Appropriate Technology

Often, the best answers can be found right at home


Today — thanks to IDRC-supported research — fewer fish are being caught accidentally, and more of the “bycatch” is being processed for human consumption.

Some time ago, the world’s commercial fishers threw away many of the fish they netted. Why? Because a big share of their catch was not the primary target species and fetched a much lower price.

Fortunately, in recent decades both the volume of “trash fish” and the proportion tossed overboard have been declining, thanks in part to pioneering research supported by IDRC during the 1970s and 1980s.


That research, in Guyana and other countries, helped put the bycatch issue on the agenda of a global community that had been skeptical about the extent of the waste. The project has also stimulated development of processing technologies that turn trash fish into valuable food products for human consumption. It’s a win-win solution for everyone.

Unlike the catch-and-release practices so common in sport fishing, many of the unwanted fish discarded by commercial marine operations simply perish. By the time they’re thrown back into the sea, they may be dead or dying. Their loss is a major drain on the stocks of those species that, even if they have low market value, may nonetheless be vital components of the marine ecosystem.

Garbage to gold

Bert Allsopp, IDRC’s associate director of fisheries in the 1970s, advocated international recognition that these discarded fish were a major waste of resources. He advanced the idea that better fishing practices and seafood processing could turn that waste into a commercial opportunity and a rich source of dietary protein for people in developing countries.

Says Allsopp: “Trawl surveys in Guyana revealed that the highly valued shrimp were only a small portion of the total edible catch taken from the nets. I was appalled at the quantity of fish that was being thrown away.”

Focusing the message

The subsequent research that IDRC funded in Guyana sought to understand why and how this valuable resource was being dumped, and to design methods for processing it into quality food products. The project succeeded in helping entrepreneurs develop new processing methods and products — fish patties and sausages, for example — with assistance from the Halifax laboratory of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada.

More important, the project shed light on the vastness of the bycatch problem and pushed the issue firmly onto the international fisheries agenda. A 1980 short film titled Fish Bycatch... Bonus from the Sea reinforced the message by bringing the issue into focus for policymakers, scientists, fishers, and the broader development community.

Good conduct

Solutions centre on complementary strategies. First, the catch of non-target species is being reduced through the use of “excluder” devices on fishing gear, as well as other management practices. Second, in many fisheries, the unavoidable bycatch, or a portion of it, is retained for processing into food products, especially in developing countries — just as the IDRC-supported researchers envisaged back in the 1970s.

Progress in bycatch utilization has been particularly strong in Southeast Asia. In Singapore, for example — a country that imports 90% of its fish requirements — a vibrant seafood processing industry has emerged over the past two decades. The widespread practice of fish farming also reduces bycatch and contributes to the sustainability of species.

Bert Allsopp points out one other lasting impact: “Global assessment of fisheries bycatch and discard has now been accepted as a key aspect of policy in the international Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The worldwide recognition that the bycatch is unacceptable would not have happened except for IDRC’s push-starting the issue in Guyana nearly 40 years ago.”

“The bycatch issue has become mainstream over the years. There is an awakening to the message, by a wider audience, that it’s wasteful to throw away so much fish. The idea of the project [in Guyana] was to make a point: That you can bring in the bycatch and make a profit.”
Brian Davy, former IDRC fisheries program officer



In Senegal and other African countries, grain processing machinery adapted from a Canadian design has eliminated drudgery for women and girls, and made convenient food products more widely available.

Before grains like millet or sorghum can be milled into flour or used for other purposes, the hulls must be removed. This chore, when carried out in traditional fashion by hand, is tedious and physically demanding. The grains must be softened by soaking, then vigorously pounded with a large pestle in a mortar, followed by winnowing and still more pounding.

Nowadays, this timeless tableau of manual labour is encountered less often, thanks to the development of simple “mini” dehulling machines for use by small local enterprises. The technology was designed in the 1970s by the Prairie Research Laboratory of Canada’s National Research Council, and since modified and adapted by researchers in several African countries.

These dehullers fostered “a dynamic system that could process large quantities of the cereals into products easily used in households,” says Michael Bassey, former IDRC program officer. “This created local businesses that produce a range of products for sale in supermarkets, such as couscous and bread. These products exist on shelves in Senegal everywhere today as a result of the IDRC-funded efforts.”



To collaborate in the fight against human rights violations such as covert arrests, torture, and death squad killings, governments and activists need accurate, timely information about these crimes. Thanks to support from IDRC, they can turn to HuriSearch.

HuriSearch is the first and only comprehensive Web search engine specializing in human rights. Operating in 77 languages, it lets users tap into millions of web pages published by some 5,000 human rights groups. It is just one resource in a set of information tools designed and made publicly available by the international human rights network HURIDOCS.

HURIDOCS was founded during the 1980s. Over the years IDRC has funded several of its initiatives.

A Canadian information specialist and rights advocate, Judith Dueck, helped develop HuriSearch. “It looks at the websites of even very small organizations,” she says. “Content from these sites would never be found by a large search engine like Google. But they can be found by ours.”

Human rights activists operate in varied environments and tackle a range of issues and abuses. Another HURIDOCS tool is Evsys. Evsys allows human rights organizations to record information and track human rights violations as they occur with reference to victims, prepetrators, witnesses, and those who intervene. “The beauty of Evsys,” says Dueck, “is that it can also meet specific regional tracking needs related to ethnic groupings, geographic areas, languages, and law enforcement mechanisms. It can be customized according to the needs of the organization.”



With IDRC support, Asian innovators have developed low-cost, microcomputer-based instruments to monitor and control complex agricultural and industrial processes. This technology allows a factory or farm to supervise an array of variables – from energy consumption to pollution levels to production efficiency – and make adjustments instantly.

It started with tea. During the early 1990s, chemist Hari Gunasingham used IDRC funding to adapt software and related sensor technologies to improve tea manufacture in his home country. "Being Sri Lankan, I know a little about the tea industry," Gunasingham says. "It seemed like a logical place to apply high technology to a traditional industry."

In Sri Lanka's 600 tea plantations, obsolete equipment and long-established processes had led to waste, cost overruns, and environmental damage. "Synapse, our software monitoring system, optimizes the process by monitoring temperatures," explains Gunasingham. "By ensuring that the fires burn more efficiently, we can conserve trees and cut down on air pollution.”

In 1996, Canada's Minister of International Trade honoured Hari Gunasingham for his contribution to the advancement of science, business, and sustainable development. At the same ceremony, Gunasingham presented IDRC with a cheque for $20,000 – for royalties received from the sale of Synapse software.

His Singapore-based company, Eutech Cybernetics, has worked steadily to improve its process-control systems and to make them affordable to small enterprises. Today, Eutech is a multinational provider of business services such as building management, workflow solutions, web publishing, and hospital information systems.


Published: 02 Aug 2010

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