The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: FAO Launches Drive to Curb Fish Losses

The food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has launched a multimedia awareness-raising campaign to curb post-harvest losses of fish in Uganda.

The campaign will educate the public on the importance of hygiene and quality in handling fish in small-scale fisheries. Alhaji Jallow, the country representative of FAO in Uganda, says the campaign was prepared with the direct involvement of small-scale fishermen, fish traders and consumers, to educate their peers on the importance of hygiene to preserve fish.

The campaign will be conducted through the "Clean Fish, Better Life" video campaign along 12 major landing sites in Busia, Namayingo, Mayuge and Buikwe districts.

"This comes at a time when different countries, particularly in Africa, are striving to ensure food and nutrition security for their people, in addition to enhancing revenue-generation from fish and fisheries products. Fisheries play a significant role in the socio-economic development of Uganda..." Jallow told journalists at Hotel Africana recently during a conference on fisheries.

Jallow said post-harvest fish losses were affecting the quality and quantity of fish coming out of Uganda. For example, fish exports increased from $5.3m in 1991 to the highest value of $143m in 2005, but decreased to $83.3m in 2010. Uganda also exports large quantities of fish to the regional market, which was estimated at $50m in 2007, declining to $30m in 2011.

Fisheries account for 50 per cent of animal protein consumed in Uganda with annual per capita consumption of fish in Uganda estimated at 1 kg, which is higher than the African average of 8. kg, according to FAO. This, however, is still below the recommended WHO/FAO level of 25kg.

The sector also employs 1.2 million people, according to FAO, spread out to fishing, fish processing, marketing, boat building and engine repair. It is also a source of livelihood to more than 30 million people in communities around Lake Victoria.

Jallow says fish supply from Uganda's water bodies is declining because of overfishing, degradation of aquatic habitats and climate change, among others. Jallow says some 40 per cent of Uganda's small-scale fisheries production is lost to poor handling, processing, and lack of value addition.

Loss of sardines, which are locally known as Mukene, is between 10 per cent in dry season and 90 per cent in the rainy season. Recent field studies have, however, shown that improved handling and processing of small fish led to reduced losses and increases in value by more than 150 per cent.

"Such high post-harvest losses seem to be the norm for Africa, especially in small-scale fisheries production. This is unacceptable in a continent marked by food shortages, malnutrition, widespread vulnerability factors, and an increasing population.

Therefore, reduction of post-harvest fish losses is a necessity if greater socio-economic benefits are expected from sustainable fisheries exploitation. Such an effort will ensure enhanced fish availability and stable supply," Jallow said.

Through their SmartFish project, funded by European Union, FAO has launched the "Clean Fish, Better Life" campaign, which will include cooking demonstrations from a fish recipe book produced by the project. It also contains information on how to identify good-quality fish and promote hygiene.

More than 500,000 people are expected to be reached by the awareness campaign's activities. There will be mobile cinema events too. The campaign will be followed up by training and on-the-job capacity building through the use of video on fish handling, hygiene, quality and nutritional aspects for different fisheries operators.

Uganda has a high potential for fish production, coming sixth globally in fisheries production in 2006, according to FAO. The total fish production in Uganda is estimated at 560,000 tonnes, with about 82 per cent (460,000 tonnes) from fisheries and an estimated 18 per cent (close to 100,000 MT) from aquaculture.

Dr Edward Rukuunya, the Assistant Commissioner in charge of resource management at the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, commended the initiative, and noted that it would go a long way in answering the call for quality and value addition in Uganda's fish industry.

"The agricultural sector investment plan emphasizes value addition and this initiative has a component for capacity building for the local fishing communities to improve the handling of fish species," Rukuunya said.

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