NAIROBI, Oct. 28 (Xinhua) -- Made of papyrus reeds, the dozens of traditional baskets at a fish market on Marenga Beach on the shores of Lake Victoria in Busia, western Kenya, looked like any other used across the east African nation.
In most Kenyan communities, and across Africa, such hand-woven baskets are mostly used for storing farm produce, food and shopping.
But for the fish traders at Marenga Beach, the huge baskets have found a new role as their refrigerators.
With no cold chain facilities to store fish for longer shelf-life, the traders have innovatively converted the baskets into their fridges.
This enables them to buy more fish from fishermen and store them for up to five days, avoiding losses.
"These are our refrigerators," said James Achola, a trader at the fish market in a recent interview. "With this ice basket, we are not worried that our fish will go bad thus we have more time to sell," he added.
To convert a basket into a refrigerator, the traders first place inside a gunny bag, followed by polythene bags. Thereafter, inside the polythene bags, one puts ice cubes, which they buy from a supplier.
Fish is then placed inside the bags containing ice cubes and sealed nicely. "We don't put inside the basket one huge polythene bag but several smaller ones. This allows us to store and sell the fish in a systematic way," said Achola.
Each bag containing ice cubes hosts about 50 fish, and one must sell all of them first before opening the next.
"This prevents one from breaking the cold chain and exposing fish in the other bags so that they remain fresh," said Achola.
The innovative ice baskets have boosted fish trading at the market as traders are no longer worried that the much-loved source of protein would go bad.
A kilo of fish is currently going for an average 300 shillings (2.8 U.S. dollars), with prices having stabilized thanks to the ice bags.
"Initially, we would be forced to sell our products at low prices to avoid getting losses because we had no storage facilities but that is now behind us," said Millicent Obingo, another fish trader at the beach market.
The baskets go for between 5 U.S. dollars and 10 U.S. dollars, depending on the size. On the other hand, the polythene bags go for 2 U.S. dollars making the ice baskets a cheaper option for the traders as compared to modern refrigerator.
Besides fish traders, fishermen also use the baskets to store fish when they venture into the lake.
Benedict Moto, a fisherman, noted that the fishing expedition inside Lake Victoria sometimes takes up to five days.
"It would be a journey in vain if you go into the lake without the storage facilities. The baskets enable us to venture deeper into the sea, which takes days. We, thus, get the fish, store and come and sell once we reach the shore when they are still fresh," said Obingo, adding that the baskets are also used on the Ugandan side of the common lake border.
Ernest Manuyo, a business lecturer at Pioneer Institute, noted that the bags are a good example of coming up with local solutions for local problems.
"Modern refrigerators cost up to 1,000 U.S. dollars, especially for the bigger sizes to be used in such trade. This is money that most small traders cannot raise," he said.
Traditional baskets have been used for ages in Africa, according to Manuyo and they still have market as usage changes with modern times.
"The baskets' use as refrigerators shows that their usage is changing with modernity making them to remain relevant many years later," said Manuyo, adding that the bags are eco-friendly.