A cheap and convenient fish powder is proving an innovative weapon in the fight against malnutrition in Cambodia, while also providing rural women with financial independence.
Man Haiyat, a Cambodian Muslim, like in several families across three provinces, prepares the powder to be added to the pot while cooking meals for her children.
The 31-year-old housewife learned how to make the nutritious supplement last year after being trained by the Nourish project, led by Save the Children and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
“The project taught me how to make the fish powder for my kids, and they liked it,” says the mother of two from Samdech village in Battambang province’s Sangke district.
Haiyat, whose husband is a farmer, was glad to be able to provide her children with a diet that ensured healthy growth.
“Initially, I made small amounts of fish powder just for my kids because I care about their health. I want to look after them well so that they will grow up healthy,” she says.
Made from a variety of small fish, including the Opsarius koratensis species found in the Mekong basin in rivers, lakes or even the small channels in rice fields, the powder was tested by Nourish.
Its nutritional components were also tested by the Pasteur Institute in Cambodia and Thailand’s Mahidol University.
The fish powder was found to be high in protein and to contain many essential micronutrients, even after being stored for four months.
It is high in protein, zinc, vitamin B12, calcium and Omega-3 acid, which is key for brain development.
The powder can be added to baby food such as porridge and mashed potatoes and pumpkins, particularly from six to 23 months.
For pregnant woman and the general population, it can be used in soups, omelettes and many other dishes.
“It’s a quite simple household work. I just have to select the small fish, such as chongvar or bondol lpeou, and then clean them. They are then stir fried until they are dry, and then they are ground up and put into bottles.”
Haiyat did not expect that her homemade fish powder would not only benefit her children’s development but could also help her earn additional income to support the family.
“I make a living by making and selling the fish powder as a nutritional supplement for children. The powder is a beneficial food product that provides children with good nutrition and lessens the risk of stunting when they are young.
“It helps them grow well and have good eyesight. It helps their brain development so that they can grow up smart,” Haiyat says.
She has been selling the fish powder for a year.
“The Nourish project contacted me and encouraged me to produce and sell the fish powder for them. They ordered the fish powder from me, and said it was good quality. Then they started to increase the amount of orders,” she says.
Haiyat participated in the SHE Investments incubator programme after being considered for their scholarship opportunities.
The incubator and accelerator programmes train women in financial literacy, business management and leadership skills to be entrepreneurs so they can increase their incomes and become self-reliant.
“I have my own business that is able to secure income for my family so that we can live a better life.
“I was told that with the course I could learn how to expand my business. After I studied with SHE Investments, I gained more confidence,” Haiyat says.
Haiyat can now manage her finances effectively and pays herself a salary.
The programme empowered her to make the decisions on how best to grow her business.
“At first, I made the fish powder just with my husband, but to meet the Nourish project’s increased demand, I had to ask my elder sister to help.
“I want to continue running this business because my kids can eat healthy food every day. Buying the fish used to make the powder from people in the village creates income for them too,” she says.
Haiyat is taking time away from production to gain further knowledge on how to manage clients and finances, make business plans and improve her product’s packaging to increase sales.
She has been with Nourish for one year and is due to leave the project in March.
“After the projects ends, I will have to sustain my business myself by doing marketing and finding new customers. I will have to look for relevant people in the children’s nutrition sector and build relationships with them so that they will order my product.”
A 100g bottle of her fish powder costs 10,000 riel ($2.50), or 9,000 riel wholesale.
Haiyat is now busy building a network across the province, aiming to grow her business from its humble beginnings.
“The production process is currently all done by hand. My family can only produce between 30 to 40 bottles a day.
“I am looking for partners to establish a community. We’ll expand, with the focus on three provinces famous for fishing and with geographical potential – Battambang, Siem Reap and Pursat.
“With support from consumers, I’m also researching how to develop the product chain, such as upgrading from the manual process to a grinding machine to increase production. I’m also planning to establish a fish powder community under my name,” she says proudly.