Climate-smart aquaculture drive turns the tide for coastal women

Christine Tsori of Umoja self-help group weights fish last week in Kibokoni, Kilifi County. [File, Standard]

An initiative meant to raise women's stakes in the fishing value chain has kicked off at the Coast as efforts to promote responsible harnessing of marine resources continue.

In Kilifi, women have always depended on men to get fish. This is because they lack the knowledge, experience and resources to access the ocean.

For lack of immediate alternatives, women have depended on the local forests where they cut trees for firewood and sell to the local market to supplement their household income.

But this economic activity, apart from being destructive to the environment, is unsustainable, researchers and conservationists say. And now, the locals are teaming up and getting support to venture into aquaculture as a new form of economic activity.

"We used to suffer so much because we had to go to the forest, cut trees for firewood and sell in Kilifi and also make coconut leaves. But we got support to dig ponds and got prawn fingerlings from the creek," said Christine Tsori, the chair of the Umoja self-help group in Kilifi's Kibokoni village.

But why would they engage in aquaculture when they are adjacent to the Indian Ocean, teeming with various forms of marine resources? "In the ocean, there are violent tides and as women, we cannot fish in the ocean. The fish from the ocean is not enough, you could get 2kg which is not enough but here we can get up to 50Kgs which can fetch you enough money," said Ms Tsori.

The ponds enable women to get fish throughout the season, unlike the Ocean where there are times when the fish is scarce.

"We get fingerlings from the creek and farm them in the ponds. Prawns only take three months to mature. So in one year, we harvest three times," she added.

The women also believe they can have fish throughout the year unlike the ocean when there are seasons when the fish is scarce. The group makes about Sh22,000 a month through sale of the fish.

To enhance fish production in the ponds, the group would like to have a machine that would help them to make feed for the fish and also a hatchery where they can get prawn fingerlings.

"We would like to get a machine that can help us make fish feeds. And if we can also get a hatchery for prawn fingerlings. This way, we will have fish throughout the year," she said.

And now, a new initiative has been rolled out to boost aquaculture production in the coastal counties. The Blue Empowerment project funded by the International Development Research Centrre (IDRC) promotes the adoption of climate-smart aquaculture.

According to Dr Joel Onyango from the African Centre of Technology Studies (ACTS), who is leading the initiative, the project focuses on ecology, micro-economy and climate change mitigation.

"In an IMTA system species with mutual and interdependent benefits are farmed together. This provides resilience against the failure of one component. When farmed with fish, seaweeds can act as biofilters to remove excess nutrients and replenish oxygen in the water to alleviate eutrophication, which is a major ecological drawback in coastal aquaculture" said Dr Onyango.

Other institutions involved in the initiative include Kenya Industrial Development Research Institute, Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute and Kenyatta University.

According to the marine institute, although aquaculture is becoming increasingly sustainable, the availability of aquaculture inputs - land, freshwater, feed, and energy - is limited, and will likely become even more so in the future.

Given the increasing scarcity of water, land and other aquaculture resources, the adoption and up-scaling of climate-smart aquaculture technologies, innovations and management practices will be the key to maintaining the required growth of aquaculture to meet the increasing demand for fish in Kenya and beyond.

Kenya has made remarkable progress in promoting aquaculture. In the past 20 years, fish farming has evolved from playing a relatively minor role to becoming more integrated into the national fish food system.