Food Loss and Waste in Fish Value Chains

The role of ANFTS in the evolution of technology to address fish losses in Africa

Omar Peñarubia, 1 December 2021

Food loss and waste (FLW) occur at all stages of fish supply chains from capture to consumer. In Africa, and particularly in the small-scale fisheries sector, the loss in fish quality is particularly acute. This can be caused by poor handling or hygiene and cold chain weaknesses, and underpinned by inadequate infrastructure and a lack of knowledge and skills of the actors along the value chain.  

Effective fish loss and waste reduction often requires a combination of different solutions, including the use of appropriate technology. The evolution of technology can be influenced by research and development, dissemination, access to information by end users, availability of financial resources, and pressures from consumers, non-government organizations, the media and the public in general.

The African Network on Fish Technology and Safety (ANFTS) has been concerned with technology advancement and the improvement of fish and fish product quality. ANFTS provides a forum for discussion amongst different stakeholders concerned with technology and FLW. Beginning with the first ANFTS regional meeting in 1980 in Dar-es-salaam (Tanzania), the regional consultations are supported and coordinated by FAO and held every three years. These have been instrumental in sharing and disseminating updated information and technical knowledge and in promoting research and technical cooperation. The ANFTS regional meeting serves as a forum to discuss and showcase novel technologies and innovations, and is an avenue to disseminate research outputs, discuss current constraints and develop successful synergies amongst stakeholders in the fish post-harvest sector.

Fish drying and smoking are important processing techniques that preserve fish and provide livelihoods to small-scale fishers. However, the traditional technologies used for fish drying and fish smoking often result in FLW. For example, fish are sun dried directly on the ground.  This, compounded with bad weather conditions, causes poor quality or spoiled products. Artisanal smoking techniques rely on rudimentary equipment or kilns made from oil drums, mud and other basic materials with the fish laid on wire mesh over an open fire. These smoking techniques are fuel inefficient and the smoking process is time consuming and difficult to control. This often results in fish getting burnt, and the process itself contributes to greenhouse gas emissions due to the excessive burning of fuelwood.

Fish drying has since evolved from direct laying on the ground to the use of elevated drying racks to the use of solar drying racks. Additionally, participants of the first FAO workshop on Fish Technology, Utilization and Quality Assurance in Africa (ANFTS2005) in Bagamoyo (Tanzania) suggested demonstration-based research and training materials development to address insect pests, which is a common cause of loss of sun-dried fish. At ANFTS2008 in Agadir (Morocco), the use of cost effective solar drying of fish, as well as interdisciplinary research and collaboration with other related institutions on improvement of fish drying techniques in the region, was encouraged.

ANFTS meetings have also played a role in the evolution of fish smoking technology, particularly in the development of improved smoking kilns. Innovations in fish smoking technology began with the introduction of the Chorkor oven in 1969 by FAO and the Food Research Institute (FRI). Later on, the first generation of improved ovens – Banda, Altona and Hybrid-Banda – were developed, building on the strength of Chorkor and addressing socio-cultural issues. In 2004, it was noted that some African countries had started to get rejections of imported smoked fish to Europe due to occurrence and carcinogenic effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This became the agenda at ANFTS2005 and was the recurring agenda of the subsequent meetings in ANFTS2008 in Agadir (Morocco) and in ANFTS2011 in Mahé (The Seychelles), ultimately paving the way for the development of the FAO-Thiaroye processing technique (FTT). The FTT has been able to fully meet the PAHs standard limits set by the EU market, and thus reducing fish losses during fish smoking.

In the adoption of appropriate technology, additional capital costs are required and can drive increases in market prices. Raising awareness and consumer education on the advantages of the new technology is needed to help the end users realize its benefits. Interventions through government policies that are supportive of producers and efficiently enforces rules of the law are also essential. Furthermore, a discussion platform – such as ANFTS – to drive innovations is not only vital in addressing FLW, but also in the development of a more sustainable fisheries and aquaculture sector.

Find more information and resources on appropriate technology here.