Philippines fishers learn post harvest skills – the fun way!

16 July 2011 - “I never thought training is fun!  Amidst the hardships and tiresome work—standing all day during the practical exercises, we learned a lot!” exclaimed Liza Espinas, Chair of Sindangan’s Local Council for Women.  

Mercedita Laput, herself a president of the Municipal Federation of Rural Improvement Clubs of Katipunan could not agree more.  “This is the first time I attended this kind of training.  Each day, we all get really tired.  Nonetheless, it is rewarding.  The technologies that were taught are very simple and do not need much capital.  The skills we learned can really help improve the household income and provide jobs to many idle women back in our communities,” she declared emphatically.  

Sixty-eight participants, mostly women, from municipal and village women’s associations, LGU staff, barangay leaders, and food handlers of sardine processors successfully completed the 10-day Trainers’ Training on Fisheries Post-Harvest and Marketing which culminated on 5 July 2011. 

The trainers training went in three packages:  Package 1-Traditional and Value-Added Fish and Fishery Products and Marketing (June 20-24); Package 2-Processing of Matured Sardines and Anchovies into Fish Paste and Sauce and Marketing (June 27-29); and Package 3-Process of Smoke-curing of Small Pelagics and Deboned Milkfish (Bangus) (July 4-5).

 “As sequel to the Participatory Value Chain Workshop and true to our theme: ‘Value chain from catch-to-customer benefitting the small-scale fishers in 12 RFLP Philippines project sites in Zamboanga del Norte’, we traced the chain, identified the fishes which are locally available in each municipalities and looked for possible fish and fishery commodities that have high economic value.  After which RFLP provides the next steps: teach our community leaders the different post-harvest processing techniques through demonstration courses with practicum” explained RFLP PHI Consultant on Fisheries Post-Harvest and Marketing Jonelo Sobreguel.   

The first course: Traditional and Value-Added Fish and Fishery Products and Marketing dwelt on upgrading the knowledge and skills of the participants on fish drying, fermentation, canning, and salting. 

It also taught participants to utilize untapped indigenous fish species for fish and fishery value-added products such as fish tempura, fish kikiam, fish balls, spicy dilis (anchovy), fish burger/patties, fish nuggets, fish embutido, fish longanisa (sausage), squid rings, marinated milkfish and seaweed crackers, among others.

Sobreguel explained, “each training package has a take-home message for the participants.  First, fishing villagers do not have to worry of the absence or the lack of supply of ice.”  He argued that ice is not just the only way to preserve fish; so why not introduce the use of salt.  In doing so wastage of fish raw materials is addressed as Zamboanga del Norte is chronically short of ice supply.  “There is gold in the dried fish and fish paste industry!” Sobreguel quipped.    

In the Philippines, artisanal fishers commonly practice “salvaging” fish catch losses—those which are unsold in the market and are slowly decaying or nearly spoiled are used as raw materials for dried fish and fish paste.  Sobreguel  argued, “why not bring salt right away in fishing boats or landing areas and supply immediately the salted fish to small-scale village processors who are into fish fermenting or drying which supplies finished goods in bulk to other provinces.”

As Sardinella and anchovy are abundant in the various fishing grounds of the province, the RFLP consultant contended that the province can champion anchovy paste and dried tuloy (sardines) in which they only need salt but their market potential is high.  “So we teach the participants how to do ‘cleaner’ fermentation so as to make this ‘ethnic’ food safe for consumers,” Sobreguel explained.

Participants were also taught how to utilize fish meat and process these using basic surimi (minced meat) principles, store in cold storage or household refrigerators, and make these into fishballs, kikiam, tempura, nuggets, fish patties/fish burgers, and others.  “We want to train the trainers on value-added fish and fisheries products in order to make use of the abundant harvested fish during glut season.  That is the second take home message we want to impart to the trainees, ” Sobreguel  narrated. 

With the abundance of seaweeds in the province, seaweed cracker is another promising product.  It involves a very simple technology.  With a continuous supply of seaweeds raw material, flour and low-salt flavouring along with a very convenient and well-designed packaging, community women could then have a very healthy alternative snack food to sell in schools and offices.

Across all the training packages, participants were taught on the importance of the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Good Hygienic Practices (GHP) in the processing of fish and fishery products.  “At the end of the day, we teach them to be very careful, to keep everything very clean and sanitized so that food will not cause harm to consumers,” declared Sobreguel. 

“Like for fish paste, we taught them to sort out and remove fish species that have toxins like pufferfish.  We also teach them the proper handling of fish so as to control histamine formation in the fish raw material.  This is why we invited the private sector so as to imbibe on their food handlers the basic GMP, GHP, thus, preventing fish post-harvest losses,” he added.

Participants were also trained in some basic principles on salting and brining, i.e. ensuring the purity of salt to render safety in the fermented fish products through techniques in detecting and checking the purity of salt.  Removing the impurities from salt, so as to make it suitable for drying, salting and fermenting was also taught. 

Quality and safety control were also in the training menu.  For smoked fish, traditionally, people have the apprehension that smoking has carcinogenic effects.  According to Sobreguel, “we teach them the right smoking process, making use of the right wood or saw-dust, so as not to produce carcinogens derived from using unsuitable wood.  The general rule of the thumb: if the wood bears edible fruit, hence the bark or wood is acceptable, although the use of rice husks is a cheaper and safer alternative and a major agricultural byproduct that could be put to good use.”  

“Where climate extremes in this part of the country is also a major consideration and that solar drying is not possible during rainy seasons, smoking as a preservation technique could prove to be a very practical alternative,” he added.

The 10-day training also includes discussions and practicum on simple bookkeeping which includes proper recording, listing of expenses and computing return on investment; and tips on marketing the product.

“I never realized we can make fish sauce from matured tuloy (sardines) and how we wasted these for so long during peak seasons.  We can also use these for fish paste (bagoong) instead of juveniles,” said Agricultural Technician Cristina Diano of Manukan town. 

RFLP will cascade these fisheries post-harvest skills and technologies in the succeeding months down to the fishing communities where it operates through the trainer-volunteers.   But the trainees argued that capital support to village level participants is critical in sustaining the technology transfer initiatives—considerations which have already been drawn up by RFLP Philippines through its Microfinance component.     

In his speech, Governor Rolando Yebes of the Province of Zamboanga del Norte, hoped that through RFLP and this training can improve the living conditions of poor fishers, become self-sufficient and that we can change the economic standing of the province as one of the top 10 richest from being the top 10 poorest provinces in the country.

The 10-day training is implemented with the active collaboration of the Dipolog School of Fisheries, BFAR-Regional Fisheries Training Center and the Institute of Fish Processing Technology of the University of the Philippines in the Visayas.