Fish is an extremely perishable food product which requires proper handling soon after harvest. The present study was aimed at assessing post-harvest fish losses and preservation practices in Siavonga district, Southern Zambia. The results of the study revealed that all the fishers experienced post-harvest fish losses at varying degrees with those losing up to 10% of the total catch being in the majority. In contrast, aquaculture producers did not report any post-harvest fish losses. Most aquaculture producers commonly used chilling as preservation practice contrary to artisanal and commercial fishers who commonly used smoking and sun sun-drying respectively. Lack of cold storage facilities and fluctuating weather conditions were the major challenges impacting fish post-harvest activities. Therefore, to curb the loss of revenue due to post-harvest fish losses, we propose the introduction of new technology, self-development skills for fishing communities, and enhanced access to refrigeration facilities.
Fish has consistently been among the most commonly used and comparatively cheaper source of animal protein for most people across the globe. In most developing countries, fish is often the key source of animal protein and a source of direct and indirect employment opportunities to rural communities. Fish post-harvest activities within the fisheries value chain have often received less attention in rural community development programs despite them being a critical component of the livelihood structure. However, fish deserve more attention in food policies than it currently receives owing to its importance in the food basket, unique nutritional characteristics, and higher production efficiency compared with other forms of agricultural systems.
Fish and fish products currently constitute the most traded food products globally (Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 2018). Significant improvements in fish trade for both local and international markets largely depend on the quality of fish post-harvest activities in the fisheries sector. Globally, fish losses are estimated to be ten to twelve million tons per year, accounting for around ten percent (10%) of the total production from capture fisheries and aquaculture. Hence, the fight against hunger requires more than just increasing production and total food supply but also improving food systems, a full understanding of the local conditions and factors affecting the value chains for the products, and more attention to the barriers limiting investment in improved postharvest handling practices, technologies, and policy.
Food safety and quality control is a critical element of food production that determines the protection of public health, economic development, social stability, and protecting a country’s image and food security.
In Zambia, generally, fish safety and quality control among the various producers are poorly reported. In this study, the majority of the fishers were not observing any regulation regarding fish product safety and quality control. However, for the aquaculture producers, the majority were observing some regulations. Interesting to note in this study was that the majority of those that indicated they were observing some fish product safety and quality control across the different categories did not disclose the source or body enforcing the regulations.
The current gap existing between fish supply and demand globally is not likely to be filled anytime soon, especially in developing countries. Moreover, the gap is likely to further increase due to many factors that include human population increase, post-harvest fish losses, unsustainable wild fish harvests, and environmental-related concerns, for example, water pollution and climate change. Therefore, minimizing or completely eradicating fish post-harvest losses may significantly contribute to the efforts of reducing the gap between global fish supply and demand. In the present study, several challenges affecting post-harvest fisheries activities in Siavonga district were reported. Lack of cold storage facilities was the major challenge affecting both the artisanal and commercial fishers, while poor road network was the major challenge for the aquaculture producers.
The reasons for indicating a lack of cold storage facilities as a major challenge by the fishers could be due to lack of a public cold storage facility in the district. Meaning that the fishers have to depend on own or rented facilities that may lead to them incurring higher costs especially during times of electricity power cuts. These results could also provide justification why the majority of the artisanal and commercial fishers commonly used smoking and sun-drying respectively as preservation practices. Poor rood network to the market was reported as the major challenge for the aquaculture producers. This may be due to the fact that most of these producers transport their fish to almost all other parts of the country, unlike the fishers who found customers at the shore of the lake waiting to buy the fish as soon as they landed. For the aquaculture producers, another good percentage indicated that competition on the market was another challenge for some aquaculture producers.
Improvements in fish post-harvest practices are very crucial for minimizing post-harvest fish losses, and the ever-increasing gap between fish supply and demand. Lack of cold storage facilities and changing weather conditions were the two major factors that contributed to post-harvest fish losses among the fishers, while poor road network and competition on the market were the major challenges faced by the aquaculture producers in the district.
Source: Maulu, S., Hasimuna, O.J., Monde, C. et al. An assessment of post-harvest fish losses and preservation practices in Siavonga district, Southern Zambia. Fish Aquatic Sci 23, 25 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41240-020-00170-x