NARO’s fish smoking kiln commissioned for commercialisation

NARO scientists have developed a modern fish smoking kiln that processes high quality smoked fish, reduces cancer-causing compounds in it, from 40,000ppb to 0.88ppb well below the maximum limit of 2ppb set by the World Health Organization. This innovation was commissioned by the MAAIF for uptake by the private sector on the 5th March 2021 at NARO’s Agricultural Mechanization and Engineering Unit in Namalere.

This innovation is in line with the national development plan 111 that focuses on agro industrialization by aiming at increasing commercializing, agro-processing and the total export value of agricultural commodities. The Kiln meets international market standards, earning the Uganda revenue and increasing income for private fish processors. 

Hon Hellen Adoa, the Minister of State for Fisheries commissioned the fish smoking kiln at NARO’s Engineering Institute in Namalere in March 2021. Sharing her experience of growing up as a fisherman’s daughter. She said, it is not a coincidence that the traditional way of smoking fish exposes consumers to cancer-causing compounds because farmers use any tree to smoke fish regardless of whether it is poisonous or not.

“My father one time brought home fish smoked from a tree species that left a bitter taste in our mouths after eating it, we discouraged him from taking it to the market and using that particular tree to smoke fish again.” She said.

She thanked & appreciated DG NARO and his team for the great innovation and went on to say scientists need a lot of support especially with finances for research which is a big challenge.  

Allan Damulira a fish processor and exporter too shared his challenge they faced as fish exporters when the Uganda Rwanda border was closed.  They had lost hope but the innovation brought hope when fish farmers were frustrated by the huge losses they were making. With the smoking kiln now, a fish farmer has options to sell when he thinks the price is right, not because he is afraid that the fish will go bad.  

 Damulira called the kiln, “a game-changer” in the fish industry and urged Ugandans to appreciate what NARO is doing. “He went on to say, there was a time, the USA banned smoked fish from Africa, specifically from Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia and Kenya due to safety issues.  The price of smoked fish at the moment in USA markets is USD 28 while in Uganda it is USD 1.3, (about UGX 5,000). “With the kiln, just imagine the revenue fish farmers will earn, why can’t we appreciate this organization.”

The Director-General NARO (Dr Agona Ambrose) in his remarks said Uganda as a country is blessed with so many lakes, rivers, swamps and the intelligence to use with cage, tanks or ponds.  At the moment, the country is producing 570,000 metric tons with the potential to reach 1,700,000 Mt. From this, 1,000,000mt would be from aquaculture fisheries, and 700,000mt from capture fisheries, providing a great investment opportunity. 

On fish safety, he said, when we use our rudimentary technologies to dry fish, we are exposing our people to dangerous compounds and there is a need for Uganda to think about her people not just because we want to meet international market demands on fish safety levels.  “We need to find how best for this technology to reach our people? How best can a small farmer be engaged in using this? This might be a policy issue.” He spoke. 

Regarding the partnership with the private sector, he said both parties agreed that the private sector would contribute something towards the kiln. People are used to free things when it comes to government programs but with the kiln, they were ready to invest in it.” DG said, its common to hear people saying, all development agenda should be private sector-led but no private sector players want to invest in an idea from the beginning. “They always say first demonstrate the profit then we invest. Posing a challenge, however, the team that are going to receive the smoking kiln, are a beacon of hope in this regard.  DG also promised the beneficiaries that NARO will be there to provide technical backstopping whenever needed.” NARO will not abandon you.” He also urged them to keep NARO informed of any innovations, collect data and share it with NARO as they use the kiln. 

Chairperson parliamentary committee on agriculture Janet- who was part of those who came to witness the commissioning of the smoking kilns, said, Fish is one of the country’s income earners but is has faced hurdles in the international market and as a committee, they are glad to be witnessing the commissioning of a technology that will make Uganda’s fish standardized and commercialized to meet international standards. Its launch is very timely and will propel NDP 3 to reality. “Great achievement for NARO and the Ministry of Agriculture as a whole and NRM government as a whole.

These kilns will be handed over to 6 private fish process groups across the country on a cost-shared basis in line with the NDP111 development goal of agro industrialization, including the Kiyindi women’s fish processing group who are already exporting to the USA. The launch was attended by NARO staff from NARL, secretariat, MAAIF, private sector players, other industry stakeholders and the media.

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