7. Research activities on fermented fish processing

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There are some research activities under way in various aspects of artisanal fermented fish processing in a number of African countries.

Areas that have received the most attention include:

(i) improved drying racks;
(ii) solar driers;
(iii) salting/fermentation tanks;
(iv) application of insecticides for preservation;
(v) replacement of dry salting with brine.

(i) Drying of Cured Fish

The introduction of raised drying racks to artisanal fish curing communities is one of the most widespread research projects in traditional fish processing. In Burundi, for instance, a project which was funded with foreign assistance from the late 1970s to the early 1980s resulted in the construction of several elevated sloping wire-mesh drying racks at the major fish landing centres. These improved drying racks are still being used to dry ndagala.

Similarly, the introduction of raised drying platforms through extension work conducted by the national and international institutions has been successful in the Gambia and Senegal. Currently, almost all processors in these countries dry fermented fish on raised racks constructed with cheap, locally available materials. In Mali, the Project "Operation PÍche" in Mopti is also actively involved in educating processors on the merits of drying cured fish above the ground.

In Ghana, in 1975-76 the International Development Research Council of Canada (IDRC), in collaboration with the Food Research Institute, sponsored a project at Elmina and introduced raised drying racks/platforms to dry fermented fish. The project was successful initially but the use of raised drying platforms has declined in recent years. There is considerable awareness among Ghanaian fish processors of the advantages of drying fish on raised racks but, contrary to Senegal, the concept is not widely practiced.

(ii) Solar Driers

A lot of research has been carried out on the development of solar driers for fermented fish, but none of the designs has proved commercially viable. In 1984, for instance, the Tropical Development and Research Institute (TDRI) and FAO sponsored a solar drier project in the Gambia. The quality of the product was not acceptable to consumers. The Food Research Institute in Ghana has also developed various types of solar driers which are still at the pilot stage.

(iii) Fermentation Tanks

Various governmental and non-governmental agencies have been involved in the design and introduction of concrete salting and fermentation tanks to artisanal fish processors in Ghana, Senegal, the Gambia, the Sudan and Uganda. In West Africa and the Sudan, where fermented fish is produced on a large scale, these tanks are widely used to salt and ferment fish. Often the concrete tanks are made by plastering woven cane baskets making them relatively light and strong.

(iv) Use of Insecticides

In an effort to reduce the post-harvest losses of dried fish, there have been attempts in some countries to introduce insecticides for the protection of stored fish. Between 1981 and 1983 several trials were conducted by the Tropical Development and Research Institute (TDRI) using synergized pyrethrum, pirimiphos methyl (actellic) and tetradichlormophos (gardona) to control blowfly attacks on drying fish in Malawi. Field experiments were also carried out in Kenya, 1983, and Mali, 1984, to determine the effectiveness of various types of insecticides to protect dried fish from attack by beetles.

On the basis of these trials, gardona is now widely applied as a dip to control blowfly attacks on fermented fish in Mali and actellic is used in Malawi. Other types of insecticides such as phostoxin and malathion are also used to fumigate warehouses for fermented dried fish.

(v) Salting

In the late 1970s to the early 1980s, trials were conducted in the Gambia and Ghana to replace dry salting with brine or fermentation using sea water. In the Lake Chad Basin and Mali where fish is fermented without salting, unsuccessful attempts were made to introduce salt curing. The trials were not adopted because of unfamiliarity with salted fermented fishery products in the area.

The FAO/UNDP Regional Project for Inland Fisheries Development and Management in eastern, central and southern Africa (IFIP) is currently involved in providing extension services and improved methods of handling, salting, drying and storage of cured fish in the sub-region.

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