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Local innovator aims high with fish processing machine

IN her book “Re Frame-Shift the way you work, innovate, and think” the writer and a motivational speaker, Mona Patel teaches people the importance of reframing the mindsets and see problems not as insurmountable obstacles but as creative opportunities.

That are opportunities that allow one to invent, innovate, create, explore, or whatever one needs to solve a problem. It is in line to Patel’s teachings that innovator David N’gunda came up with a light fish processing machine.

Some six years ago, David’s mother was diagnosed with a health condition that necessitated doctors stop her take any kind of red meat. Fish was highly recommended and so she started taking fish as her main food intake on a daily basis.

At that point, a new problem ensued for David’s mother, mama Janeth and the rest of the family. Preparation of fish was a challenge. Scaling, gutting, cleaning and slicing of fish was time consuming and doing it manually everyday was kind of difficult process for them.

David didn’t consider that problem a problem, but an opportunity that had to be faced head on and at that point he did not turn back.

By the time he was a third year student of the Dar es Salaam based St Joseph University taking BSc in Mechanical Engineering in 2018/19, he came up with a light fish processing machine that can not only help his mother but make Tanzania a giant when it comes to fish processing and business in this region and the world.

“With fish processing machine, we will be able to process fish hygienically by scaling, gutting, cleaning, slicing and packaging using a professional processing method,” he explains.

The machine able to process one fish in a matter of seconds has an inbuilt procedure that takes care of all necessary processes including but not limited to hygienic cleaning and scaling of fish hence user friendly.

David is convinced that the project is going to solve the problem of processing fish manually by introducing a user-friendly machine for hygienically scaling, gutting, cleaning, slicing and packaging.

The main goal of fish processing is to provide clean and well processed fish for the consumers, hence keep the environment clean free from scales and guts, which can be collected at one end and processed to obtain other byproducts such as plastics and animal feed respectively.

With right innovation, a lot can change in Tanzania’s fish industry sub sector. Aquaculture production in Tanzania stands at about 4,000 tonnes per year, three quarters of which is tilapia.

According to available statistics, the sector generates considerable employment, with an estimated 15,000 –20,000 people engaged in the seaweed sector, 14,100 engaged in freshwater fish farming and 3,000 in the marine sector.

The sector includes tilapia, trout, and catfish (in fresh water) and a small marine aquaculture (Mari culture) sector producing milkfish and prawns. There is also small seaweed farming and harvesting sector exploiting red algae used for carrageenan production.

Although seaweed production is modest, this activity occupies large numbers of harvesters (mostly women). The total number of people involved in the aquaculture sub sector is about 17,100, with 14,100 involved in freshwater fish farming and about 3 000 in seaweed farming.

There are a total of 14,100 fish ponds scattered all over the country with differing potential from one area to another. Most farmers own small ponds of an average size of 150 m2, covering an estimated 221.5 ha with four regions having more than 1 000 fish ponds each.

These are Ruvuma (4,942), Iringa (3,137), Mbeya (1,176) and Kilimanjaro (1,660). Therefore, it is evident that the areas that expect to benefit from David’s innovation are diverse and huge. Most of players in this sub sector still use old and traditional processing methods that are not effective.

David is confident that the innovative fish processing machine can triple production and make Tanzania competitive enough in regional and international fish markets and contribute in the nation’s industrialisation endeavours.

On the production process, David and the team expects to have byproducts of two types; scales which will be used to produce plastic products and other ornaments and gutting remains that will be used in production of animal feeds. David considers Eng Dr. Lawrence Kerefu his mentor.

Dr Kerefu, also a Mechanical Engineer says the going has not been easy. The making of a machine face some challenges. Chief among them is difficulty to obtain a workshop equipped with specialized machines, equipment and tools in Tanzania for manufacturing of pre-commercial production prototypes of different applications.

“Some tools have to be imported and this is not easy for budding innovators like David,” Dr Kerefu notes. It is also not easy to obtain research and data analysis on processing of products like fish since there has been not much investment on this sector.

Other challenges they face include lack of funds to support the manufacturing of intricate parts of their fish processing machine. . According to the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, fish consumption is estimated to be about 7-8 kg/year and contributes to about 30 per cent of the total animal protein intake.

This level of per capita consumption is low, compared to the global per capita consumption of about 20 kg in 2014. With a population growing at 2.7 per cent annually, increased supplies are required just to maintain this limited contribution to the diet.

This calls for effective mechanized fish processing light industries all over the country. The innovator, David has demonstrated that it is possible. Moreover, should this innovation be scaled up, lives of hundreds of small scale fish business owners all around the country will be improved.

Emmanuel Rubagumya writes about science, technology and innovation. Email: innovationstz@gmail.com

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