Livestock Research for Rural Development 31 (12) 2019 LRRD Misssion Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

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State of women in the fisheries and aquaculture value chain in Homabay county, Kenya. Towards enhancing sustainable livelihoods and economic empowerment

Jacob Abwao and Jane Awuor Fonda

Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute - National Aquaculture Research Training and Development (KMFRI - NARDTC), P.O Box 451, Sagana, Kenya


The wild fisheries stock is on the decline hence the need for interventions through aquaculture to avail the needed valuable fish protein. Involvement of women is also very important since women are active in areas that are not key in the value chain. The assessment of status of women in the aquaculture value chain was done in Homa Bay County. it was noted that women are only active at the processing level of the value chain hence their voice are less heard, illiteracy levels has high correlation with poverty and violation of the women rights and majority of women face violation from fishermen because of low income. The study reaffirmed that availability of finance and capacity building are key and important elements needed for the implementation of successful aquaculture development programs and also the importance of continuous support, monitoring and information to enhance efficiency and productivity of women farmers’ enterprises. Support for strengthening of fish farmer groups/organizations, with specific focus on women’s active and effective participation in group activities including leadership was identified as very important.

Key words: economic-empowerment, gender, women-rights, aquaculture


The development of fisheries sector is one of the goals incorporated in the agenda 2030 under the fourteenth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). In this forum countries seek to improve fish production for healthy diets through restoration of the existing stocks (World Fish Center 2011). Kenya has recognized the importance of fish in the national economic development and is implementing the blue economy concept. This policy aims to promote economic growth, social inclusion, and livelihoods improvement while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability for our water resources (United Nations Development Programme 2018) . Secondly, the production of fish from aquaculture has been on the increase over the last 10 years as a result of the nationwide Economic Stimulus Project - Fish Farming Enterprise Productivity Program (ESP- FFEPP). In this programme, farmers received substantial funding by subsidizing fingerlings, feed and pond construction (Kariuki 2013) Through this intervention, there was marked increase in fish production from 4000 metric tons in 2009 to 14952 metric tons in 2016 (FAO 2018). Currently, the fisheries and aquaculture sector contributes approximately 0.8% to the national gross domestic product (GDP). Over 500000 people benefits directly through employment while at least two million people are supported indirectly (KMFRI 2017). The contribution of aquaculture is 15% of the total fish production although there is still high potential for growth in this subsector considering the geographical suitability and the ever increasing demand for fish (Aloo et al 2017).

Despite all the policies and the interventions put in place for enhanced production in this sector, there are many binding constraints and bottlenecks that have to be addressed if Keya is to fully benefit from the fisheries sector. To illustrate this, Lake Victoria has experienced remarkable decline of the wild stock over the last decade resulting from overfishing, environmental degradation, emergence of water hyacinth and climate change (Nyandat & Owiti 2013). the decline in fish catches coupled with decrease in size and quality only suggest that the fisheries is under intense pressure and has already exceeded the maximum sustainable yield in relation to the available resources and technology (Njiru et al 2018). Consequently, there has been increased poverty and food insecurity due to low fish production for human consumption in the entire east Africa. In this regard; measures, interventions and actions must be taken to salvage the fisheries and aquaculture sub sector.

There is need for paradigm shift to sustainably exploit the Lake Victoria fisheries. In this case cage culture has been recognized and embraced as an approach that is innovative by the East African countries (Mbowa, et al 2017). While cage culture in Kenya dates back to the 2005, it’s in the recent past that the uptake of the technology has increased. In order to realize the benefits from the system, there is need to embrace technology, environment and above all gender mainstreaming that ensures active participation of women in the sector (Orina et al 2019).

