Helping agribusiness boom in Kenya’s lakeside county

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020 - 13:00
  • Australia Awards
  • Kenya

For years, fishermen launched their boats onto Kenya’s Lake Victoria knowing they would return with an abundant catch. Then things changed. Overexploitation meant fishermen returned to shore empty-handed. Alumna Rosemary Wanasunia is determined to turn the tide.

For years, fishermen launched their boats onto Kenya’s Lake Victoria knowing they would return with an abundant catch. Then things changed. Overexploitation meant fishermen returned to shore empty-handed. The lack of food and income from traditional fishing methods began to take its toll. Alumna Rosemary Wanasunia was determined to turn the tide on the increasingly dire situation when she returned home from completing her Australia Awards short course in Agribusiness (2017), at the University of Queensland.

While studying in Australia, Rosemary honed her skills in value chain development. Today, she has been promoted to Chief Officer in Kenya’s Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, Kisumu County, where she applies these and other skills in transforming the agriculture and fisheries sector in Siaya County to be increasingly commercially viable. 

Being responsible for developing greater business opportunities in the county’s agribusiness sector drives Rosemary to make a real difference for Kenyans, including through increased livelihoods.

“The steady decline in yields from capture fishing in Lake Victoria required innovation in the sector,” says Rosemary, who was program coordinator of the Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP) on her return home. “In Australia, I learned so much which I have put into practice in Kenya. I worked with colleagues to conduct a rapid value chain analysis of caged fish farming, to determine how to boost production, without enormous investment, and provide consumers with what they want.”

“A disconnect between the producers and consumers impacted on the viability of fish farming and farmers struggled to be profitable,” says Rosemary. “We improved the value chain by introducing more reliable and sustainable fishing methods, including floating cages in which fish can be reared and harvested.”

Improved methods included replacing small cages with larger circular ones made from environmentally friendly materials, with the capacity to house approximately 90,000 fish.  

One discovery from the rapid value chain analysis was that farmers were delivering products to market that consumers did not want. Consumers believed the large fish were overpriced and wanted smaller, less expensive fish. These and other improvements led to improved sales with fish producers eventually earning an estimated $190 a month compared to no income or irregular and uncertain income.

Rosemary’s pride in the project’s success is palpable. By November 2017, the economically active fishing cages along Lake Victoria shores increased from 300 in 2009 to 3,696 cages, with a production estimate of 3,180 metric tonnes and a value at US$9.6 million. 

A Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute report of December 2017 estimates with the increased production, the industry created more than 500 jobs, including as feeders, harvesters and those gutting fish.  

In addition to direct positions, the report estimates that more than 4,000 people are benefiting indirectly, including those fabricating and servicing the fish cages, manufacturing fish-related products and producing fish feed. Retailing and transport services in the country were also boosted.  

Rosemary’s influence in Kenya’s agriculture sector also extends to the mango value chain, including through ASDSP partnering with World Vision on the pilot MAFAN project. 

“Around 460 Grade 4 students across 20 schools are provided with mango seeds, which they plant at their schools. The fruit is then sold, providing food security and income for students and their families,” says Rosemary. “MAFAN translates to ‘I have mangoes, I have fees.’” 

The pilot’s success led another community development organisation, Ace Africa, to approach Rosemary to roll out a similar program to 20 more schools.  

These successes often lead Rosemary to reflect on the skills, knowledge and networks she built while studying in Australia. 

“We’re still benefiting from these relationships and will for a long time,” says Rosemary. “I’m a proud ambassador of the Australian education system, which continues to be part of my career success.”