Sri Lanka: Fridges keep fish fresh, helping many increase earnings

woman drying fish
A woman dries fish at the Kallaru Fish Collection Centre in Sri Lanka. The centre not only improves the quality of the fish, but also increases production and wages. (Photo: UNDP Sri Lanka)

In fishing communities in Sri Lanka, more fish doesn't necessarily mean more business — especially if you have nowhere to store it. For many fishermen, who still struggle to get by after years of conflict and a devastating tsunami in 2004, getting the fish to the market before it spoils is a race against time.

Highlights

  • More than 1 million people in Sri Lanka have been uprooted as a consequence of the conflict over the past two decades.
  • Years of conflict and natural disaster have exacerbated the problem of weak infrastructure, which hampers the efforts of fishermen in Sri Lanka struggle to get their catch to the market before it spoils.
  • The UNDP project has helped 7,000 fishermen in the Mullaitivu District to increase their earnings through the fish collection centre.
  • Training women in dry fish production is helping them increase their household income and send their children to school.

"I used to be able to go fishing only once a day and most of the time the coolers didn't get there on time so the quality of the fish would deteriorate and I wouldn't get a good price," local fisherman Sithamparapillai Sivakumar says.

But since UNDP helped build a fish cleaning, processing and storage facility in Mullaitivu district, in May 2013, close to 150 tons of fish have passed through its doors.

When the fishermen bring their fresh catch to the centre, workers from a local fisheries cooperative sort and grade the fish, and then pack it in ice for transportation to market. The facility offers improved hygiene, which not only ensures better quality, but also increases production and income.

“UNDP’s support these communities, many of which have been displaced several times by natural disasters and conflict, helps develop skills to improve incomes and their livelihoods," says UNDP's Razina Bilgrami. "We have been able to empower the lives of these men and women.”

With many coastal communities in Sri Lanka depending on the sea for food and an income, a violent civil conflict, which ended in 2009, and the 2004 tsunami, left many displaced and without a home. The fish collection centre is part of a broader UNDP initiative to help boost the income and livelihoods of villagers affected by the recent crises.

Previous assistance already provided the community with an ice plant, cooler trucks and other equipment. With UNDP support, more than 7,000 fishermen in Mullaitivu have been able to reduce financial losses caused by spoiled fish. Better quality fish allows fishermen to add value to their product at market, improving their bargaining power.

As part of the project, nearly 100 women from local communities have been trained in how to process, dry and preserve fish, using a large drier provided by UNDP.

For Mary Clatures, whose husband is a labourer and who has four children still in school, the new facility has helped increase her income.

“Even though I have been involved in dry fish production since childhood, I learned a lot from the training which has helped reduce my workload and improve the quality of the dry fish," she says.

Thanks to the dryer, which is more efficient than sun drying and can handle up to 250 kg of fish at a time, Clatures can now earn an additional US $1,000 per year — a significant sum in a country where close to 24 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

"I use this additional income to cover the costs of my children's education," Clatures says. "I’m proud to say that I could send my daughter to advanced-level tuition classes without expecting my husband’s help.”

For Sivakumar, who has a school-aged daughter to support, prospects have also been improving.

“Before UNDP’s intervention, my monthly income was around LKR 10,000 to 15,000 (US $76-114)," he says. "But now, I can go fishing at any time--even twice a day-- and I can get as much ice as I need, whenever I need it.  My earnings have increased to about LKR 20,000-25,000 per month (US $153-191)."

Through his increased wages, Sivakumar  was able to save money to buy more nets as well as household items.

"My aim is to educate my child to a higher level and increase my savings for her," he says.

The centre was built with financial assistance from the Canadian International Development Agency.