Published on Nasikiliza

How smoking ovens can help make wealthier and healthier women in Ghana

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Did you know that traditional fish smoking is a sub-sector of the seafood processing industry in Africa?

In fact, not only is it a traditional way of preserving fish in Africa but it is also very much part of the local cultural food habit – seeing as fish is the main protein consumed by one billion people in developing countries!

In Africa, fish represents 18% of animal protein intake but this figure can increase up to 80% in a coastal country such as Sierra Leone. More than protein, fish also contains nutrients important in combating child stunting—which is why preserving fish is so important. Currently, fish smoking provides livelihoods for approximately four to five million people almost exclusively women.

The traditional ovens produce a lot of smoke leading to respiratory disease and affects women and their children -- who are usually with their mother at young age. Because of the low efficiency of the traditional smoking ovens, large numbers of trees and mangroves are being destroyed for this purpose. This is of course problematic as mangroves are important to prevent coastal erosion, are essential habitats for fish nursery and are more efficient than traditional forest at sequestering carbon dioxide. 

Improved smoking ovens comes with a design to separate dripping oil from embers. They are made of material that are usually available locally such as cement, bricks and metals. This innovation brings greater efficiency with a reduction of toxic smoke compounds between 40 and 70% and similarly a reduction of wood consumption by 50 to 75%. In addition to health and environment benefits, these ovens produce higher quality products that sale better.

So far, with the Energy Sector Manager Assistance Program (ESMAP) support, we have been testing and piloting 200 improved ovens in Ghana, Liberia and in Sierra Leone. To scale up this innovation, we need to continue dissemination, train craftsmen to build and maintain improved ovens and provide access to micro finance to women.


Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez

Former Regional Director, Africa, Sustainable Development Practice Group

Jingjie Chu

Natural Resource Economist

Berengere Prince

Lead Natural Resources Management Specialist

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