Rab initiatives to check fish post-harvest losses

Rwanda Agriculture Board (Rab) is setting up quality infrastructure for the cold chain system in Kigali Special Economic Zone as part of efforts to curb fish post-harvest losses.
A fish pond belonging to Inyange Ngali cooperative in Kimironko suburb of Kigali (Théogène Nsengimana)
A fish pond belonging to Inyange Ngali cooperative in Kimironko suburb of Kigali (Théogène Nsengimana)

Rwanda Agriculture Board (Rab) is setting up quality infrastructure for the cold chain system in Kigali Special Economic Zone as part of efforts to curb fish post-harvest losses.

Dr Wilson Rutaganira, the aquaculture and fisheries programme coordinator at Rab, said the infrastructure, which include a cold room, containerised flakes and tanks, and ice melting machines, were also recently set up in Musanze and Rwamagana districts to address fishermen’s challenges.

The same is to be set up early next year at Kivu Lake to serve about 30 cooperatives of fishermen there, he said.

The infrastructure can preserve 30 tonnes of fish per day, according to Rab.

Rutaganira was responding to fish farmers who said they were making losses due to several challenges, including lack of an established cold chain system to handle fish from the country’s lakes.

Hawa Mukamana, a fish dealer in Kigali City market, said modern and appropriate fish processing and product development is difficult to them due to a myriad of challenges.

“The only fish processing methods in use are traditional smoking and sun drying on lake beaches. The small amount of fish caught in Rwanda’s lakes is all sold right at the lake side with nothing left to take to urban centres to avoid making losses as it gets bad due to lack of preservation mechanisms,” Mukamana said.

Another farmer, Erick Nkunda, the president of Inyanja Ngali fish farming cooperative in Kimironko, Gasabo District, said: “We do not have means to preserve our fish, the reason we sell all of it to people around the pond.”

Hussina Mujawimana, a fish dealer in Biryogo, Kigali, said fish imported from Uganda has become more competitive on Rwandan market due to storage challenges for Rwandan fishmongers.

Figures indicate that, currently, Rwanda imports 15,000 tonnes of fresh fish and another 15,000 of smocked fish every year, worth an estimated $10 million.

Fish farmers also cited fish feeds among the challenges they face.

“We get one kilogramme of fish feeds at Rwf900 imported from Uganda, this is expensive,” said Nkunda.

However, Rutaganira said they are encouraging the local private sector to invest in fish feeds and fish processing.

Fish production techniques

Dr Rutaganira said two methods of fish production are used in Rwanda and are expected to boost fish production in the country.

These are the cage fish culture method in which fish is raised in containers enclosed on all sides and bottom with mesh material that secures them inside while allowing relatively free water exchange with the surrounding environment.

The second is the aquaculture parks or fish pond farming that involves concentrations of fish production units in suitable watersheds that are well supplied with water, with appropriate environmental conditions for culture of the target species in terms of temperature, soil types, and topography.

National fish demand

The World Health Organisation recommends that a person should eat an equivalent of at least 14kgs of fish every year.

However, at the moment, on average, a Rwandan eats just 2.3kgs of fish every year which is the lowest in East Africa and falls far below the Sub Sahara Africa and global level average, estimated at 6.7kg and 16.6kg, respectively.

If Rwanda’s population growth continues as projected in the Vision 2020, the country will need 112,000 tonnes of fish just to attain the average Sub Sahara per capita consumption of 6.6 kg/person/year and 265,600 metric tonnes to reach the global average of 16.6.kg.

Produced fish

The 2011 master plan for fisheries and fish farming shows that 40 species are in the Rwandan waters of which only four; Limnothrissa miodon (locally called Isambaza), the Nile tilapia Oreochromis niloticus, the African catfish, Clarias gariepinus, and Haplochromis are of economic importance.

However, all the lakes (apart from those within the national parks) have been subjected to fishing malpractices for a long time, including use of undersize gear, use of chemicals and poison fishing, among others.

Fish from Rwanda’s 19 lakes, together with harvests from fish farms, amounted to 24,500 tonnes as of June 2014, an improvement from a 7,000 tonnes produced in 2006/2007.

A new fisheries law was enacted in 2008 to repeal the one which dated back to 1937. The law called for improvement in aquaculture production, coordination of fisheries and aquaculture activities with water resources management, development of fisheries and aquaculture management capacity.

Along this was the establishment of a mega project, the Inland Lakes Integrated Development and Management Support Project for development of fisheries and aquaculture.

Meanwhile, the recent Food and Agriculture Organisation’s survey for sustainable food and agriculture shows that Rwanda is still the biggest fish importer within the East Africa sub region with its imports estimated at $10 million.

Fish dealers argue that they import fish from neighbouring countries due to lack of storage facilities for Rwandan fish.

Rwanda’s 2011 master plan for fisheries and fish farming states that post harvest losses as a result of poor handling and lack of cold chain implementation in the industry is as high as 20 per cent from the primary producer to retail.

Moreover, fish farmers say their fish get spoilt due to lack of quality post harvest processing, lack of a central fisheries management agency and limited private sector investment which the 2011 master plan for fisheries and fish farming reported to lead to severe destruction of 10 per cent of the estimated production potential.