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Frans Teutscher
Fishery Industry Officer
Fishery Industries Division, FAO


The lakes of the East African Rift system as well as other lakes in the area are characterized by the abundance of small fish such as omena, dagaa, kapenta, etc. Usually these small fish are sun-dried, providing cheap food as well as animal feed. Sun-drying is seriously hampered during the rainy season. More food and income could be provided if new products and markets were developed and if technologies were introduced to preserve catches during the rainy periods. Examples and suggestions of new products and markets are given.


Les lacs du Rift système de l'Afrique de l'Est, ainsi que certains autres lacs de cette région, sont caractérisés par l'abondance de petits poissons comme l'omena, le dagaa, le kapenta, etc. En général, ces poissons sont séchés au soleil, fournissant un aliment pour l'homme à bas prix, ainsi que des aliments pour les animaux. Le séchage au soleil est quasiment impossible pendant les périodes humides. Davantage d'aliments et de revenus pourraient être disponibles si de nouveaux produits et marchés étaient développés, également si des technologies permettant la préservation des captures pendant les saisons des pluies étaient introduites. Des exemples et des suggestions de nouveaux produits et marchés sont présentés dans ce document.


Inland fisheries in Eastern/Southern Africa are characterized by the string of lakes of the Rift System, the most important being Lakes Turkana, Victoria, Kyoga, Albert or Mobutu, Edward or Idi Amin, Kivu, Tanganyika and Malawi or Nyassa. The man-made Lakes Kariba and Cahora Bassa are also important. In addition there are a number of smaller lakes as well as the river fisheries, in particular in the Nile and Zambezi rivers.

A major feature of the lake fisheries is the abundance of small fish: dagaa, omena, ndagala, kapenta, isambaza, usipa, utaka, are just some of the local names. There are also significant catches of larger fish such as tilapia, Nile perch, catfish and others. In Lake Victoria the Nile perch fishery is of particular importance.

The present post-harvest system for the small species is characterized by:

Total catches of these small species in the subregion can be estimated at some 180 000 t, while it appears that further increases in production can be sustained in most of the lakes. Maybe 40 000 t of the 180 000 t are used as animal feed. The remaining 140 000 t provide food for some 50–60 million people, assuming an average consumption of these species of 2.5 kg/person/year.

In terms of income generation this fishery may represent a value of some US$ 45 million, of which US$ 15 million is landed value (at an average of US$ 0.08/kg) and US$ 30 million is value-added in the post-harvest sector. Assuming an average catch per fishermen of 2 t the 180 000 t would be caught by a total of about 90 000 fishermen, each earning around US$ 170/year from these species alone. Much of the post-harvest activity is done by the fishing family and therefore income per family may be in the order of US$ 300–400/year.

The question now is: How can the amount available for consumption and the amount of income be increased through action in the post-harvest sector?

As stated above, the post-harvest sector is characterized by sun-drying, use of sun-dried fish for human food and for animal feed, and serious problems of drying in the rainy season. Supplies for human food can thus theoretically be increased if less were used for animal feed and if the fish could be preserved during the rainy season. Obviously such action would also provide more income to those involved in fishing, processing and marketing.


The use of dried omena, dagaa, etc. for animal feed depends on the price of substitutes. Imported fish meal could be such a substitute, but poultry farmers will obviously prefer the local fish as long as its price is lower than the cost of the imported product. The cost of lower grade imported fish meal would be about US$ 350/t, while that of the local product is about US$ 250. For the imported product to become more interesting than the local product the price of the local product would have to increase to over US$ 350/t, taking into account the difficulties of importation. It can be expected that with present rates of population growth, and the consequent increase in demand, the price of dried fish will slowly increase. It may reach that of imported fish meal if the latter does not increase as well. However, a price increase of fish meal in world markets is not impossible given the fact that total fish meal production cannot be increased and also the fact that demand for sardines, etc., as human food is likely to rise as a result of present research findings. These indicate beneficial health effects of eating fatty fish, in particular in reducing risks of heart problems. Also other beneficial health effects are attributed to fatty fish, including combatting cancer, and viral infections.

Unless new, higher paying markets are developed the partial use of dried dagaa for animal feed is thus likely to remain. If such markets could be developed, the average price of dagaa, etc., would rise; less would be used for animal feed and more for human consumption, and the incomes of fishermen, processors and traders would rise.

The use of isambaza from Lake Kivu and also of some of the kapenta from Lake Kariba and dagaa from Lake Tanganyika shows that it is possible to develop higher paying markets for this fish. Products such as fresh and frozen fish, smoked fish, fish meal for human consumption, better quality dried fish produced on drying racks and the use of dried fish in food aid programmes represent these markets.

