Locals adopt low carbon fish and seaweed farms

Ms Tima Mohammed processes sea weed in Kwale last week.

A new agricultural technology is positively shifting the economic dynamics of farmers at the Coast by enabling them to exploit marine resources with ease. 

Scientists and researchers have begun implementing a model that allows locals, mainly women, to grow seaweed and rear fish in a controlled set-up along the Indian Ocean shores. 

This means women will no longer rely on men to bring them fish from the ocean; they will have their own production units - with both seaweed and fish - within the safety of the ocean shores. 

The Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) technology, being piloted in Kwale and Kilifi counties, aims to give women more power, control and exploitation of Kenya’s lucrative Indian Ocean share of the 142,400km2 Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  In this set-up, species with mutual and interdependent benefits are farmed together, which provides resilience against failure of one agro-produce. In this case, rabbitfish - which is highly coveted in the region - is farmed together with seaweed in an integrated production system.  When farmed with fish, seaweed acts as a bio filter which removes not only removes excess nutrients but also replenishes oxygen in the water and in the process sifts excess nutrients, which causes a dense growth of weeds. 

Gender inequalities

Meanwhile, seaweed farming is also associated with an increase in fish diversity and biodiversity. To augment environmental sustainability, rabbitfish farming is supported by seaweed-based feeding which does not pollute the sea. 

In light of the above, the structural gender inequalities in the coastal fisheries communities resulting from the interaction between climate change and Covid-19 show that women have been severely impacted. As a result, young women, divorced, single mothers, widows and elderly women in these fishing communities have disproportionately suffered steeper decline in business opportunities, higher losses and diminishing returns. 

Locals are now farming fish alongside sea weed

To mitigate against challenges preventing women from exploiting and benefiting from the blue economy, the IMTA technology involves building special cages along pre-identified areas of the ocean which will allow women to cultivate seaweed and rear fish in the same system. 

Under the umbrella of the Blue Empowerment project, funded by the International Centre for Research and Development, the initiative is being implemented by scientists from Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kenya Industrial Research Development Institute, the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) and Kenyatta University.  It aims to address socio-economic barriers preventing women from accessing and exploiting marine resources in Kenya’s coastal region through adoption of climate-smart integrated multi-trophic aquaculture of seaweeds and fish for improved livelihoods and resilience. 

According to Dr Joel Onyango, the head of Climate Resilient Economies programme at ACTs, environmental degradation and climate change effects of coastal and marine ecosystems have resulted in dwindling and unpredictable catches that have negatively affected over 6,500 fishers in the coast region. 

“The resultant challenges have different gendered impacts on men and women such as income or economic inequalities dictated for instance by cultural norms in fishing communities that dictate that men venture to the sea to fish while women participate in downstream activities that are typically undervalued and attract low investment” he said. 

Consequently, women continue to have limited access to ocean resources because they feel insecure at sea, lack the skills and capital to invest in fishing vessels and post-harvest handling facilities and suffer social pressure and discrimination from the hierarchical power dynamics in their communities. 

sea weed is associated with an increase in fish diversity and the Ocean's biodiversity.

Dr Linus Kosambo, a research scientist at the Kenya Industrial Development Institute (KIRDI), believes the innovation will allow women in the region to exploit the lucrative blue economy without necessarily going deep into the sea. 

“This technology is meant to empower women in light of the Covid-19 challenges and also to address barriers of development of women in the coast region especially as it appertains to access to ocean resources,” said Dr Kosambo. 

According to Dr Kosambo, IMTA has the potential to enhance exploitation of Kenya’s vast marine resources and contribute significantly to the blue economy by opening new avenues and opportunities for aquaculture in her expansive EEZ.  Dr Kosambo says breeding areas of fish have been changing and their movement have become much more unpredictable due to climate change. IMTA comes in to partly solve this problem by making the production systems more dependable, predictable and resilient to climate change. 

The IMTA system is ecologically viable and sustainable, economically productive and gender responsive because it brings the ocean resources closer to the people through the cages which ensure and seaweed farms can be accessed by both men and women, without many challenges, he explained. 

“Women have faced numerous barriers in accessing, owning and controlling resources. They have had to contend with the burden of triple gender roles characterised by reproductive, productive and community roles,” he added. 

As a resilient, low-carbon and environmentally friendly innovation, IMTA will not only enhance and diversify income streams amongst women in the region but will also help mitigate effects of climate change and Covid-19. 

The technology is already creating excitement among women in the region avail of the model closely with community-based organizations in the Coast region to deploy this technology and have it operational in the next few months. 

Fatuma Mohamed, the chair of Bahari CBO in Kwale, believes the project will greatly enhance the economic lives of women in the region. 

“Although we get money from selling these products, but marketing has been our greatest challenge. If we can be supported to get a good and reliable market, we can make much more money and the women will support their families in a better way and transform our community. We are happy because of this project will improve our production and marketing,” said Fatuma. 

She said the training and research component of the project will also help the community gain knowledge on production systems of seaweed and fish and this boost production.  

“The research component of this project will help improve the production of seaweed and fish in this area. It will also empower women with the knowledge on how to manage the production and value addition of seaweed which will enable them earn money and improve their livelihood,” she said. 

Dr Caroline Wanjiru, a lecturer at Kenyatta University, who are leading in the training component of the project, believes that women still do no benefit much from the ocean resources because they do not have access to the sea. 

She expects the economic fortunes of women in the coast region to improve significantly as they get directly involved in the production system of marine resources. 

“IMTA will ensure that women will be able to access the waters where the cages are and therefore participate in production of marine resources, something which they were not able to do before. Apart from making money from the fish and seaweed, women will also be supported to add value to seaweed and earn more money from the crop” she said. 

Dr Morine Mukami, a senior research scientist at KMFRI said women are marginalised in harnessing marine resources and the initiative gives them an opportunity to improve their lives and those of their families. 

“This initiative will enable women to earn more money especially from rabbitfish, which is a coveted fish in the coast region” she said. KMFRI will be responsible for developing the IMTA model and training women how to operate it.  

Model IMTA farms will be used to map the diverse opportunities for low-carbon economy development through entrepreneurship, employment and investment along the fish and seaweeds value chains. 

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