Cage culture in Lake Victoria has remarkably increased production of farmed fish in the country. From the 2017 survey a rapid rise of cages from 1,663 (in 2015-2016) to 3,696 with current production estimated at 3.18 MT valued at 9.6 million USD was recorded (Orina, et al 2019)

Purpose of the study

Amongst the riparian counties within the Nyanza gulf, Homa Bay County has demonstrated great potential for cage culture with longest shoreline, clear waters and good depths. These are good parameters for cage siting (Njiru, et al 2018). However, Homa County has high incidences of poverty associated with high prevalence of HIV. The women in the county bear the greatest brunt of the scourge. Poverty levels and female vulnerability to economic means are at the heart of high incidences of female HIV/AIDS risk. Due to women's economic vulnerability and dependence on men, their ability to control the conditions like sexual abstinence, condom use and multiple sexual partners are constrained. This shapes their risk of HIV infections and contributes to their high infection rates compared to men. It is believed that empowering women economically bring women and men to a near equitable relations at national, local and household levels. Aquaculture has notable potential to contribute to women’s economic and social empowerment in the county, as well as to support Kenya to realize performance on gender equality and economic development indicators. It is acknowledged worldwide that fisheries value chains are dominated by men. It is evident though that women and sometimes children do make enormous and often unpaid contributions within the value chains (Manyung-Pasani, et al 2017).

In Homa Bay County, the Women are engaged in a range of aquaculture production and value chain activities. In particular, women are predominant in marketing and processing, with their involvement estimated to be 1.5 to 1.7 times higher than men’s (FARM AFRICA, 2016). Despite this, there is currently a lack of information regarding women’s roles and more fundamentally the outcomes for women and factors that enable or constrain them from participating at the production level. This represents a critical gap in the knowledge needed for effective aquaculture programmes and policies. Addressing this gap is of particular importance given the significance of the aquaculture sub-sector as such a vital economic sector. It is against this background, that this study assessed the state of women in the aquaculture and fisheries value chain in Homa Bay County. Specifically it evaluated socio demographic characteristics of women actors in the value chain, the violation against women and challenges facing women in the value chain.

Materials and methods

Study area

The investigation was carried out in 4 beaches in Lake Victoria, Homa Bay County (figure1). Poverty levels and HIV incidence is especially pronounced in the population living in beach villages at the lake; an estimated 26.2% of new infections occur in these fishing communities (NASCOP 2014). There is therefore the need for proactive interventions in such areas for economic empowerment and mitigation of the scourge and poverty alleviation.

Figure 1. Map of the Nyanza gulf showing areas where the sampling was done
Data collection

In this study, structured questionnaires, Key Informant Interviews were used to get information on:

∑ Status of women in aquaculture value chain in Homa bay county

∑ Challenges women face in the aquaculture value chain in Homabay county

∑ Violation of women rights in aquaculture value chain in Homabay county

Qualitative data collection (Key informants interview (KII)

The key informants were selected on the basis of their involvement in implementation of aquaculture and fisheries activities in Homabay County. 11 key informants were interviewed. They represented the following departments: the department of fisheries, KMFRI, local administration, Beach management unit chairmen, and National Government Affirmation Action Fund (NGAAF), National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and hatchery managers. Their roles include: supporting the aquaculture value chain through implementation of the existing regulatory framework and policies. They also avail infrastructure that enhances the performance of the chain. Interviews were semi-structured, using open questions on topics specific to each interviewee’s capacity.

Data analysis

Structured questionnaires and interviews from cage culture farmers generated socio-economic data and management information. Primary data were entered in Microsoft Excel, coded and transferred to Statistical Package for Social Sciences (IBM-SPSS Inc. version 20.0 IBM Corp. Released 2011, IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 20.0, Armonk, NY, USA) for analysis. Descriptive and inferential statistics were used to summarize the data sets on socio demographic indicators such as age, economic status, nature of conflicts, types of violation against women rights and impediments to women participation in cage culture.

