FAO Regional Office for Africa

FAO working to increase women participation in Malawi’s fisheries value chain

About 70 percent of the fish traders are women in the subsector employing over 63 000 fishers and 500 000 people in various value chain activities.

Fish trader getting fish smocked at Nguwo landing site. ©FAO/Towela Munthali

Women are involved in many activities along the value chain of fish trade in Africa including post-harvest handling, processing, branding and marketing. However, limited access to and control of key assets such as capital, skills and technologies limit their engagement in formal fish-related businesses. Women work under critical conditions using obsolete processing equipment, which expose them to occupational hazards and health challenges.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in collaboration with the Government of Malawi through the Department of Fisheries is supporting capacity building on gender mainstreaming, targeting men and women in the fisheries value chain. This initiative is targeting fisheries extension workers, and community champions from fish processing groups and beach village committees with training on the use of one of the gender transformative approaches known as the gender household approach (HHA).

Women in fisheries

In Malawi, women play a crucial role in processing and marketing of fish. A recent survey in major fish markets showed that over 70 percent of the fish traders who process, transport and sell fish in wholesale markets are women. A few women own fishing gear such as seine nets and employ fishing crews to do the actual fishing while they manage from the shore. However, some women do the actual fishing especially in rivers and flood plains using hook and line and fish traps.

“The household approach to gender mainstreaming is deemed ideal in the Malawi situation because as an extension approach it caters for the challenges which women in fisheries are experiencing. It empowers all adult and youth members of a household through better gender and power relations, enables equitable access to and control over resources, assets and benefits and aims to improve the livelihood of all household members indiscriminately,” Amenye Banda Fisheries Coordinator at FAO Malawi said.

Small-scale fisheries in Malawi

Small-scale fisheries sector is very important in supplying the much needed animal protein in the diet of Malawians, supporting the local and national economy, and providing employment to many Malawians including men, women and the youth. Small-scale fisheries produce over 95 percent of total fish production for Malawi. The sector directly employs over 63 000 fishers and indirectly supports over 500 000 people in various activities like fish processing, marketing, boat building, marine engine repair and supply. The sector also supports livelihoods of the lakeshore-based communities.

Intra-household dynamics are important as the root cause of existing inequalities, including disproportionate burdens of unpaid labour, childcare, malnutrition and domestic violence. If women remain disempowered within their households, these root causes of gender inequalities remain unchallenged. The household approach recognizes that change needs to start at household level.

To bring change at this level, those champions trained as facilitators on the gender HHA are expected to each train follower fishers, who will in the next 12 months, implement consolidated vision and action plans that will be inclusive of women, men and youths within their households.

About the small-scale fisheries project

The capacity building initiative is being rolled out in the districts of Karonga, Salima and Mangochi under the project ‘Implementing the small-scale fisheries guidelines for gender equitable and climate resilient food systems and livelihoods’, also called the Small-scale fisheries project which is being implemented from January 2020 to December 2022. The project will work with 500 small-scale processors and traders within four landing sites in the three project districts. It is funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, with the aim of supporting small-scale fishers, especially women, to increase their participation in the whole value chain thereby increasing their incomes from fishing, fish processing by using energy saving or climate smart technologies, and trading.