The National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) recently introduced the NARO PAH-Safe Fish Smoking Kiln to reduce the cancer-causing carcinogens that occur in smoked fish.
This move is a response to the call by the fishing sector to meet the standards set by international markets following health concerns surrounding Uganda’s smoked fish.
In the early 2000s, the sector experienced a series of bans from the European Union and the US on grounds of food safety, especially in regard to smoked fish, that was said to contain carcinogens attributed to causing cancer.
Fish is currently Uganda’s second biggest foreign exchange earner contributing 12% to the agricultural GDP and employing over a million people in fish processing, transportation, boat making, net cleaning and trade, according to World Bank statistics.
In the last 20 years, Uganda recorded its highest export earnings from fish exportation in 2018 after exporting fish worth $171m (sh635b).
NARO, under the Agricultural Engineering and Appropriate Technology Research Centre at Namalere in Wakiso district, recently developed the NARO PAH-Safe Fish Smoking Kiln that can reduce the carcinogens of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydro Carbons (PAHs).
“Since the ban in the early 2000s, Uganda could not export smoked fish to the foreign markets, especially to the European Union and other health-conscious markets because our smoked fish contained up to 40,000 parts per billion (ppb) carcinogens of Aromatic Hydro Carbons,” says Dr Wilberforce Tushemereirwe, the director of Kawanda Agriculture Research Institute.
He explains that the EU Commission Regulations 2015/1125 recommends safe smoked fish for consumption to have a maximum of 12 ppb for PAHs. The high levels of carcinogens in smoked fish were the result of local processors depending on the traditional hot smoking method.
“We are excited with the development and commissioning of this kiln, which is a breakthrough in reducing the carcinogens from 40,000 ppb to less than 1ppb and in eliminating foreign matter contaminants in smoked fish. This has opened gates of the international market for Uganda’s smoked fish,” Tushemereirwe says.
The kilns come in three main output regime; NAROFIK-3-D2 with carrying capacity of 200kg, NAROFIK-3-D4 with capacity of 500kg and NAROFIK-3-D6 with capacity of 700kg.
“We believe that the kiln will go a long way in ensuring that Uganda’s fish meets the international safety standards and, therefore, increase the market value of our smoked fish by over 85%,” explains Candia.
Peruth Logose, the director Kiyindi Women Fish Processors, one of the beneficiary businesses of this technology, says that the kiln increases the shelf-life of smoked fish from two weeks to two months.
Uganda can do more
Dr Ambrose Agona, the director general of NARO, says Uganda produces up to 570,000 tonnes of fish, out of which 450,000 tonnes come from capture fisheries and 120,000 tonnes from aquaculture.
However, he adds that we can produce up to 1.7 million tonnes, where 1 million tonnes can come from aquaculture.
“This is possible but the key element is to do things right. We need to build the capacity for the production of fish seed, in terms of quality and quantity. NARO has only one aquaculture centre at Kajansi in Wakiso district where we can produce up to two million fingerlings though we have the capacity of 10,000,000 fingerings annually,” he says