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T.C. Mmopelwa
Senior Fisheries Officer
Ministry of Agriculture
Private Post Bag 003
Gaborone, Botswana


Salting and drying of fish was successfully promoted by the Government of Botswana for longterm preservation of seasonal catches in remote areas. The success is primarily attributed to a Government programme of purchasing the salted- dried fish for subsequent distribution to the most disadvantaged through institutional feeding. Possible constraints towards sustaining the success include the fact that Government is the predominant buyer, problems in distributing salt and processing equipment, and lack of training of extension workers.


Le Gouvernement du Botswana, pour promouvoir la préservation des captures saisonnières dans les zones isolées, a vulgarisé avec succès la technologie du salage puis séchage. La première raison de ce succès semble être le programme d'achat des produits, qui sont ensuite distribués aux plus désavantagés dans le cadre d'activités institutionnelles d'alimentation. De possibles contraintes pour que le succès se poursuive, comprennent le fait que le gouvernement soit l'acheteur dominant, qu'il y ait des problèmes dans la distribution du sel et du matériel, et un manque de formation des agents vulgarisateurs.


Although large in total area, landlocked Botswana has a relatively small area of surface waters providing year-round fishing grounds. The fishery is concentrated in remote settlements in the Okavango and Chobe river systems. The region lacks in most social amenities like communications and other public utilities. Fishing is to a large extent at subsistence level and fishermen belong to the poorest sector of the communities.

The Botswana fishery suffers from lack of collection of biological and ecological information. Several estimates for the maximum sustainable yield for water bodies within the country have been made based on empirical data. These estimates indicate that the fishery is underexploited. A project to properly assess the resource potential of the national fishery and to design a strategic programme of fisheries resource management was submitted for incorporation in the Government plans of April 1991.

Of the various fish processing technologies available salting and drying has become the most widely adopted in the country. Other fish processing technologies are either less accepted for producing a product without a secure market, or relatively expensive to undertake in a rural settlement. The Okavango and Chobe areas would have enough firewood for smoking, but smoked fish is not accepted in Botswana.


2.1 Catching Method

The principal method of fish capture in Botswana is gillnetting. Nets are set in late afternoon to be lifted the following morning. In case of large catches nets are hauled and fish removed ashore, otherwise fish is collected and the net is left for a day or two before being moved to a potentially more productive ground. Some of the catch may be alive at the time of checking the net. The dead fish are normally at post rigor condition indicating that entangling in the net occurs both at dusk and at dawn.

2.2 Fish Handling and Cleaning

Fish in Botswana is not immediately gutted, particularly in the Okavango and Chobe area. In this region there is still a belief that removing the offals leads to a loss of fat. Fish is marketed whole, also because the time between hauling the net and marketing of the fish is relatively short.

At Shashe near Francistown, gutting is done in conjunction with descaling of the fish.

Fish destined for salting is descaled and split (in the case of tilapia) or filleted (in the case of catfish), then brushed and cleaned in river water, after which they are ready to be salted.

2.3 Salting

Rubber containers, originally manufactured as dustbins, are used for salting by the fishermen. A few drainage holes are made at the bottom. Starting with a layer of salt, alternated layers of salt and fish are placed in the container until it is full. Depending on the catches it may take up to three or four days to fill a bin. Once filled, the fish is left in the bin for two or three days before it is taken out for drying.

2.4 Sun-Drying

Sun-drying of fish is done on racks made either of chicken wire or woven reed mats mounted on poles erected on the ground. The racks are constructed at a site where enough shading, preferably from trees, can be provided to avoid direct heat from the sun. The fish dries at ambient temperature for about a week before packaging in hessian sacks. It is protected from rain throughout the drying process. The product has a moisture content of 6–7%.

