By Carol Kasujja Adii
Researchers at Makerere University are concerned about nutritional deficiencies in Uganda, particularly due to low consumption of silver fish (Mukene) in households.
This follows a study under the theme ‘Harnessing dietary nutrients of under-utilised fish and fish based products to combat micronutrient deficiency among vulnerable groups in Uganda’ that revealed that there is micronutrient deficiencies among children and women in the Country.
The study revealed that though some parts of the Country have fishing communities, majority of residents hardly include Mukene in their household diets. According to the study, most people are missing out on nutritional benefits of Mukene because of lack of awareness, pride and prejudice about eating small fishes as they are considered food for low income earners and feed for livestock.
“Families should consume silverfish at least three times a week to address nutritional deficiencies in the Country. Silverfish is not only important in building body muscles but it is equally paramount for development in children because it is eaten with its bones which contains calcium,” Dr Jackson Efitre, a senior lecturer in the department of zoology, entomology and fisheries sciences at Makerere University noted.
Dr Efitre explained that Mukene is quick to cook which helps low-income families to save time and energy resources.
A 2017 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey, estimate that 29% of children aged 5 years are stunted, 4% are wasted and 11% are underweight. In addition, 53% of 6-59 months old children and about 32% of women aged 15-49 years are anaemic.
Further, zinc deficiency affects 70% and 30% of children and women, respectively, resulting in poor growth, reduced resistance to infectious diseases and increased incidences of stillbirth.
“The deficiencies are mainly a result of not consuming enough food of animal origin, such as fish. The benefit of consuming silver fish are enormous for human health. Due to their small size, mukene is consumed whole, thereby contributing considerable quantities of micronutrients and fatty acids in human diet,” Dr Efitre, said.
“We have prepared brochures to create awareness of the nutritional importance of the small fishes in addressing deficiencies. Since pregnant women need extra calcium, this can easily be obtained from silver fish. They should eat silver fish especially in the first and second trimester when the baby’s bones are developing,” Dr Efitre noted.
Prof Dorothy Nakimbugwe, a lecturer in the department of food technology and nutrition at Makerere University, called upon schools to include small fishes and fish products into their feeding programs.
“Government should promote fish-enriched products and raise awareness about them so as to ensure wide utilization by the nutritionally vulnerable target groups (women and children),” Prof Nakimbugwe said.
The scientists banned drying of fresh silverfish on bare ground, saying the practice compromises quality. The mukene, when dried on bare ground, gets mixed with sand and animal droppings.
“We introduced solar tent driers which are like greenhouse structures that reduce the risk of contamination which provide clean and efficient storage and drying, especially during the wet season,” Prof Nakimbugwe, noted.
Speaking during the conference, Dr Ambrose Agona, the director general of National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro), said that the fisheries have enormous potential to contribute towards national development goals, yielding benefits to communities, private sector, and the country, through incomes, profits and public revenues.
In his statement, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, the Makerere University Vice Chancellor, said that the project activities are 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; enhanced engagement with industry and business sector.
“The scientists developed technologies and innovations that have helped to reduce fish losses, increase product quality and acceptability, and improve distribution of fish and fish-based products among populations living far from water bodies, thus demonstrating the role science can play in solving societal problems,” Nawangwe said.
Nawangwe asked the team of scientists who successfully implemented the project to continue working together and the community to improve the livelihood and nutrition of more people, especially the children and women of reproductive age.