A successful fisheries project that improve nutrition and livelihoods in Burundi

Place: burundi, Africa
Sustainable development of small rural communities Sustainable development of small rural communities
Total Budget: € 218,00 | Period: From December 2003 To October 2005


In Burundi before 2004, about 10 to 15% of the fish harvest was lost during the processing phase. Fish drying, which is the most common processing technique in the country, was generally done on bare ground. In response to these issues, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Burundi Fisheries Directorate started a project of 282,000 US dollars to improve fish processing method and reduce losses. The use of simple raised racks for fish drying was highly promoted among targeted fish operators in Mvugo – the project site. As a result, the fishing communities have adopted the use of raised racks, improving their working conditions, the safety and quality of finished products, and at the same time reducing losses and increasing their incomes. Until now, the success of this project could have been sustained and replicated, and the project has become an inspiration for similar interventions in Burundi and other African countries today


Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations - Italy

Lead applicant

Achieving food security for all is at the heart of FAO's efforts – to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. FAO's three main goals are: the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition; the elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic and social progress for all; and, the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources, including land, water, air, climate and genetic resources for the benefit of present and future generations.

Fisheries Cooperative for the Development of Fish Trade in Burundi - Burundi

Initiative partner

COPEDECOBU is the cooperative in charge of the management of the Mvugo center, i.e. all its processing and trade activities. Fishes are sold fresh, dried or smoked. Big species such as the Nile perch are sold to consumer packaged in nets. Raised racks drying are particularly developed and practiced all along the shores of Lake Tanganyika. And the trainings, capacity development and scientific activities are facilitated by the Burundian Directorate of Water, Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Directorate of Water, Fisheries and Aquaculture of the Burundi Government - Burundi

Initiative partner

The main mission of the Directorate of Water, Fisheries and Aquaculture is to promote sustainable management of fisheries and aquaculture in Burundi. As such, its role consists of regulating all aquaculture, fishing and post-harvest activities along the Burundian shore of the Lake Tanganyika. As for Burundi, the main species caught are the Clupeidae, the Centropomidae, the Ndagala and the Lumpu.

How a simple fish-drying technique has BROUGHT POSITIVE change IN livelihoods along Lake Tanganyika

The main innovation developed in this FAO project in Mvugo is certainly the adoption of raised racks by small-scale fish operators for fish drying process. This appears like a very simple tool in the eyes of many observers, but it has been the source of a great innovation for those fish processors who used to dry their fish on bare ground, with all its drawbacks in terms of bad working conditions, fish losses, low quality and poor safety of the products and low returns for themselves. In Mvugo, fish operators have seen how easy, efficient and low-cost is the raised-racks drying technique. During the project implementation phase, FAO introduced and promoted the use of metallic raised racks, but fish operators quickly realized they could build similar racks with cheaper materials like wood and fishing nets. This innovation has just been useful in achieving the desired objectives – reduce fish losses and ensure food security –, because it is easily replicable and quick to deliver results. 

Drying fish on metallic raised racks This photos shows the drying of fish on metallic raised racks in Mvugo, a fishing village in the South of Burundi, in the shore of Lake Tanganyika.
Series of metallic raised racks in the village of Mvugo Metallic raised racks were the types of drying racks promoted by FAO during the implementation of the project. It is common to see them along with wooden racks - less expensive to construct - in many fishing villages in Burundi.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Simple fish-drying racks improve livelihoods and nutrition in Burundi This brochure relates the success story of this FAO project in Burundi, and provides a summary of the impact and dissemination of the use of drying racks among fish small-scale operators.

Mvugo is a small fishing village in the province of Makamba in Burundi. It is located in the South of Burundi on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, known as a hotspot of aquatic biodiversity. The local populations reap their income from artisanal fisheries, and fish is an important source of proteins for them whose diet consists mainly of poor tuber proteins. Like in many areas in Africa, fishing is predominantly the role of men, while women carry out processing and marketing activities. Most of the fish harvested are marketed fresh, but drying is also the main processing technique in this area. Heat due to a tropical climate, contamination, lack of technical competence for appropriate catch handling, and lack of adequate structures for fish conservation, processing, and storage constitute the main challenges for food security in Mvugo. That is why the project focused on trainings and extension techniques for fish processing, and mainly promote raised rack drying.

