Impact Area: Inclusive Aquaculture
Fish make up an important part of the diet for many, yet only account for 1% of protein consumed by the Kenyan population. Reserves are dwindling, which puts pressure on catch fisheries. Aquaculture can mitigate the damage that fish scarcity causes to the environment and society, but is yet to be embraced by fishing communities that see it as a threat. Many Kenyan women are excluded from fishing owing to its machismo. Instead they rely on fishermen for fish to trade. While contemplating the benefits of expanding Kenya’s aquaculture, we should organise it in a way that serves everyone.
How is inclusive aquaculture important to food systems in Kenya?
Kenya is home to freshwater lakes spanning 13,600 km and a marine coastal area of
67,500 km. Fresh water fish represents 84% of fish consumed, while the rest is caught at sea. Lake Victoria is the largest source of fresh water fish, representing 79% of output. The quantity of fish hauled from Lake Victoria has declined over the years, marked with events of overfishing, pollution and spread of water hyacinth, an invasive aquatic plant. With 1.4 million hectares of land deemed suitable for aquaculture, only a small fraction of the potential 14 million tonnes of production is achieved. In Kenya, fish are farmed in ponds owned by small farmers and in cages, mostly in Lake Victoria, owned by small, medium and large enterprises.
Kenya considers aquaculture a critical growth sector. In 2009, National Government launched the Economic Stimulus Package, which envisaged the construction of more than 40,000 fish ponds across 38 counties and provision of free fingerlings and feed. Despite this, Kenya falls short of meeting 10% public investment in agriculture, needing to increase expenditure fourfold to keep its commitment to the Malabo Declaration. Understanding Kenya’s food systems and political economy suggests aquaculture is a good place to start: FAO suggests significant potential for the sector to simultaneously create investment opportunities, include smallholders and SMEs in value chains, empower women, contribute to healthier diets, protect biodiversity, and build climate resilience.
Fish is an important food item, but currently only accounts for 1% of protein consumed in Kenya and domestic supply falls increasingly short of demand. Aquaculture offers promising perspectives for farmer-, youth- and women’s entrepreneurship and for the connection of different specialist economic activities including those of hatcheries, outgrowing to juveniles, fish feed production, local processing, urban fish outlets, and (cold) storage and transportation. Sustainable and inclusive aquaculture can help mitigate the detriment that fish scarcity causes to the environment and society.
What is the current state of inclusive aquaculture in Kenya?
Freshwater fish consumption in Kenya declined 14% from 2014 to 2017, but saw sharp increase the following year to narrow the gap by half. Although catch fisheries saw a corresponding trend of decline, it still accounts for 70% of supply. Aquaculture has not managed to increase supply during that period either, currently contributing 10%. So the rest has been made up for by import. China is vying for total control of that share, currently 87%, up 54 percentage points since 2014. Frozen tilapia from China is half the price of domestic supply, cheaper also than that of neighbouring Uganda.
Local fish trade is largely informal, which does not mean that it is not organized. Governments and their agencies, beach management units, industry, science and civil society including fishers, farmers, and women and youth groups in the sector attended a forum that was organized with support from Open Society Foundations in Kisumu in January 2020. These stakeholders, who remarkably know each other quite well, united behind a shared vision for aquaculture: “An economically and environmentally sustainable aquaculture sector that is inclusive for the well-being of all Kenyans”.
Aquaculture has good perspectives for professionalism. Formal relations between providers of fish feed and fingerlings, and producers, traders, processors and retailers are possible. Through increased organization and the involvement of aggregating companies, the quality of services can improve due to increased economy of scale. The limited extent to which scale is currently leveraged may be a factor limiting the provision of financial credit. Whilst considering the potential benefits, there is good reason to consider how to organize Kenya’s aquaculture inclusively. Rates of poverty and inequality are high by all comparisons of indices.
What is the challenge to systems leadership in inclusive aquaculture in Kenya?
Challenging to the provision of fish to the market is the decline of catch fisheries and slow progress of aquaculture. Cage fish farming offers good prospects, but is insufficiently embraced by fishing communities because they lack the funds to invest and are still unfamiliar with the practice. Many also see it as a threat to fishing, especially when cages are too many or are located in or near prime fishing spots. Dwindling reserves put pressure on the fishing community and cause conflict with cage farming and other social problems. Most infamous is the practice of sex for caught fish (Jaboya), which is believed to increase HIV rates, which are among the highest along Lake Victoria’s shore.
Fish is important for women for food and trade. Women face unique challenges due to their limited land and resources, the machismo of fishing, and reliance upon fishermen for fish. Fish trade is an important, but risky livelihood for women because of Jaboya and uncertain supply. Whilst women have clubbed together and show interest in aquaculture, their effort is still very much geared towards caught fish and not farming it. Increased involvement in production and availability of tilapia could offer greater independence from men for food and income.
Policies and regulations are being developed, but implementation lags behind. Best practices for cage farming are known and robust. They allow for the definition of production parameters, which can be transferred to fishing communities and beach management units. So far, companies have succeeded in doing so. Whether fish farming is congruent with the culture of fishing also needs confronting along with the behavioural changes of integrating aquaculture into fishing communities. Fish farming demands discipline, data recording and managerial competencies.
There are promising tendencies. Governments’ support, private sector investment, and existing in/formal networks of stakeholders offer food systems leaders resources to work with. Wageningen University & Research has dozens of aquaculture graduates and short course alumni in Kenya, and there are also positive investments made by County Governments of Busia, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Siaya and Vihiga and State Department of Fisheries and Blue Economy; Aquaculture Association of Kenya (AAK) and newly established Association of Fish Cage Farmers in Kenya, Echo Network Africa and Kenya Female Advisory Organisation (KEFEADO); Rio Holdings and Victory Farms; and Farm Africa. Connecting the dots calls for systems leadership.
Sources of information:
- Kenyan Marine and Fisheries Research Institute(KMFRI): https://www.kmfri.co.ke/index.php (accessed 1 March 2021)
- UNEP Nairobi Convention: https://www.unep.org/nairobiconvention/who-we-are/contracting-parties/kenya (accessed 1 March 2021)
- Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS): https://www.knbs.or.ke/ (accessed 1 March 2021)
- Rampa, F., and Dekeyser, K. 2020. AgrInvest-Food Systems Project – Political economy analysis of the Kenyan food systems. Key political economy factors and promising value chains to improve food system sustainability. Rome, FAO. https://doi.org/10.4060/cb2259en
- Obwanga, B., & Lewo, M.R., 2017. From aid to responsible trade: driving competitive aquaculture sector development in Kenya; Quick scan of robustness, reliability and resilience of the aquaculture sector. Wageningen, Wageningen University & Research, Report 2017-092 3R Kenya. 68 pp.; 5 fig.; 3 tab.; 64 ref.
- UN Comtrade Database: https://comtrade.un.org/ (accessed 1 March 2021)
- Peter van der Heijden, Senior Adviser Aquaculture & Fisheries Management, Wageningen University & Research
- Ted Schrader, Senior Adviser Rural Economic Development, Wageningen University & Research