*****The project has made great strides in reducing malnutrition amongst vulnerable communities in Uganda by improving the acceptability and consumption of small pelagic fishes (SPFs). SPFs are rich in bioavailable micronutrients including iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin A and essential fatty acids (Omega 3, 6).
Malnutrition remains a serious challenge to human health and economic development in Uganda. Due to limited access to micronutrient-rich foods and animal protein, especially fish, 32% of women between 15-49 years are anemic whereas 30% are zinc deficient. 53% of children below five years of age are anemic and 70 % zinc deficient.
The nutritive value of the Small Pelagic Fishes (SPFs) cannot be underlooked in efforts to address the challenge. The SPFs are rich in bioavailable micronutrients including iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin A and essential fatty acids (Omega 3, 6). Besides, they are consumed whole, which enhances their nutritional benefits compared to the large fishes. Most consumers, including vulnerable groups in rural and peri-urban communities can purchase SPFs in small quantities at relatively affordable prices. The SPFs are therefore crucial in improving human nutrition, particularly during the first 1000 days of life (from conception to the second birth day) as they contribute to maternal health and better child development. SPFs are however not being consumed in sufficient quantities due to high levels of adulteration with grit, soil and sand; off-flavors (smelly fish); bitter taste and lack knowledge of the different methods of preparation. Traditionally, the SPFs are regarded as fish for the poor and livestock. Currently per capita fish consumption in Uganda is between 10-12 Kilograms per person per year which is below the internationally recommended amount of 26 kilograms per person per year according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)..
The NutriFish Project and achievements registered
Through a project titled NutriFish, researchers from Makerere University together with their partners from the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI) - National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), NUTREAL Limited and McGill University, Canada in 2019 set out to increase the availability, accessibility and consumption of SPFs for sustainable food and nutrition security and better livelihoods of vulnerable groups in Uganda. Led by Dr Jackson Efitre from the Department of Zoology, Entomology and Fisheries Sciences, Makerere University, and supported by the International Research Development Centre (IDRC) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) through their joint programme, Cultivate Africa's Future Fund (CultiAF), the researchers developed five high-value nutritious products (baby food, sauce, maize meal, snacks, and seasoning) using Mukene. A 50g portion of the baby food flour provides more than one-third of a child’s daily protein, iron, zinc, and folic acid requirements. The researchers also developed a Mukene recipe book, containing 16 recipes rich in protein, calcium, zinc, and iron. The cookbook was endorsed by the Minister of State for Fisheries, Hon. Hellen Adoa. Through the NutriFish Project, fishers have been helped to access loans to purchase boats and fish containers which improve hygiene and quality by improving drainage and reducing compaction of fish. Two enterprise fishing groups with over 70 boats have been established and are working together – an approach which ensures more consistent supply and standards, and results in over 3.7 tons of fish caught each month. The research team also developed an application (eCAS system) for tracking fish catches. By September 2022, 8,960 records of catch data had been collected and transmitted through the eCAS system by trained local enumerators. Over 200 stakeholders are using the application, including the Directorate of Fisheries Resources and the Fisheries Protection Unit, which uses the data to help prevent overfishing.
Other achievements registered under the project include the development of solar tent driers – greenhouse-like structures that reduce the risk of contamination – provide clean and efficient storage and drying, especially during the wet season subsequently reducing post-harvest losses. The increased fish quality has doubled fishers’ incomes, from US$1 to US$2/kg, and tripled the shelf-life of dried small fish to almost five months. The driers have also attracted the attention of policymakers, with the Sectoral Committee of Parliament on Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries specifically recommending their use in April 2022 for improving fish processing. To encourage consumption of Mukene products, NutriFish developed a radio-based awareness campaign. More than 12 million listeners were reached by 29 different ‘spot’ messages in local languages and four 15-minute in-studio conversations – a significant step in tackling long-standing social beliefs that Mukene is food only eaten by poor families or animals. The project conducted awareness training with 326 people (200 women) to reduce gender inequalities. As a result, domestic violence dropped by 30%, the number of women in the fish value chain increased, more couples began to make joint household decisions, and more men carried out household tasks, increasing from 15% to 20%. The project also trained eight Graduate students, who have gained valuable skills and knowledge thus boosting critical human resource needs in the fisheries sector.
NutriFish Product Launch and Dissemination Event
On 27th February 2023, the College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Makerere University in collaboration with the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI) and partners - International Development Research Centre (IDRC) held the NutriFish project product launch and dissemination event. The event was presided over by the Minister of State for Fisheries, Hon. Hellen Adoa represented by the Ag. Director, Directorate of Fisheries Resources, Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), Mr. Tom Mukasa Bukenya. It was graced by Ms. Mercy Rurii, Programme Officer at the IDRC of Canada and a number of dignitaries from the agricultural and fisheries sector including the Director General of NARO represented by Ms. Winnie Nkalubo from NaFIRRI.
Remarks by the PI
Presenting an overview of the project and achievements registered, the NutriFish Principal Investigator, Dr Jackson Efitre emphasized the importance of SPFs in addressing nutritional deficiencies and improving livelihoods of vulnerable communities.