Mvugo and the Lake Tanganyika On the hills of Mvugo, one can see lots of these drying racks made up with wooden materials.
Sunset on Mvugo An exceptional view of Mvugo and the Lake Tanganyika at sunset
View of the Mvugo fisheries pilot center This photo shows a view of the Mvugo fisheries pilot center, with an alignment of metallic raised racks nearby.

In Mvugo, trainings and awareness-raising measures for the use of raised racks for fish drying had a positive impact on the project direct and indirect beneficiaries. The level of fish losses, due to inadequate drying practice, has more than halved. End-products supplied to consumers are of a better quality, and fish prices more than doubled from 4 to 9 Burundian francs or from 2.5 to 6 US dollars. Racks-dried fish are highly appreciated by consumers, and fish operators and traders reap higher incomes. This evolution has also led to an influx of working population towards fish processing and trade activities in Burundi. The number of jobs directly related to the sector has increased from 500 in 2004 to approximately 2.000 in 2013. The use of raised racks has considerably increased the productivity and income of men and women fish operators in Mvugo first, then in Burundi in general. Particularly, the role of women in ensuring household food and nutrition security has been enhanced.

The main results achieved by the FAO project in Burundi This sequence relates testimonies of a fish processor and a customer in Mvugo who noticed the benefits of using raised racks while drying fish. A general improvement in the quality of dried fish, and consequently an increase of the income of fish processors are among the main results achieved by this successful project.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Aspect of post-harvest loss reduction in the Burundi project This is a representation with quantitative data on the positive impact of the project on the reduction of post-harvest fish losses in Mvugo
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Simple fish drying racks improve livelihoods and nutrition This is a representation made with quantitative data, explaining the social and economic impact of the rack-drying method in Mvugo

At first time, the project targeted the staff of the post-harvest unit of the Fisheries Directorate in Burundi who were taught how to adopt efficient fish drying and processing methods. Then, those latter have been able to drive change among all categories of fish operators present in Mvugo: fishermen, processors and fishmongers, not only retailers but also wholesalers. For this purpose, a pilot center was built to serve as a practical production, experimentation and training tool. The center was provided with facilities for fish processing such as drying racks, and smoking ovens. And leaflets on how to build the racks were also distributed. Women fish operators also had a particular advantage during the trainings since they form the majority of fish processors. In this way, technical skills acquired by these beneficiaries and direct stakeholders were applied to reduce fish losses, added value to the end-products, and thus contribtued to improved food security. 

Testimony of a woman fish processor and former fighter Pelousi Ndayisaba is a former fighter. Since the use of raised racks has spread in Mvugo, she decided to make a living out of fish processing and trade.
Testimony of an experienced woman fish processor Pascasie Bucumi has dried fish for many years. Before, she faced a huge amount of losses due to the technique of fish drying on bare ground. Now she can testify how the use of raised racks has improved her productivity and at the same time increased her income.

Not only were the post-harvest fish unit staff of the Burundian Fisheries Directorate the first target beneficiaries of the project through the trainings provided, they were also the main agents of change and human resources who performed the initiative in the field. About 10 officers from the Fisheries Directorate benefited from trainings on fish processing techniques, quality assurance and technology for fishery products before they were sent in Mvugo to deliver themselves trainings and share knowledge acquired with local fish operators. National and international experts also assisted throughout the project implementation. Among them: a retired expert in post-harvest fisheries technologies, an international expert in valorization of fish products, a national expert in fish products quality assurance, two executives halieutic technic, an expert from an intergovernmental institution specialized in the creation of a computerized market system, and a national computer expert.

Interview of a member of the Burundi Fisheries Directorate Evariste Rumbete, member of the post-harvest unit of the Burundi Fisheries Directorate, explains how FAO has organized the cascade training which led to the success of this project.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Chart of the main staff involved in the FAO project in Burundi Staff involved during the implementation of the Burundi project include people from FAO headquarters, FAO country office in Burundi, and the Burundi Directorate of Fisheries. Experts in specific areas have also been hired as national or international consultants.