Results and discussion

Socio-demographic indicators

The survey covered 32 respondents which constituted women actors in the fisheries value chain, and other stakeholders in cage culture in Lake Victoria. Like capture fisheries, cage culture in the lake is a male-dominated industry with women ownership at only 11%. Of the women interviewed 78% of them had primary education (Table 1), thus justifies the high incidences of violation against women due to ignorance on the policies governing their rights. Only 4% of women interviewed had tertiary level of education and were the only ones owning cages. Education empowers women with knowledge and information on improving their Economic wellbeing and on their rights as provided by the Constitution of Kenya 2010 (CoK 2010)

Table 1. The demographic characteristics of the respondents in the survey in homa county



Proportion (%)



















Fish farming involvement







Women participation in cage culture

Only 26% of the female respondent were involved in cage culture. The information from the county directorate said the total number of cages in Homa Bay county stand at 827, out of this number, the proportion of cages owned by women is 29% when the women co-owning the cages with the husband and the at corporate level are put together. However, at individual level the proportion is too negligible at only 0.5% of cages being owned by women. Most of the cages were individually owned (69%), while a few others were owned by groups (31%). Thus, the sector appeared to attract individual investment more than groups, this probably is due to the intrigues and challenges of group dynamics. The few women involved in cage farming cited income generation and source of food as the motivation for engagement in the same. Some women cited lack of funds as the major constraint in engaging in the business (figure 9). This follows the tradition in the local communities that women do not own property (Modesta & Wilson 1996), especially in the fisheries sector where men play the dominant role in decision-making about fish production

Income levels

This assessment also revealed that women are on a relatively lower income bracket and strong correlation between level of education and average monthly income of the respondents. At least 43% earn between Kshs. 1000-5000. While only 17% of the respondent earn between 5,000-10,000 monthly (Figure 2)

Figure 2. Average monthly income of the women in the FVC Challenges
women face in the fisheries and aquaculture value chain

Some studies have reported challenges facing women in the aquaculture value chain. for example, a report by FARM AFRICA (2016) on gender impact in aquaculture , the respondents singled out harvesting, training in aquaculture, accessing appropriate technology, quality feeds and fingerlings as major challenges. In this study 43% of the women respondents (figure 2), mentioned lack of funds as the most critical challenge in cage culture uptake. Aquaculture is a capital heavy enterprise, especially when one begins because of the management needs of the facility and the fish (feeding, cleaning ponds) for at least six months. Most women have resource limitation to invest in the cage farming for this long. Similar observations were reported in Indonesia where women participation in aquaculture sector was challenged by low income levels (Irna Sari 2017). other barriers to gender equality in fish value chains in ownership and access rights to land, ponds and other fisheries related assets are more skewed against women (de Pryck 2013). The poor, both men and women rely more on common property resources (CPRs) including inland water bodies for fishing and gathering food, and women are often excluded in the management of such resources. Women face other gender inequalities in areas such as education and training, access to independent credit, and bargaining power in trade associations and the workplace. They also must contend with policy biases that favour male interests, such as focusing on (male-dominated) production at the expense of (female-dominated) fish processing and marketing, or neglecting women in fishing and processing through lack of training in improved fish technologies and production methods (Biswas 2018).

Figure 3. Cage Problems experienced
Violation of women rights in fisheries and aquaculture value chain

Among all the concerns about women that are constantly being contemplated by and from many sources now-a-days, ‘Violence against Women (VAW)’ holds the top most position. Within the aquaculture value chain there are various kinds of gender violence including verbal, physical, mental, and sexual harassment at their workplaces (Barkat & Ara 2011). Some women and girls workers find it difficult to keep going with their jobs because of sexual harassment at workplace. The most serious consequence is derived out of the sexual violence by which the women face the brutal parts of their life, and even sometimes they result into death.

In this study, the violence against women in the four focal areas was captured. All the women (100%) interviewed in the study alluded to having experienced VAW incidence, either at personal level or on others. The perpetrators are the male fishermen who appear to control who gets the fish. The women were however, a bit reserved in mentioning the leaders at the BMU level who could use their power to influence sexual or any other favour, this is probably due to the perceived reaction that may cause apathy and the opportunity to engage in their activities. From the analysis, various forms of violation were pointed out, however the most pronounced as mentioned by 39% of the respondents, is where women felt belittled from comments touching on their bodies (see such comments below).

Figure 4. Forms of VAW within the Aquaculture value chain in Homa Bay County
Reasons and Degree of VAW

The degree of violation against women in the AVC is considered to be very high (39%) from the sentiments of women respondents in Homa Bay County. On reasons why women face such acts of violation, majority (n= 11, 58%) alluded to financial insolvency followed by women being seen as weaker (n=4, 21%) hence may not defend themselves (figure 5).