He appealed for the inclusion of small fishes and fish products into the national nutrition/health interventions including school feeding programs and supplemental feeding in malnutrition units at health facilities. He expressed gratitude to the funders of the project noting that it had greatly transformed livelihoods of vulnerable communities in the country. “Sincere appreciation to our implementing partners NaFIRRI, McGill University and Nutreal Ltd., who worked closely with us to effectively implement the NutriFish project. We also thank the different Government Ministries, Departments, Agencies, the donors, the private sector, and community members – who supported us throughout the project implementation.”
Testimonies by the beneficiaries
Sharing experiences, the beneficiaries appreciated the project team and funders noting that the interventions had improved the quality of their operations subsequently increasing their profits and transforming their livelihoods. “I was born at the lake and I have grown up there but I had never eaten Mukene for several reasons, but mainly due to poor preservation methods. Following the interventions by the NutriFish Project, my attitude towards Mukene changed and I now own a Mukene business which has greatly transformed my life. With the skills acquired from the trainings conducted by NutriFish, we are now able to produce and sell quality Mukene and our profits have increased. Out of the 14 members in my group, 5 of us bought boats and this has increased our income from UGX500,000 to UGX3,000,000 per month per individual,” Mercy Betty, Mukene trader at Ntoroko Fish Landing Site. According to Patrick Chakcon, a fish trader from Dei Landing Site in Pakwach, the solar tent drier has helped improve the quality of their products. “Initially, we relied mainly on open drying which is time wasting and not secure. With the introduction of the solar tent drier, many fish dealers now have time for other activities. We thank the project team and the funders for this intervention. We however appeal for more units because what we have at the moment can only dry 500kgs out of the 5000kgs harvested per day.”
Before the project, Ms. Tereza from Kikondo in Buikwe district was experiencing a lot of challenges and at some point got thoughts of suicide. She is so grateful for the intervention because she now works and can support her family.
Remarks by the Minister of State for Fisheries
In her address presented by the Ag. Director, Directorate of Fisheries Resources, Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Mr. Tom Mukasa Bukenya, the Minister of State for Fisheries, Hon. Hellen Adoa commended the project team for the initiative. She also appreciated the funders for supporting the project. Highlighting the value of fish in terms of exports which now stands at approximately USD177 million, the Minister said Government had prioritized fish in the agricultural sector strategic plan as a flagship commodity for investment and development in line with National Development Plan (NDPIII). “Through the Agricultural Sector Strategic Plan, promoting Small Pelagic Fishes is one of the priorities of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries to address issues of hunger, malnutrition and food security and improve livelihoods of the fishing communities. I’m happy that the project has come up with tangible solutions to deal with some of these challenges including unsustainable harvest and post-harvest losses." The Ministry implored the project team share the findings widely through various regional bodies.
Remarks by the Vice Chancellor
In his speech delivered by the Deputy Principal of CoNAS, Prof. Juma Kasozi, the Vice Chancellor of Makerere University, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe congratulated the NutriFish Project team upon achieving the set objectives. “On the 27th June 2019, I had the honour of officiating at the launch of the innovative Harnessing dietary nutrients of under-utilized fish and fish processing by-products to reduce micronutrient deficiencies among vulnerable groups in Uganda - NutriFish Project. Today, I am happy to witness the launch of the project innovations and products. NutriFish brought together pillars of knowledge (research and academia) and the Private sector and addressed issues of maternal and child health, nutrition, and poverty reduction through a Public-Private-Partnership approach.” The Vice Chancellor noted that the project activities were in line with Makerere’s current Strategic Plan (2020 -2030) which aims at transforming the University into a research-led institution with a multi-faceted research agenda; and enhanced engagement with industry and the business sector. “As University management, we are happy that we provided conducive working conditions and facilities that enabled NutriFish and her partners to successfully implement project activities. On behalf of Makerere University Management, I extend our appreciation to the funders of the project and the implementing partners.”
Remarks by the IDRC representative
In her remarks, Ms. Mercy Rurii, Programme Officer at the International Development Research Centre of Canada commended NutriFish project as timely intervention that would largely address the challenge of malnutrition in the region. “Malnutrition has negative impact on the cognitive development of children and poses unnecessary burden on the healthcare system. Money that would be spent on other productive sectors goes into healthcare as a result of the many diseases arising from malnutrition, and this becomes a very crippling development challenge. The project team has come up with practical solutions to address this challenge. On behalf of IDRC, we commend the project team for these interventions.”
On behalf of the Principal, CoNAS, Prof. Winston Tumps Ireeta, the Deputy Principal, Prof. Juma Kasozi expressed gratitude to the funders and project partners. He appreciated the project team for the timely initiative that emphasized community engagement in line with Makerere University Strategic Goal 4.
The event featured a panel discussion on National and regional initiatives for addressing fisheries management challenges, moderated by renowned TV talk-show host, Mr. Patrick Kamara. Panelists included Mr. Tom Bukenya, Ag. Director, Directorate of Fisheries Resources, MAAIF; Ms. Joyce Ikwaput Nyeko, Deputy Executive Secretary, Lake Edward and Albert Fisheries and Aquaculture Organization Entebbe; Ms. Nelly Badaru, Gender Expert and Independent Consultant; and Mr. Boaz Musementa from the Office of the Prime Minister. They called for development of quality assurance standards for Mukene products to penetrate the international market. They also called for inclusion of women in decision making processes, strengthening of regional cooperation to minimize trans-boundary conflicts and harmonization of the legal and policy frameworks.
The event also featured an exhibition of several products developed under the NutriFish project.
View proceedings of the event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?