Due to safety and security issues in Burundi at the time of the project implementation, a proportion of the budget should have been reallocated for the protection of the project’s assets and its local and international staff. However, the development of the Mvugo project site required an extra cost in order to comply with standard health requirements. Therefore, this objective could not have been achieved at the end of the project, but the Burundi Fisheries Directorate provided the finishing touch. Another main additional constraint met was the purchase of suggested and recommended materials for building the raised racks. At the beginning, FAO promoted the use of metallic racks, but since these are quite expensive, some fish operators started introducing racks with cheaper materials such as wood. These ones are of lower quality and with much shorter life span, but at least, they offer the opportunity for the most vulnerable to benefit from the advantages of this innovation.

From metallic to wooden raised racks Jeanne Nzisabira explains why she decided to use raised racks for her fish drying activity, and why they are made up with wooden materials

The Mvugo experience has shown a positive impact in terms of preservation of the environment. Drying fish on raised racks has given a much cleaner aspect to the village, and reduced the pollution problems in Mvugo where some time ago, insects and animals contaminated fish dried on bare ground. Also, the adoption of raised racks had reduced the issue of overexploitation of the Lake Tanganyika’s fish stocks. Apart from the environmental challenges due to activities resulting from the expanding human populations in the riparian countries, the huge amount of fish losses faced by fish operators pushed them to increase their fishing efforts, and put great pressure on Lake Tanganyika’s resources. The efficient drying method of fish harvested has thus contributed to a better management of natural resources. Finally, the Burundian Government itself manages the land granted to fish operators for the construction of raised racks and ensure that all fishing activities are environmental friendly. 

Environmental impact of the Burundi project This is an interview made with Leonie Nzeyimana, the Director of Water, Fisheries and Aquaculture in Burundi. She explains how the Burundian government ensures that all fishing activities in Mvugo are environmental friendly.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Drying on bare ground vs drying with raised racks This document highlights the different landscapes shaped whether the fish drying technique used is the traditional one on bare ground, or the raised racks drying technique.

The Mvugo pilot site managed by the local fish operators has played a crucial influence on the sustainability of this Burundi intervention. Thus, the center has continued to carry out a double function, first as a national reference didactic tool to harbour training and capacity development activities, and second as a productive center where can be undertaken activities such as drying, smoking and packaging. Simultaneously, the Burundi Fisheries Directorate has raised awareness about the use of raised racks, while the Government instituted a land tenure policy allowing fishers of all categories to access plot to establish their racks. Talking about transferability and duplicability, the use of raised racks also quickly spread out thanks to the investment from fish operators who noticed the benefits and decided to share the experience with their peers all across riparian fishing ports in the South of Burundi, like Rumonge, Muguruka, Kagongo, Karonda, Magara, Gitaza, Kajaga and Gifuruzi. 

Duplication of the rack drying technique in the surrounding fishing sites The use of raised racks for fish drying spread out in the surrounding fishing sites near Mvugo, but also in other bordering countries along Lake Tanganyika.
Ensuring the sustainability of the project through the Mvugo pilot site The Mvugo center has played a central role either during the implementation of the project and up to now. This video sequence explains how.

The FAO project in Burundi named ‘’Support to post-harvest fisheries technology’’ lasted about one year and a half, but was so successful that it has served as an example of good practice for ongoing FAO and other development agencies projects, be it in Burundi or elsewhere. Among the most important initiatives to spread the results of this project, videos in English and French languages have been produced, and documentation on the project itself but also on the importance of using raised racks for fish operators in the field was made available. These materials have been promoted online, but they are also part of the advocacy tools used by ongoing projects in many fishing areas in Africa where fish processors, especially those living in remote areas, still dry fish on bare ground and suffer from hunger and reduced livelihoods.

A FAO project in Burundi ''Support to post-harvest fisheries technology'' This is the short version of the official video produced by FAO to promote this successful project in Burundi
A FAO project in Burundi ''Support to post-harvest fisheries technology'' This is the long version of the official video produced by FAO to promote this successful project in Burundi
Le projet ''Appui à la technologie post-capture de poisson'' au Burundi This is the short version in French of the official FAO video on this successful project in Burundi
Un projet à succès de la FAO au Burundi This is the long version in French of the official FAO video on this successful project in Burundi
../file-system/small/ppt ../file-system/small/ppt A PowerPoint presentation on Support to post-harvest fisheries technology This is a PowerPoint presentation made by an FAO consultant, relating how simple raised racks curbed fish losses and changed the landscape along Lake Tanganyika in Burundi.