as reduced the annual cost of data collection by about 80% (to CAD28,450). The project has recommended the app to the Directorate of Fisheries Resources for promotion and local adoption at all Ugandan lakes.
NutriFish has worked with women and youth groups engaged in the fish trade to help them set up group savings accounts. This has enabled previously poor individuals to build up their savings and invest in their fishing enterprises – as well as new agribusinesses.
Kimono Magdalene from Kikondo Landing Site on Lake Victoria used the savings to successfully invest in dairy goat production. “Some of these goats give birth to two kids, others three, and others produce four and six kids at once. The minimum I can sell one for is USh150,000 [CAD54], but bigger ones go for USh400,000 [CAD142]. I have also educated my children, and bought commercial plots and farming land,” she revealed.
Group members have also been sensitized on issues of domestic violence and women’s rights through drama performances held in the local villages. As a result, men are now supporting their wives, paying their children’s school fees and participating in Mukene processing.
In addition, domestic violence has dropped by 30%, the number of women in the fish value chain has increased, more couples make joint household decisions and more men carry out household tasks.
Championing quality fish
To ensure intervention sustainability, NutriFish trained individuals of the fish trade as “champions”. This created awareness of the importance of fish quality standards, including hygienic practices for fishing, post-harvest handling and drying. The research team started with 68 champions (26 women and youth). By the start of 2023, champions had shared their knowledge with 650 members of their communities (405 women, 245 men), thus increasing the project reach.
The training helped 127 fishermen improve the quality and profitability of their catch, leading to 500 well-partitioned boats being purchased. Using partitions and ventilated crates on the boats means fish are not piled too high or compacted, enabling the fishers to retain a certain quality standard.
“We organized silver fish producers into groups so they can be supported to improve quality. At Bangaladesh and Kayogo fishing villages, two enterprise groups have been established, with over 70 boats coming together with an average monthly production of 3.7 tonnes,” and with a gross value of about CAD9,363, said Anthony Otunga, a senior fisheries officer from Amolatar District local government and NutriFish champion.
To ensure uptake of project results, five policy briefs were developed on the following topics:
- Inclusion of small fishes into school feeding programs to boost nutrition
- The health and wellbeing of school children aged six to 18
- Improvement of handling and processing of Mukene and other small fishes
- Regulation of fishing efforts targeting small fishes
- Boosting consumption of fish and nutritious fish-enriched products to improve nutrition and health of mothers and children in Uganda
NutriFish innovations are diversifying local diets for Uganda’s fishing communities, increasing the sustainability of the fish sector, and improving business opportunities and incomes for women processors. Diverse partnerships with stakeholders of the fish trade – from local fishers to the private sector – were key to achieving success in nutritious product development, dissemination and uptake. In addition, the team’s outreach work, including sensitization campaigns and training of local champions, was essential in spreading important messages of fish-based nutrition, changing local mindsets and increasing small fish consumption.
Gender-transformative interventions addressed ongoing social constraints faced by women, leading to enhanced joint decision-making in the household, reduced domestic violence and greater family cohesion. The local trainings also saw success in the formation of group savings accounts among women and youth, leading to diversified livelihoods and increased incomes.
Moving forward, NutriFish will continue working with champions to ensure the research’s sustainability. The team also aims to provide training in enterprise development, marketing, branding and product processing to the local communities to enhance the success of their budding businesses.