Over 30,000 women along Ghana’s coast are fish processors who smoke and sell fish caught by local fishermen to support themselves and their families. The vast majority of these women use the traditional Chorkor oven to process their fish. The oven is a high heat oven that produces heavy smoke from the water, fat, and blood that drips from the fish directly into the fire. Working around the ovens, the women and their dependent children breathe in this smoke for hours each day as they tend to their fish. Heavy exposure to smoke can lead to cancer or other health problems such as eye and respiratory infections, especially in smaller children. The fish produced on the Chorkor oven can also have levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) that are 7-10 times above the European Union acceptable standard. PAHs are chemicals formed in the high heat of the Chorkor; they are known carcinogens and can possibly be harmful to the health of women fish processors and consumers.
The USAID/Ghana Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP) – led by the Coastal Resources Center (CRC) at the University of Rhode Island (URI) – is investing in improvements to Ghana’s fisheries sector post-harvest value chain. As part of this, SFMP and project partner SNV worked with the Ghana Fisheries Commission and Ghana Standards Authority to develop a new low heat, low smoke oven called the Ahotor oven. The Ahotor is user friendly in that it emits far less and cleaner smoke, operates at a lower temperature, and produces high-quality smoked fish using 32% less fuelwood. It is more comfortable and safer for fish processors to use (due to reduced smoke), it is safer for consumers, and it is better for the environment.
The new Ahotor oven, which means ‘Comfort Oven’ in the local language, has now been adopted by the government as a new technology with the potential to improve the lives and livelihoods of fish processors in Ghana. The next challenge for the project team is getting the oven into the hands of customers. This involves creating a strong local market for the improved stove – encouraging people to want it and buy it and making sure there is a reliable local production and supply chain to meet growing demand without raising costs. Resonance is supporting SFMP and SNV by designing and supporting implementation of a market development strategy for the Ahotor oven. Our initial activities and approaches for this strategy include:
- Demand Creation and Marketing: Resonance is helping to develop a marketing and communications campaign for the Ahotor oven, targeting fish processors and the consumers of smoked fish. Working with SFMP and SNV, Resonance engaged the Ghanaian TV3 Edziban cooking show to film the use of the Ahotor oven by two early adopters. Somewhat akin to Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives for US audiences, Edziban is a popular local cooking show with a nationwide audience. The show on the Ahotor oven aired several times in May and June, to educate consumers on the Ahotor oven, demonstrating the benefits to fish processors in terms of low smoke emissions and savings on fuelwood as well as healthier fish for consumers. After the shows aired, SFMP partners began receiving calls from viewer asking how to get the stoves and where to buy Ahotor-smoked fish.
- Identifying Financing Channels: One challenge is that the new Ahotor costs more than the traditional Chorkor oven. However, Resonance and the SFMP teams are exploring financing solutions to help the women fish processors invest in the improved stoves. Resonance is currently negotiating financing options with the leadership of the Microfinance and Small Loans Centre (MASLOC) in Ghana. In just the first few months, 194 women have applied for GHS 318,000 (about USD $66,500) in low-interest loans to construct Ahotor ovens and GHS 418,500 (about USD $87,580) as working capital for their fish processing businesses from MASLOC. We’ve also assisted 150 fish processors in forming 11 Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) to help them save for either their own Ahotor oven or for working capital for their fish processing businesses. The groups have saved about GHS 13,200 ($2,760) within 8 weeks of their set up.
- Strengthening the Ahotor Supply Chain: To strengthen the supply chain and meet local demand, the Resonance team has been training and certifying artisans in key regions of Ghana to instruct them on how to build the primary components of the Ahotor oven. This should increase production and local availability and hopefully decrease the cost of the Ahotor over time.
In the coming months, Resonance will continue market development activities to help stimulate demand for the improved Ahotor oven and facilitate scale, helping Ghanaian women fish processors to access a better product for their health and livelihoods.