The average landed value of isambaza in Lake Kivu is as a result of the better paying outlets about US$ 0.50/kg, which is in sharp contrast with the price of fresh landed omena/dagaa in Lake Victoria of about US$ 0.05/kg.

2.1 Fresh/Frozen

In and around the fishing centres dagaa, etc., is in high demand in the fresh state, but with few exceptions the marketing radius is very short and many important potential markets, in particular the major towns, are only supplied with the dried product. To our knowledge, notable exceptions of distant markets supplied with fresh or frozen small fish are Kigali and Lusaka. In Kigali up to 1 t/day of fresh isambaza is supplied and even leading hotels serve battered and deep fried “friture du lac”.

2.2 Smoked Fish

At Lake Kivu, salted smoked isambaza was readily accepted, in particular as a snack to accompany the consumption of beer.

2.3 Fish Meal for Human Consumption

Again at Lake Kivu, hygienically dried isambaza is ground to a meal and packed in small plastic bags. It is well accepted and commands a good price.

2.4 Better Quality Dried Fish Produced on Drying Racks

One reason for the often low price of dried small fish is its low quality resulting from drying on the beach or on rocks.

2.5 The Use of Dried Fish in Food Aid Programmes

High quality dried fish can be sold to food aid programmes at interesting prices. Examples are known to us with fish from Lakes Tanganyika, Malawi and Kivu.

2.6 Improving Preservation During the Rainy Season

Introducing technology to improve the preservation of fish during the rainy season would increase the quantity of fish available for consumption in two ways: by reducing post-harvest losses and by allowing fishermen to increase their catches. The latter is of particular importance. Although catch rates are high during the rainy season, fishing effort is reduced when processors cannot dry the fish.

Available technologies would include artificial drying, salting, smoking, the use of ice, freezing, canning and the production of fish silage, though the latter would be used for animal feed only.

2.7 Artificial Drying

Artificial drying would cost US$ 0.60–0.70/kg of dried product, representing about 4 kg of raw product. Adding US$ 0.20 for raw material and US$ 0.40–0.50 for marketing costs one would arrive at a retail value of US$ 1.20–1.40/kg which may be feasible in view of the high quality of the product. Processing costs could be reduced by diminishing the initial water content of the fish, which can be done through salting.

2.8 Salting

Salting would stop deterioration so that fish may be kept until the weather allows further drying. As salting reduces the water content the drying time is reduced as well. Salt could already be used on board thus allowing fishermen to stay out fishing for longer periods. However, the salted dried product would be a new product in the market and the acceptability should be tested.

2.9 Smoking

If drying is impossible the fish can also be smoked. The Chorkor oven is particularly suitable to smoke-dry large quantities of small fish. The fish are spread on trays of which several are stacked on the oven. Trays with high boards are used for storage of smoked fish. If needed the fish can thus be resmoked occasionally. Prior to smoking the fish could be salted. This would help reduce fuel wood consumption. Again, acceptability tests would be required.

2.10 The Use of Ice

The use of ice for fresh fish marketing eliminates the need for processing. The use of insulated containers keeps costs of ice down to about US$ 0.10/kg of fresh fish, representing a ratio of ice:fish of 1:1.

2.11 Freezing

Freezing also eliminates the need for drying. Freezing costs are up to US$ 0.50/kg or more, hence the retail price of frozen small fish of US$ 1–1.50/kg. Clearly, both iced and frozen fish need an infrastructure which includes roads, processing plant, vehicles and markets. The price is such that it will not replace dried fish, but only help to make better use of available resources.

2.12 Canning

Canning operations require large quantities of cheap fish in order to be feasible, and a general infastructure to support them. In Morocco, a can of sardines costs ex-factory about US$ 0.30. This figure should probably be doubled for production of canned fish from the African lakes, given the lack of infrastructure to supply materials, services, energy and transport. Retail prices might then be in the order of US$ 2 per can which is clearly too high to compete with imported canned fish. Presumably the latter would also have better organoleptic properties.

2.13 Fish Silage

Fish silage can be made by acidifying fish or fish waste which stops bacterial growth while enzymatic breakdown continues. When the mass is partially liquified a starchy compound is added and the resulting mix is dried and ground for use as animal feed.

Thus it would appear that possibilities exist to improve the role of small inland fish in food supply and in income generation. Action is necessary to test selected solutions on a pilot scale. This is a process of applied research requiring skilled and trained staff apart from necessary equipment. It also requires careful economic analysis as well as market and consumer research.

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