Graphic Business News

World Heart Day: A time to reflect on the health of fish processors

By: Bright Yeboah

 Firewood serves as a major enabler to one of the major economic activities of women in fish processing.  

About 3 billion people in developing countries depend on it for smoking their fish. 

Though firewood plays a crucial role in the fisheries industry, it has paradoxically become source of great health concern. 

Smoke from this necessarily evil, has rendered people in fishing communities especially women and children vulnerable to very deadly environmental and health risks. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to smoke has severe damaging health effects even more than the infamous deaths caused by malaria or tuberculosis. 

Smoke-induced ailments like lung cancer, visual impairments, tuberculosis, pneumonia, chronic bronchitis in women, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cardiovascular diseases are responsible for ab

Among the 4.3 million people who die from the consequences of smoke emission diseases yearly, 500,000 are children under five that dies as a result of respiratory infections. 

These children whose lungs, eyes and immune systems are not fully developed are often exposed to the smoke from their mothers’ ovens and thus inhale large loads of particulate emission. 

The smoke does not only affect the people but the quality of fish also. The high smoke level produces very polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) which make the fish carcinogenic and unsafe for human consumption. 

This has consequently affected the ability of fish traders to meet the standards required to export fish to the international markets.

Beside these health risks, the use of firewood has contributed hugely to the excessive logging of tress and continues to poses one of the most pervasive threats to Ghana’s forests and mangroves. 

According to Forestry Commission, Ghana has already lost 70% of its forest and continues to lose over 2% of its forest annually.  

Recognising the need to protect Ghana’s forests, residents of the various fishing communities and consumers of smoked fish and the businesses of exporters, the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development through the West Africa Regional Fisheries Project has gone all-out to introduced and provide fish processors with improved fish smoking stoves, which have very minimal health and environmental risks. 

The Ahoto oven developed by Fisheries Commission and its partners the Ahoto oven has been designed to produce less smoke.

The oven has an outer wall, firewood entrances, an oil collecting plate to prevent oil drops falling into the fire chamber, a combustion chamber made of bricks and has an inclined grate, to ensure total combustion, and trays with a hood cover.

Also, holes have been created in the steel plate, with mushroom heads to allow heat from the fire chamber to cook and smoke the fish on the trays above.  

The combusting chamber of the Ahoto oven has been designed to use less fire wood. 

This now allows processors to use less fire wood and this help them to conserve fuel wood to help save our environment. 

This is creating a better working environment for fish processors to smoke their fish.

For most fish processors; it is reducing their exposure to biomass smoke and the risk to various ailments. 

So how is the health of women, children and other people within the fishing community improving?

With the introduction of this oven, women and other persons who used to suffer prolonged exposure to wood smoke are now heaving a huge sigh of relief. 

The days of high risk and prevalence of chronic respiratory, eye and cardiovascular diseases are over.

The low smoke that Ahoto oven emits is also helping to enhance the quality of smoked fish. 

It reduces Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in smoked fish to the lowest level.

 This would enable fish traders to meet export standard for smoked fish to other countries. 

This is expected to significantly impact on the export fortunes to increase the economic value of fisheries.

Although fish processors are very excited about the Ahoto ovens, many have expressed concerns about the fact that the continuous use of the Chorkor ovens will water down on their efforts to reduce smoke and the cutting of trees.

 So the question that came up was how we get the thousands of fish processors to adopt this environmentally friendly fish smoking oven.

Clearly, a continuous awareness on improved fish smoking ovens will be critical in maximising the impact of Ahoto oven on our health and environment.