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Women fish processors and the ripple effect: how a little knowledge can go a long way

In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Government of Angola embarked on a technical cooperation project to address post-harvest fishery losses in five fishing communities around Lake Ngolome, in Angola’s northwestern province of Kwanza Norte.

Julietta (center) and other women fish processors during a training session. (© FAO)
11/04/2016

Among the many project activities was a study tour, in which a small group of fisherfolk from Angola traveled to Senegal to learn about fish preservation and processing. One of those fisherfolk was Julietta Viega, a 52-year-old fish processor and mother of two from the village of Saraiva. This is her story.

Julietta and the others spent two weeks on the study tour in Senegal, where they learned about good practices for responsible fishing, as well as simple but efficient techniques for improving fish preservation, processing and packaging. For example, they were shown how to design and construct insulated containers using locally available and recycled materials. “The project trained us in making our own insulated containers instead of buying them,” Julietta noted, as well as “in making fish sausage and hamburgers, and in high-value smoked and fermented fish production.”

When she returned from the tour, Julietta was excited and eager to share what she had learned with the rest of her community. Indeed, the FAO project had envisaged the building of a post-harvest technology demonstration facility, which would have served as the perfect platform for training other fish processors in the Lake Ngolome area. But the facility was still in its early planning stages, and would not be ready for some time. This was a problem for Julietta and her peers, who did not want to let their new skills go unused. “We realized that we had to do something to keep the acquired knowledge and skills and to start producing better quality products,” she explained.

“When leaving Senegal, we bought some equipment ourselves, for processing fish sausage and for sealing the portions. With the facility still in construction for some time, we risked not using these good things we had and that we’d been taught. We therefore concluded we must go and see the Minister to help us.”

A visit to the Ministry

And so, less than a month after their return from Senegal, they asked FAO to facilitate a courtesy call to the Minister of Fisheries. The Minister was absent at the time, but the State Secretary of Fisheries, Maria Antónia Nelumba, was available, and welcomed them warmly. “It is not common to get a visit from these operators,” Ms Nelumba recalled afterwards, “so initially I was curious to know what they had to say.”

Once she heard them out, the Secretary was quick to make up her mind. “I was pleasantly surprised to note from their story all the things they were able to do and how they could perform if an opportunity were given to them. Inland fisheries and especially women smallholders are a priority for the Ministry, so there was no excuse for not addressing their request for a physical facility and some inputs to train others and improve their business.”

The Ministry provided funds for the construction of a temporary training hall, and a group of youths from the community were recruited to build it. The very first course was conducted in October of 2014. In addition to fish processors from all five of the project’s communities, a total of 35 extension officers from other provinces (Luanda, Kwanza Sul and Bengo) also attended.

As project coordinator Maria Angelica Augusto noted, this first session was so successful that it was clear they could extend the training to other communities: “When I saw that these trainers were so effective and enthusiastic, I trusted their potential to extend this capacity to other fishing communities.” Julietta and her group went on to conduct training for communities in the province of Bié and in the municipality of Golungo Alto.

In the meantime, work continued on the post-harvest technology demonstration facility, and in October of 2015, the Centro de Formação e Processamento de Pescado do Ngolome (Ngolome Center for Training and Processing of Fish) was formally inaugurated. In addition to state of the art technology for fish preservation, processing and storage, the Center houses a fully-equipped training area and boarding facilities, and has already been designated by the Ministry as a point of reference for fisheries activities – both nationally across Angola, and for regional training purposes across Africa.

The ripple effect

Now a confident and experienced trainer, Julietta is proud of the role she has played in helping to improve the food security and livelihoods of fisherfolk in her community—and beyond. She still remembers the study tour, and how excited she was when she first learned “how to increase the value of our fish,” she says.

Indeed, training others has enabled Julietta to pass on that excitement. Suzanne, who is one of the many women she has trained, is a typical example: “We were taught to make fillets, sausages, pancakes and even fish burgers,” she says, smiling proudly as she discusses her newly acquired knowledge. “Just yesterday I cooked burgers for my husband; he swallowed them in one gulp. And he wanted more!”

 

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Flickr: FAO in Angola