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24 February 2015, Rome - A new and easy-to-assemble fish drying technology pioneered by FAO is helping to reduce health hazards, improve food safety and quality, improve working conditions and cut down food losses in West African fishing villages.
Smoked fish is a vital source of food and income for many African coastal communities. In Côte d'Ivoire, for example, an estimated 20-30 percent of local marine and freshwater catch is consumed in smoked form, according to FAO.
A popular protein alternative, smoked fish is preferred by locals because of its taste, its nutritional benefits, its competitive prices compared to other protein sources such as milk, meat and eggs, and its long shelf-life which ranges from 3-6 months.
However, traditional kilns widely used to prepare this popular food item do pose some concerns.
"Traditional smoking techniques often involve a massive burning of wood which leads to a variety of problems. For one, an exorbitant amount of CO2 is produced, so the kilns produce more greenhouse gas pollution than they should. Also, traditional smoking releases contaminants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are carcinogenic and hazardous to the human respiratory system," says Yvette Diei-Ouadi, a fishery industry expert at FAO.
Traditional techniques also leave higher amounts of tar particles on the final product, affecting taste and quality - making it much more difficult to sell.
The new FTT technology - consisting of a dual functioning oven and mechanical drier, which also can act as storage unit - is especially designed to help small-scale fish processors like those in Abobodoumé prepare and market safe, high-quality food.
A result of five years of design improvements, FTT makes it easy to upgrade traditional ovens and is capable of significantly slashing the carcinogenic contaminants produced during smoking. At the same time, the technology reduces the amount of fuel needed and provides a load capacity five times greater than traditional barrel ovens or twice the Chorkor kiln.
A boom with the FTT
"This is a system developed to address many aspects of fish smoking operations," says Ndiaye Oumoulkhaïry, who worked on the FTT design. "In the first place stands the safety aspect - to secure consumers' health and meet international food standards. Then there's reducing post-harvest losses, and also curbing the drudgery of fish processors who are now least exposed to the heat and smoke."
In Abobodoumé, for example, a village in Côte d'Ivoire, female fish processors took immediate liking to the new FTT additions. Among their favorites, a collection plate which traps dripping fish oils they can re-use for manufacturing soap or as cooking oil.
They are also glad to be breathing in far less contaminant-containing smoke.
Different varieties of vegetable materials can also be burned, instead of just wood or coal. Coconut shells and husks, maize or even millet cob are just as effective in smoking fish and place far less pressure on the environment.
Women at center stage
"We are extremely happy, because as of today, with the FTT, our conditions for smoking fish have changed," says Deborah Oulou, an Ivorian woman fish processor.
''We are now working under hygienic conditions," confirms Micheline Dion Somplehi, another woman fish processor in Abobodoumé. "The FTT-Thiaroye ensures less heat, burn and smoke exposure. Smoking operations do not pose risk anymore to the health of our eyes and of our respiratory system''.
Shorter processing times and reduced risk of burns or smoke-inhalation also mean these women can focus more time on their roles as mothers and caretakers.
Dion Somplehi says: "We have seen the advantage of saving time in fish smoking, and this is really important because in our communities, women are at the same time engaged in household chores - taking care of the children, working in the kitchen - while carrying out fish processing activities. We are even able to smoke in bad weather conditions."
Platform for success
The new technology is proving popular in other African fishing nations as well, and its use is starting to spread in Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Tanzania and Ghana.
Development organizations like the Netherlands-based SNV is encouraging the use of FTT technology in Ghana as a way for small-scale producers to gain access to such lucrative international markets.