“Autonomy, empowerment and independence don’t come overnight”

How a courageous woman from Uganda is empowering women food producers

Margaret Nakato speaks with the Baja Basaga women’s group about women’s rights and engagement in the Nile perch fishery at the Kibanga landing site in Uganda. ©Katosi Women Development Trust


Margaret Nakato is a woman with a vision: gender equality. She has made it her mission to empower the women who rinse, prepare and sell fish from Ugandan lakes to local markets.

Africa's inland small-scale fisheries sector, centred around the large lakes across Uganda, is an important source of employment for local communities. Whilst the fishing itself is still very much a male domain, when it comes to the processing, preparing and selling, it is estimated that 69 percent is done by women. 

However, in order to prepare and sell fish products, they have to negotiate with the predominantly male fishers to get access to the freshly caught fish. The women are also competing with wholesale buyers who offer much higher prices. Many women face violence and threats on a daily basis.

Margaret is adamant that women are integral to the fishing sector and is on a mission to help women recognise this fact and use it to their advantage. “The women I meet at the fish landing sites around Lake Victoria don't recognise that they have a right to be in fisheries,” Margaret says. “They feel at the mercy of fishermen. That’s why we must inform them that they have rights!” 

Support through women’s groups 

Margaret is a coordinator at the Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT) in Uganda, a non-profit organization financially supported by FAO, that assists 691 women from 29 women’s groups. Many of them are food producers in small-scale fisheries.

Women working independently often face harassment from male community members and enforcement officers. KWDT encourages the local women to form groups, as a way of strengthening women’s voices and helping protect them from violence. In a group, women are less vulnerable. Perpetrators think twice when they know that they are not dealing with an individual, but a woman who belongs to a group, especially when that organization has the resources to protect her rights. Groups also encourage and support women, whose rights have been violated, to report the crimes. They work together to access legal information on their rights, in fisheries or other sectors.

Left/top: Training sessions teach the women more modern fish-smoking methods to improve their health and safety. Right/bottom: Margaret helps the women empower themselves through education and knowledge of their rights. ©Katosi Women Development Trust

Training and technology

Margaret regularly goes to the fish landing sites to conduct training sessions for these women’s groups. The sessions focus on conflict management, advocacy and human rights, as well as technical methods to help improve the value of their products. After FAO supported Margaret’s participation in a training on fish smoking and preparation methods, she has run other training sessions on how to hygienically handle fish during processing and how to smoke fish safely using new technology, which reduces exposure to harmful fumes. 

“Through forming the women’s groups, we have managed to support women’s access to training and appropriate technology in food production and processing. Autonomy, empowerment and independence don’t come overnight, but through a series of activities, we have boosted the women to take charge of their own development,” Margaret says proudly.

These groups have also helped the women get better access to microcredit and invest in new equipment. Eleven women’s groups have been able to buy new fish drying racks and five a safe fish smoking kiln. With the skills and new technology acquired, women are able to produce higher quality fish products that can fetch better prices, reduce their post-harvest losses and increase their incomes. 

Aftermath of COVID-19

KWDT’s initiatives proved invaluable when COVID-19 hit. At the beginning, Margaret raised awareness about the risks of the pandemic and how the local women’s groups could protect themselves and their businesses during the difficult period. Sadly, due to the lockdown, many women were forced to stop working and have now lost their main source of income. In order to help keep their families fed, KWDT has established a fund to support women in reviving their small businesses, which are their main source of income for food and other basic needs.

FAO’s country office in Uganda has close ties with KWDT and regularly meets with its group members - without this collaboration, Margaret says that it would have been much harder for KWDT to reach the communities it now supports.

Food hero Margaret speaks passionately about boosting women’s role in food production. ©Katosi Women Development Trust

With FAO’s support, Margaret has attended various global meetings over the last five years in order to raise the voice of small-scale fishery workers.

She is positive and passionate about improving conditions for women in Uganda’s fisheries. Why? Well, as she says, “When you empower women food producers you improve not only their lives, but the food production of entire communities.”

FAO believes that the actions of food heroes like Margaret, who are dedicated to boosting women’s role in food production and improving gender equality, are essential for food security, nutrition and the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals. As Margaret says, it won’t happen overnight: but awareness, training and opportunity are the steps that will get us there.

Behind all of our food, there is always someone who produced, planted, harvested, fished or transported it. In the run up to World Food Day on October 16, we take the opportunity to thank these #FoodHeroes who, no matter the circumstances, continue to provide food for their communities and beyond - helping to grow, nourish and sustain our world.  

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2. Zero hunger, 5. Gender equality, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 14. Life below water