Figure 5. Reasons for VAW in Homa Bay County
Consequences of VAW in the fisheries value chain

About 65%, (N=13), of the respondents in the FVC said, victims of VAW become unmindful at their place of work, this leads to low performances and further impoverishment. This is followed by at least 15% who mentioned that the victims miss work perhaps due to the stigma involved. At least 10% of the respondents also viewed that victims generally do not disclose the VAW (especially if it is sexual harassment) incidence at their workplace. They prefer to keep silent. However, 10 per cent of the respondents viewed that when a female worker becomes victim of VAW, her output would decline due to stress or lack of concentration (Figure 6)

Figure 6. Impact of VAW at work place

If a VAW victim quits her job due to that occurrence, she will not be able to support her family financially. Eleven percent (11%) of the respondents expressed such opinions. Majority (72 %) of the respondents said, the victim find it difficult to face her family due to associated stigma and perceptions from family members due to the acts. Another 6% opined that the husband of a victim will abandon the woman if she becomes victim of VAW.

In figure 7, nearly three-fourths of the respondents (73%) replied that even without adequate information about the occurrence and the role of the victim, she would be excluded socially only because her name was related with the occurrence

Figure 7. Social impact of VAW in FVC in Homa Bay County
Knowledge about Policy, Guideline, Laws on VAW

In response to whether there is any policy, guideline or law to safeguard or help a victim of VAW, 71 per cent of the respondents replied positively that there exists such policy, guideline or law. On the other hand, 29 per cent of the respondents said that there is no such policy, law or guideline (figure 8)

Figure 8. Knowledge on policies to protect VAW

Those who replied that they know there are laws, policies and guidelines to safeguard or help a victim of VAW, reported the following as their sources of knowledge:

Table 2. Sources of knowledge about laws, policies and guidelines to protect vaw in fvc in homa bay county

Sources of knowledge about laws, policies
and guidelines to protect VAW

Respondent %



Female Workers






In table 2, 43% percent of respondents said that women in FVC in Homa Bay County get information from fellow colleagues. This signifies lack of sensitization from the relevant authority on the vice.

Age group and vulnerability to VAW

Nearly half of the respondents (48%) think that in FVCs, female workers between 15 and 20 years face VAW acts mostly (Figure 9). A 36 per cent think that there is no age specificity for being victim of VAW. Women workers of any age could be victims. However, a 15 per cent identified the workers between 21 and 25 years as the most vulnerable age group for VAW.

Figure 9. Age group & female workers' vulnerability to VAW (in %)
Reporting cases of VAW

One third of the respondents, 62 % viewed that the cases are reported to the BMU or the local chief. This is probably due the fact they have a closer proximity to the BMU than all other enforcement organs. The entire respondents also said the BMU chairmen satisfactorily solved their issues. The punitive measures in this case however were found not to be very deterrent as the perpetrators are warned, punished by cleaning the beach or barred from fishing in case of very serious incidences. Sometimes the perpetrators are chased away from the beaches. In this case the victims are at the mercy of the chairman and the BMU by laws which probably cannot be incorporated for argument in a court of law.

Mitigation of the VAW in the FVC

The argument by the respondents about the ideas to mitigate VAR in the FVC were many. However, two-fifth of the respondent (39%) cited economic empowerment as the most important element to consider in reducing the vice. Sensitization (26%) and awareness creation (26%) was also considered as a way of mitigating the VAR in the FVC. Considering the level of education of most respondent (primary) it is a valid argument that the victims may not be aware of their rights. Figure 10, highlights the respondent’s sentiments on the ideas of mitigating VAW.

Figure 10. Respondentís sentiments on the ideas of mitigating VAW


Women face violation in the FVC and this derail their progress and economic wellbeing, the perpetrators are always male fishermen. There is need for economic empowerment to mitigate against VAW. The abuse affect women psychologically and even at family level.



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Received 19 October 2019; Accepted 1 November 2019; Published 2 December 2019

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