| FOOD CHAIN No. 1 - November 1990 |
A version of this article by Harmandip Sandhu first appeared in UNIFEM's Food Cycle Technology Book 'Although the Chorkor can smoke up to 15 trays of fish, in most cases women used only, 4 or 5 trays at a time because of the shortage of regular supplies of fish.'
The Republic of Guinea, in West Africa, with a coastline 300 km long, has good resources capable of supporting a mixed fishery. Artisanal fishing accounts for about 26,000 tons per year and a large part of this is processed by smoking, primarily done by women. However, because the methods used are traditional, they are labour intensive, and fuel and time consuming.
In answer to requests from the Republic of Guinea, UNIFEM provided funds for a project introducing improved fish-smoking technologies into the capital and two villages around Boffa in 1984. The immediate objectives of the project included regrouping 300 women into co-operatives for the processing and distribution of fish; introducing an improved fish-smoking kiln; improving working conditions; and increasing the productivity and revenues of the women.
Traditional smoking systems in Guinea consisted of 'open smokers' which were basically grills which consumed much fuel in their operation. The improved smoking technology introduced was the Chorkor oven originating from Ghana, where it had been widely tested and used, which is a rectangular clay brick oven with two openings in the front of the fire. The Chorkor presents a marked improvement in that it is a 'closed system' that is the fire is enclosed in a compartment in the bottom of the rectangular oven and consumes much less fuel.
The fish is placed on trays ( made of chicken wire) which are stacked on top of the oven. Up to 15 trays can be stacked on the oven with a total of between 100 kg to 160 kg of fish being smoked at a time.
As part of the project a group of eight project personnel including a carpenter and mason were sent to Ghana and Benin in order to familiarize themselves with the Chorkor and be trained in its construction, use and maintenance.
The project suffered a series of setbacks in its initial two years. The country's political situation had changed, resulting in a rise in the cost of living and materials for the construction of trays were not available in Guinea. In addition, most of the original members of the co-operatives were not traditional fish-smokers, and viewed the project as an opportunity to gain salaried employment rather than an opportunity to individually gain access to commonly owned facilities. This emphasizes the need for careful definition of criteria for the selection of beneficiaries before a project commences. The women did not have a regular supply of fish to smoke; in some cases women paid for transport to come to the centre because the fishermen, who, prior to the political changes had agreed to supply the centre with fresh fish, refused to provide fresh fish or would do so only at exorbitant prices which the women could not afford. Consequently the women resorted to smoking frozen fish. This in itself presents a contradiction because not only is the fish processed twice but energy is wasted as well.
Although the Chorkor can smoke up to 15 trays of fish it was noted that in most cases women used only 4 or 5 trays at a time because of the shortage of regular supplies of fish. In the interior of the country where fish is obtained from lagoons this shortage of supplies is caused by social factors; in some cases the fishermen sell the catch to any women who are able to buy even if the women are not their wives. These women then sometimes market the fish fresh. In other instances the fishermen may sell only to their wives, thus women entering into a fish smoking co-operative are at a disadvantage if their husbands are not fishermen. In a few cases in Guinea women supplied the fishermen with enough gasoline to pay for one fishing trip; in return the fishermen were obliged to supply the women with the entire catch from that trip.
Additionally there is increased competition among the fishermen with motorized boats and those with non-motorized boats. The latter are unable to get a sufficient catch each time as they can only fish at limited distances, whereas fishermen with motorized boats can provide fish but have to account for the cost of the motor and fuel, thus increasing the price of fish to the consumer. Technically, however, there is no doubt that the Chorkor is an improvement on the traditional model of smoker which suffers from the following problems:
• poor quality product due to fish being damaged by difficult handling of the fish on wire nets used to support them over the fire;
• loss of smoke and heat, resulting in uneven smoking;
• limited capacity of smoking larger volumes Of fish;
• time consuming in terms of the amount of time needed to handle the fish in smoking.
What the Guinea experience showed is that, while it is important to get the technology right, it is also important to get the context into which it is introduced right. If the social, economic and political conditions in a village do not allow the women greater access to a supply of fish, then the expense of an oven with greater productivity is not going to outweigh the disadvantages.
However, if the oven will reduce the amount of fuel needed, then the savings need to be examined in terms of women's labour and time. One reason for using the Chorkor was to reduce women's labour constraints but problems of manipulating the trays prevented this from being realized. While there are still problems with the Chorkor in Guinea, it has proved to be a significant improvement in terms of fuel consumption.
THE TOGO EXPERIENCE
'Technologically, there is no doubt that the Chorkor is an improvement on the traditional model of smoker.'
In Togo, also in West Africa, the Chorkor was introduced in order to increase productivity and revenue and reduce the amount of fuel and labour required. The scale of the project in Togo was much smaller than in Guinea, although the impact was significant. The project initially constructed 12 Chorkor smokers at various villages along the coast. Since then between 50 and 80 additional Chorkor smokers have been built by women individually, indicating that the advantages of the Chorkor have been realized.
However, like the Guinean women, Togolese women are also suffering from an insufficient supply of fish, largely because there are no strong fishing traditions in Togo. Consequently the women have to rely on foreign fishermen, usually Ghanaians, and the supply of fish is sometimes irregular. Women whose husbands are fishermen do have better access to fish, if their husbands agree to sell their catch to the wives.
The replication of the Chorkor smoker is a positive result of the project, even though there are problems with accurate replication of the smokers. Where artisans (carpenter and masons) were trained to build the smokers, no problems were experienced, but in cases where the women themselves were building the smokers or hiring untrained artisans, the dimensions of trays, fire holes and smokers have been inaccurate, and this has resulted in trays being burned or fuel consumption increasing. The project recognizes that close monitoring of the spread of Chorkors is needed to ensure that they are correctly built and properly used.