In Haiti: feed the fish, then the people
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They now are analyzing the pellets' nutritional content to see if any additives are needed, and figuring out ways for Haitians to make their own fish food in villages.Skip to next paragraph
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Fifty ponds of small tilapia in Haiti currently serve about 10,000 villagers. Each pond should eventually produce 500 to 600 pounds of fish per month, but now each makes only 10 to 20 pounds.
Mebane and his colleagues say they are studying hatchery efforts in other impoverished areas to devise a way to press the leaves into pellets using local methods.
For instance, other scientists worked with farmers in southwest Bangladesh to turn a Chanachur, a machine that makes a popular local snack for people, into a machine that could feed prawns grown in ghers (modified rice paddies). There are a variety of Rube Goldberg contraptions in developing countries that make food for shrimp and other local fish.
"It is very important that we come up with a method to make these pellets that is congruent with the lifestyle and technology level these people have," Mebane says.
In the case of Haiti, that might be something that looks like a modified hand-powered lasagna machine powered by a bicycle, a machine the villagers know how to fix.
He adds that one common mistake people from industrialized nations make in trying to help is that they will hook up a gas-powered pelletizer. That is not successful, because, if it breaks, no one can fix it.
The more work the local people put into producing something, the more they'll protect it, and the more it's a valued community activity, Mebane adds. Villagers in Haiti have become protective of the hatcheries and stand guard so outsiders can't steal fish.
Mebane and his colleagues could not find the trees for pellets in the United States, so Haitian villagers picked 150 pounds of leaves and the Babes sent them to the marine lab. The leaves were crunched to an oregano-like consistency, and then liquid was added, and they were pressed into pellets. The pellets are being fed to small tilapia at the marine lab, as a test.
One important step in the pellet-making process is finding a binder, or an ingredient that will make the leaves stick together, and scientists are experimenting with recipes.
The marine lab initially worked with Zeigler Brothers Inc., a feed company in Pennsylvania. The researchers also are looking for possible native Haitian alternatives for binders, and have discovered that manioc or kasaba could be ground up and mixed with the leaves.
So far, the researchers are operating on about $3,000 from the church group, but they need another $20,000 or so to continue testing the food and creating a usable pellet-making machine.
As researchers push ahead to find the best method - a process that could take up to 18 months - they also plan to look to other applications, such as pellet formulas to feed goats and dairy animals. They want to branch out to other areas of the Caribbean and the world.
For now, getting even the 50 ponds in Haiti going would be a major accomplishment. "The ponds are scattered in many roadless areas in villages, so they will be a local source of food," says Mr. Lindell. That will be a treat, considering that fresh fish is something most Haitians don't get a chance to eat.