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Meet Juliana, the high-flying CEO tackling the sex-for-fish vice head on

Angela Juliana Odero is an Aquaculture Fellow working to enhance gender equality in the fish business. In this interview, she talks about her advocacy against the sexual exploitation of women working in the fish value chain, and why if she were president, protecting the environment would be at the top of her agenda.

Who is Juliana, the food systems leader?

Juliana is a go getter who is not afraid to challenge the status quo and is passionate about women and their economic empowerment. She quit a lucrative banking career in 2013 to venture into the then little known world of fish farming in a bid to empower women fish traders.

You are the CEO of Rio Fish Limited. What does your company do? 

We work with smallholder fish farmers, training them on proper fish husbandry and use of data for decision on their farms to improve production efficiency and mitigate the effects of climate change. We also aggregate their produce to create market for them. Our cold chain facilities together with aggregation helps reduce post-harvest losses. For the women traders, we supply them with fish, and provide them with training on food handling and business management. Rio Fish also has a cage and pond fish farm where the farmers can get practical training.

What is the most exciting thing that you are currently working on, and why does it matter for food systems

I am currently working on an e-commerce platform where women fish traders will be able to sell their fish to consumers who cannot come to the market. This will improve their revenues. To complement this I am training them on business management and bookkeeping to promote bankable businesses that can be funded.

If you were president of Kenya for a day, which is the one issue or challenge in your industry that you would solve immediately? 

Regulation is a great challenge. Without clear, well communicated regulation on aquaculture, there is a great threat to the environment and biosecurity. I would bring all stakeholders on board and use their input to enact strong regulations and policies to protect the delicate ecosystem and build a robust aquaculture industry. 

Tell us about your advocacy work against the sex for fish vice. Why is this cause so important to you and what are you doing to champion for change?

It breaks my heart to hear the numerous stories on the sexual exploitation of women. Rather than crying foul, I decided to make it my business to make a change. What better way to do it than take away supply control from the predator fishermen? Supply of fish should be purely in exchange for cash and not dignity! Women can save themselves, what they need is the opportunity to do it.

The take up has been very good. We have empowered women groups through training on fish husbandry, access to finance, and supply of cages so they can grow their own fish, and access fish. Rio Fish aggregates fish from smallholder and other farmers, processes it and distributes it to the women traders who then take it to the market. We currently have 60 groups in Homa Bay, Migori and Kisii counties comprising of both farmer and trader groups and we are growing the numbers. 

Women’s contribution to food systems is typically limited to smallholder farming and small-scale businesses. Why is it so important for African women to participate in food systems leadership?

African women in food systems leadership understand and can relate to the challenges that women in the smallholder farming and business face, so are better placed to address them. Women are more receptive to one of their kind leading them and the collaboration will bring about achievable goals and targets.

In addition, women are often times the ones making the decisions on nutrition for the family and sourcing the food in the African context, so it makes sense that the decision makers be leaders in the space.

Looking back on your journey as a food systems leader, what would you do differently? 

I would have started working with a 100% women management team from the get go. It is not too late; we are making significant progress. Our management is currently comprised of 60% women.

You have just joined the African Food Fellowship. What are you most looking forward to in your journey with us?

I am most looking forward to improving African food systems through collaboration and education. I am embracing technologies to improve the efficiency of production and distribution of food.