Charity, a widowed mother of five, lives in Igbide Village—a rural fishing community which lacks basic social amenities.
Charity sells fish bought from the local fishermen in order to make ends meet for her family. She cannot send her children to school as the proceeds realized from her business is too meagre.
Most of the fishes she takes to the market for sale are not sold and end up getting spoilt due to a lack of an appropriate storage and processing system put in place.
In order not to go out of business, she resorts to the local way of drying her fish in order to preserve it and sell for a reasonable price.
However, and as good as this may seem, this local process involves the use of firewood sourced from cutting down of trees and a gauze placed directly on a cut-drum, which provides the platform for drying the fish.
This process is burdensome, environmentally unfriendly, and poses severe health hazards, as poisonous polycyclic substances emitted during the process settle on the fishes making it unfit for human consumption.
Charity and a host of other village women represent two-thirds of the community’s estimated 10,000-strong population who go through this painful, environmentally unfriendly process of cutting down trees to make firewood, and exposing themselves to direct heat daily to make ends meet.
Unbeknownst to them, this creates a hydra-headed monstrous condition that poses severe health hazards to consumers and damages our already fragile ecosystem.
The Solution—Project Eco-Dry!
Project Eco-Dry—a sustainable, replicable and environmentally-friendly approach—is being developed by Agrotize Integrated Systems as a means of providing succour to Charity and a host of other rural women around Nigeria and Africa, via the use of a solar-powered smoking kiln technology.
This technology utilizes equipment comprising four compartments: a smoking chamber, a fan for uniform distribution of the heat and smoke, a thermometer for temperature control, and a chimney to remove moisture, as well as a damper to filter smoke and reduce the content of fish carbon dioxide (CO2).
The entire machine is powered by a solar panel and has the merit of cooking and smoking in four hours, compared to as least four days for traditional smoking kiln. It also has a production capacity of about 60 medium sized fishes.
This results in a less-burdensome processing experience while making sure that the end product conforms to international carbon and moisture standards required to break into the international smoked-fish export market.
It’s discernible that a pack of 500 grammes of smoked catfish bought from Nigeria at USD 12.50, sells for between USD 15 and USD 20 in the international market, making it what analysts have called a potentially money-making business.
According to a source: A study sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, shows that the quantity of dried and smoked catfish, tilapia and other types of fish exported from West Africa to the United Kingdom is estimated at over 500 tonnes per year, with a retail value of nearly USD 20 million.
‘Nigeria alone exports about 5 tonnes of smoked fish per month (via airfreight). Other major exporting countries are Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Senegal and Cameroon. However, with stricter regulations on food imported into the US and Europe, Africans are finding it difficult to exploit the million-dollar foreign market for smoked and dried fish…’
Put succinctly, Project Eco-Dry utilizes an environmentally friendly and sustainable approach to help provide financial empowerment to rural women, to prepare them for the international market as well as the highbrow domestic market.
These rural women eventually develop their processing capability, thus enabling them to generate revenue from the export of the finished products or having it on the shelves of favourite retail outlets, while keeping the environment safe.
What’s done so far!
We have identified our sample community in Delta State, Nigeria, conducted a feasibility study of the project, and trained the first batch of 100 women in business management and entrepreneurship.
Furthermore, we have organized the trained rural women into groups under an umbrella cooperative that has already been registered for this purpose: iFeed Africa Multipurpose Cooperative Society.
This makes it easier for them to fulfil export quantity requirements while providing a platform to access grants, loans, and additional funds to build their businesses.
It is important to note that up to 40 % of smoked fish exported from Africa is detained, returned or destroyed at US and European ports due to simple mistakes such as improper packaging and labelling, inadequate compliance with paperwork, insect infestation and mould growth. Thus, we have also mapped out a branded packaging design for filleted and whole smoked fish.
The packages will have barcodes that enhance competitiveness and protection while establishing corporate identity in the market.
What we need now (Budget)!
- Solar-powered smoking kiln (1 pc) USD 2,000
- Branded Packaging Equipment with barcode USD 1,000
- Insurance, legal fees and paperwork USD 1,000
- Administration and logistics USD 500
- Miscellaneous expenses USD 300
Total USD 5,000
- Securing equipment and installation (two weeks after disbursement of grant)
- Training of machine operators—rural women (one week)
- Onset of paperwork for export (four weeks)
- Use of the solar-powered smoking kiln
- Export of smoked dried fish.
How we measure success (Success Indicators)
Success will be measured by the number of rural women’s groups that can access the technology, their net income arising from direct sales in the highbrow domestic market and the international export market, the rate of successful transactions made, their new spending lifestyle, and the condition of their dependents.
Of course, this is not written in stone as the success indicators may be modified or new ones added as deemed fit along the line or as suggested by interested contributors.
Any plans for sustainability?
Yes, we do have plans for sustainability. Revenue will be generated from the use of the machine at an affordable rate. Subsidized payments will be made by the rural women’s groups to provide for maintenance of the machine and of course employment of trained operators sourced from the rural women groups.
Ovie Newton Akpona is a 28-year-old agripreneur, climate change leader, and Project Coordinator for Agrotize Integrated Systems—an agri-start-up. He has a zeal for providing twenty-first century solutions to liberate smallscale farmers from the shackles of poverty.
He has over five-years’ experience working in the spheres of information and communications technology, agriculture, and most recently was the Project Coordinator of the Nigerian Chapter of United Nations Global Energy Initiative SSEA.
Ovie hails from Delta State, Nigeria and holds a BSc in genetics and biotechnology, is associate member of the British Computer Society, the Genetics Society of Nigeria, and Biotechnology Society of Nigeria.
Blogpost and picture submitted by Ovie Newton Akpona (Nigeria): agrotizeintegratedsystems[at]gmail.com
Illustrations courtesy of Agrotize Integrated Systems and WAAPP/NIOMR
The content, structure and grammar are at the discretion of the author only.
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