Sustainable fishing and quality fish processing: Unlocking the potential of Malawi's fisheries

June 5, 2023
A man inspects fish that is ready for processing in Malawi. Credit: Gray Velemu/Pact.

Fisheries in Malawi are not only a valuable resource that contributes to food security but also play a vital role in livelihoods and economic development. Post-harvest loss, or fish that are discarded or sold at very low cost due to quality or other considerations, threatens fisheries’ role as a potential pathway out of poverty for many in the value chain. It is estimated that Malawi loses about 37% of fish along its value chain from both quantity and quality losses.

Once fish are caught, they must be processed for sale. This can include drying, salting, freezing and other methods. Traditional processing techniques, such as drying fish in the sun, are extremely common across the country. But these traditional methods are at the mercy of weather, insects and other challenges that can often result in significant losses for the processors, and thus for fishing communities, as well as potential dangers to people’s health.

Many processors can’t afford to adopt the new technologies on their own, even if they are interested in modernizing.

The REFRESH project has taken a proactive approach to tackle these challenges. Funded by USAID, REFRESH has been working to promote sustainable fishing practices, support fishing communities and conserve aquatic ecosystems so that Malawi can unlock the full potential of its fisheries sector. Part of this effort has been providing grants to 12 conservation enterprises in lakeshore districts. The grants are used to create alternative livelihoods, expand and commercialize fisheries and non-fisheries value chain conservation enterprises, and reduce illegal fishing practices and overfishing. 

Among the sustainable fishing practices that the project promotes is better post-harvest management practices. This involves supporting fish processors and traders in improving post-harvest management practices to reduce product loss and enhance product quality. Three of the 12 conservation enterprises are actively involved in fish processing. One, Extra Think Innovations (ETI), is leading the way in fish processing and value chain addition.

ETI, with support from the REFRESH project, is promoting the use of solar tent dryers for fish processing. Processing fish in these solar-powered dryers brings numerous benefits. The dryers offer energy efficiency, cost savings, improved hygiene and quality, preservation of nutritional value, extended shelf life, economic opportunities, reduced post-harvest losses and versatility. Increased circulation of hot air accelerates drying and the tents are insect-proof, eliminating fly infestations. By harnessing the power of the sun, this sustainable method of fish processing contributes to the overall sustainability and viability of the fisheries industry.

A solar tent dryer in Malawi. Credit: Gray Velemu/Pact.

Additionally, ETI is encouraging the use of FRISMO smoking kilns, which are a type of fuel-efficient stove, in fish processing activities. These stoves bring cost savings, environmental benefits, improved health, time savings, enhanced safety, empowerment and economic opportunities. They also contribute to climate change mitigation by producing fewer emissions and using wood more efficiently than traditional kilns. By adopting fuel-efficient stoves, households and communities can transform their cooking practices while positively impacting the environment.

FRISMO smoking kilns are a type of fuel-efficient stove that can improve fish processing. Credit: Gray Velemu/Pact.
Two women inspect fish that have been processed using FRISMO smoking kilns. Credit: Gray Velemu/Pact.

After providing training on efficient fish processing techniques, ETI ensures market access for the Beach Village Committees and fishing communities they work with. ETI buys fish from contracted fishermen, who are bound by supply agreements to uphold sustainable fishing practices. By guaranteeing the supply of matured quality fish and paying 20% above prevailing market prices, ETI supports the economic growth of fishing communities and fosters responsible fishing practices.

Sustainable fishing practices and quality fish processing are pivotal in realizing the true potential of Malawi's fisheries sector. Through initiatives like the REFRESH project and the involvement of conservation enterprises like ETI, the country is taking significant steps toward promoting sustainable fishing, reducing post-harvest losses and supporting the wellbeing of fishing communities. By embracing solar tent dryers, fuel-efficient stoves and responsible fishing practices, Malawi can preserve its aquatic ecosystems, improve food security, and drive economic development while safeguarding the environment for generations to come.