Sun-drying fish, the Somalian way

Skilling women to fight hunger and build stronger coastal communities

A woman walks to the beach to wait for a fishing crew in Puntland, Somalia. Coastal communities are some of Somalia’s most food insecure people.
©FAO/Karel Prinsloo


Somalia boasts the longest coastline of continental Africa.

Yet, its fisheries industry is one of the least developed in the world; only about 1 percent of the county’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) derives from fishery.

Coastal communities are some of Somalia’s most food insecure people.  

To address this, FAO trains vulnerable women to sun-dry fish for consumption and to earn an income as well as teaches fishermen to learn new skills to bring in more fish and have better access to nutritious food for the larger population.

A fisherman carries his catch ashore in Bossaso (left). Hawa guards the fish fillets as they dry in the sun in a displaced people's camp in Bossaso.
©FAO/Arete/Will Baxter

Women learn new skills to fight hunger and help their communities

Hawa Mohamed Abdi lives in a camp for displaced people in Bossaso, a coastal town in northern Somalia.

The camp - with its rows of corrugated iron shelters along sprawling paths - has been her home for over two decades.

“Here in the camp, we are all poor people,” she says. “Sometimes, we only have one meal per day. Other times, two. To eat three times a day is rare.”

Last year, Hawa joined a group of other women in the camp to learn how to sun-dry fish.

The process involves cleaning and treating the fish, drying and packaging it using sustainable and environmentally friendly techniques.

FAO provides the training, all tools and equipment – from knives, protective clothing to drying tables and packaging materials. To date, more than 60 women received training, and by mid-2018, FAO plans to reach another 160 women.

Each morning, the women gather around their tables and the freshly delivered fish – pelagic fish, which is considered under-utilised - and roll up their sleeves, ready to work.

How to sun-dry fish

First, you bring water from the pumps, explains Hawa, and you mix it with chlorine and detergent to wash the tables and the knives.

Everything must be spotlessly clean.

Then, some of the women start cutting and gutting the fish, passing the neat fillets to another group of women. The fish heads, which don’t get packaged, are kept aside and used later to make soup.

A woman, in a camp for displaced people in Bossaso, holds a dish made with sun-dried fish.
©FAO/Arete/Will Baxter

In the meantime, a group of women prepare and clean the drying racks made out of glass fiber and installed by fishermen trained by FAO to build safer and more-fuel efficient boats.

Now, the fillets can go on the racks to dry. They need to dry for one full day. But one cannot leave them to dry alone. The women stand guard around the racks, waving away flies hovering initially around the fresh fish, and turning the fish over so that both sides dry properly, and get sterilized by the sun. 

Once dried, the women pack the fillets.

“Before doing this job, I used to work as a porter in the market. My husband still works as a porter. Other people from the camp earn a living pushing handcarts or selling small things in the market. With the little we earn, we can only buy rice and pasta. Mainly rice...We would love to eat other types of food but we can't afford it,” says Hawa.

Now, Hawa and her family can also eat fish. Most of the sun-dried fish is consumed by the people in the camp, providing them with much needed nutrients. Sun-dried fish can last up to six months without requiring storing in a fridge – a luxury in the camp – making it a reliable source of food for longer-term.

Any surplus of fish gets sold in the market or in shops. The fish is bought by communities without access to cold chain facilities. It doesn’t only provide a source of food and income for the women in the camp, but also a source of much needed food for other vulnerable, isolated communities.

“This job taught me new skills. It’s a good thing as I don’t think I could live in another place. This is where I got married. This is where my children were born. And this is where they will get married too,” adds Hawa.

Fish processing - Somalia

Hunger in Somalia - what is the latest and what is FAO doing?

Faced with the worst drought in living memory, more than 1 million people were forced to flee their homes last year as hunger tightened its grip, pushing the country to the brink of famine.

A massive humanitarian response has so far prevented the worst to happen but about a quarter of the population – over 3 million people – continue to battle with severe hunger, and in the hardest-hit areas, famine is still not ruled out.  

FAO has been supporting those most vulnerable, providing cash transfers for food and water purchases, seeds and tools for farming, and veterinary care to keep animals alive.

Find out more about FAO's work in Somalia.

2. Zero hunger, 5. Gender equality, 14. Life below water