2.5 Dried Salted Fish Marketing

At the time of introducing the dried salted fish technology, Botswana was being hard-hit by a record drought which lasted for seven years. The Government commissioned the Financial Assistance Programme (FAP) to help the growth of productive activities and create more jobs for the increasing labour force. Through grants under the FAP scheme fishermen acquired fishing equipment and catches went up. The salting and drying technology was extended to preserve the catches.

Unfortunately, there was no ready market for the increased production of salted dried fish. The Government decision to purchase dried salted fish to be distributed through institutional feeding programmes to those most disadvantaged by the drought, was a blessing to the fishing communities as a stable and guaranteed market was created. Government financial allocations for fish purchases grew as more fishermen entered the fishery. It is perhaps the availability of the market rather than the popularity of the product that largely contributed to the positive response of fishermen towards the dried salted fish technology.

The dried-salted fish has a salt content of 10–15%. This successfully inhibits fish spoilage, but may be a limiting factor to consumer acceptance. For consumption the salted dried fish has to be soaked in water for at least 12 hours, changing the water at least twice to reduce the salt content to about 1%.

The application of the technology described above can be considered a success. Basically the aim was to produce a long shelflife product in a remote region, so that in particular seasonal catches remain fit for local human consumption for a long time, or can be marketed when conditions allow for consumption elsewhere in the country.

The Government purchases once a month. Three factors contribute to the success:

2.6 Constraints to the Application of Sun-Dried Salted Fish Technology

Although the use of this technology produces the desired results it is not without problems.

The most important constraint is that of salt supply. The transportation of salt to remote fishing communities poses problems as the road infrastructure is poorly developed. Where the private sector is involved in salt trade the price is normally more than double the Government subsidized price. For economic reasons fishermen then use less salt at the expense of the quality of the product.

Fishermen use prime quality fish caught at dawn for home consumption and salt fish in post rigor condition. Salting will however not improve the quality of the product.

The type of containers used is sometimes found too high. A container of the same material but lower has been suggested.

Screening for quality is normally done by Government extension staff. However, some of the staff are not adequately trained to perform efficiently, e.g., lack the ability to identify products made from bad quality fish.

There is also a lack of capability to collect enough data to assess post-harvest losses. Salted dried fish is often handled roughly. As the product does not easily pick up visual dirt storage facilities are not to required standards.

Lastly, the fact that the Government is the predominant customer and the inherent constraints this entails must be considered.


Fisheries Unit. 1989/90 Annual Report.

Fisheries Unit. 1989. Aquaculture and human nutrition. Botswana country paper presented to the ALCOM technical consultation on the role of aquaculture in human nutrition.

NORFICO. 1987. Botswana Fisheries. Report of the fish processing and marketing consultancy (October-December 1986).

Table 1

Drying pattern for sun-dried salted fish

% of total
wet weight
% of total
wet weight
Total wet weight19501002653100
Processed weight1687     86.51211     46.5
After 4 days salting1135     58.2  804     30.3
Drying time    
1st day drying  810     41.5  597     22.5
2nd day drying  730     37.4  506     19.1
3rd day drying-     --    -
4th day drying-     --    -
5th day drying-     --    -
6th day drying  427    21.9  44016.5

Source: NORFICO consultancy report, February 1987

Table 2

Moisture content of sun-dried salted fish

Sample No.TilapiaCatfish

Source: NORFICO consultancy report, February 1987

Table 3

Nutritive value of sun-dried salted fish


Source: NORFICO consultancy report, February 1987

Table 4

Government funds allocations and fish purchases

YearAmount allocated
Amount utilized
Quantity of fish purchased and distributed
(t, wet weight)
1980/81    5 000--
1981/82  25 000  17 930-
1982/83  35 000  29 460-
1983/84  30 000-  84
1984/85  74 000  73 610201
1985/86  75 000  57 000137
1986/87100 000  91 490227
1987/88175 000173 410360
1988/89200 000146 100231
1989/90200 000195 270335

Source: Fisheries Unit - Ministry of Agriculture

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