Solar-powered initiative set to cut post-harvest fish losses in Kenya’s lakeside villages

Fishing communities on the shores of Lake Victoria can now reduce post-harvest losses they have been suffering, thanks to a new initiative of using fish solar tent dryers, and solar-powered freezers.

These communities, primarily women and youth groups, will also be beneficiaries of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI)-patented improved solar-powered fried fish display boxes and smoking kilns.

For too long, the men and women in Homabay and Migori Counties, on the shores of Lake Victoria incurred huge losses due to the lack of appropriate storage and drying facilities.

Sindo Talented Foundation in Homabay County is a beneficiary of this effort. The 67-member group helps nurture young talent in the county. It has sponsored over 520 students to different secondary schools.

The foundation’s income-generating activities involve the selling of such fish species as Nile perch, tilapia and silver cyprinid (Lake Victoria sardine). However, nearly a quarter of the average daily catch of 400 kilograms would go to waste due to the lack of storage facilities.

This is set to change, following the solar storage and drying pilot initiative involving a number of organisations, including WorldFish, CGIAR’s Gender Impact Platform and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

“The group members do not have to worry anymore about selling fish immediately after harvesting from the lake,” says Donald Odhiambo, the secretary of Sindo Talented Foundation.

The 280-litre capacity freezer will keep fish fresh for a long time, and the villagers no longer have to sell their fish at throw-away prices. The larger community will also be allowed to use the facility.

Odhiambo explains that a nominal fee is charged to group members for using the freezer at a daily rate of 50 Kenya shillings (about 40 US cents). Non-group members are charged double.

This initiative was informed by a scoping study conducted between March and July last year, by WorldFish in selected wards in the two counties. The study sought to find out the impact of climate change on the livelihood of fisher communities and fish value chain actors, especially women and youth.

This demographic occupies the mid-to-end levels of the fish value chain. This stage of the fish value chain is less lucrative compared to the harvesting stage which the study showed was controlled exclusively by men.

This means that women and young people are “more marginalised and need a lot of economic empowerment,” says Dr Rahma Adam, a social, economic and inclusion impact lead scientist at WorldFish.

The high poverty rate levels in these counties — Migori is at 46.7% and Homabay at 48%, whereas the national average of 45.9% — makes communities particularly vulnerable.

The study showed that post-harvest losses, and improper handling, drying and storing of fish were major challenges facing communities in both counties.

“When it rains, dagga [silver cyprinid] doesn’t dry, and sometimes it smells, thereby loosing value, which end up being thrown away,” says Dorothy Amwata, associate professor at Murang’a University of Technology.

Amwata, who is the dean at the university’s School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, was a consultant for the scoping study.

The study noted that the community’s drying method of spreading the silver cyprinid fish on the floor was unhygienic and the new half-a-ton capacity solar tented dryers will go a long way in helping the communities fetch better prices for their fish.

“It only takes two hours of drying under intense sun for the fish to be completely dry when using the solar tented dryers,” says Amwata, adding that in contrast, it takes a whole day for the fish to dry, when spread on the floor.

Sindo Business Self-Help Group is a beneficiary of the solar tented dryers. The group gives small loans to its members, which they use to buy, then sell the silver cyprinid fish to customers.

The community incurs a lot of losses during the rainy season.

“The fish does not dry and ends up rotting during the rainy season,” says Florence Akinyi, the chairperson of the self-help group. And in any case, she adds, fish spread on the ground would be carried away by the running rainwater, leaving the community with nothing to sell.

She is grateful that the problem has now been alleviated, thanks to the solar tent dryers

Even though the solar-powered freezers and tent dryers will go a long way in helping the fisherfolk in the two counties deal with fish post-harvest losses, these facilities, they maintain, are not enough.

A total of four solar-powered freezers, four solar tent dryers, four fish smoking kilns and 10 improved solar-powered fried fish display boxed were distributed to various groups in the two counties.