December, 05, 2023



Climate change continues to be a significant concern globally with East Africa being no exception. The region has been experiencing increasing temperatures, weather variability, shifting agroecosystem boundaries, invasive crops and pests, and more frequent extreme weather events in the recent decade. On the farms, effects of climate change are reducing crop yields, nutritional content of cereals, and livestock productivity. To combat the menace, climate-smart agriculture – an integrated approach to managing landscapes (cropland, livestock, forests and fisheries), has been championed in a bid to enhance food security. East Africa, ranked as one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change, has continued to; warm more than the global average in the last few decades. Moreover, resilience and coping mechanisms remain limited in East Africa, reflecting structural factors restricting the region’s ability to respond to and recover from shocks. In particular, heavy reliance on rain-fed agriculture increases humanitarian, social, and macroeconomic vulnerabilities to rising temperatures and extreme weather shocks, which most heavily affect the poorest segments of the region’s rapidly growing population.

Scaling of climate-smart enterprises with a gender lens would contribute to East Africa’s transition to a low-carbon economy through women’s economic empowerment. Innovative enterprises using climate-smart agriculture practices can play a critical role in improving the region’s food security. For this reason, it is imperative to support them in their efforts to scale up. In addition, given women’s critical role in the region’s food systems – as producers, farm laborers, processors, and traders – it becomes essential for these enterprises to embed a gender lens within their business design and advance gender mainstreaming. This is especially important since women in agriculture are often disproportionately affected by climate change. It is estimated that more than 50% of the agricultural labor force in East Africa comprises women. Gender imbalances exist in the agriculture value chain and are further exacerbated by climate change. Women smallholder farmers are more vulnerable than men to climatic shocks and stressors as they tend to be more dependent on agriculture and natural resources and have less diversified livelihoods. Structural gender inequalities impede women’s ability to respond to, adapt to or mitigate climate change impacts. Women tend to have fewer and lower-value assets as well as less access to land, capital, labor, agricultural inputs, and social and institutional networks. Coupled with social norms and gender roles that limit their agency, both at the household and community levels, women’s access to and use of climate-smart technologies is constrained. Subsequently, they have less time to pursue other sources of income as they are stuck in undertaking drudgery-prone activities as unpaid workers on the farm and in their homes. As a result, they face challenges such as limited decision-making power, negligible ownership of and control over land and other productive resources, time poverty and mobility restrictions.

It is in the business interest of enterprises to adopt a gender lens in their operations. Gender-inclusive approaches for business hold the potential for not only positively impacting women engaged in the sector, but also providing a significant potential for the growth of climate-smart agricultural enterprises. Evidence suggests that businesses incorporating women in their operations have better profitability and higher returns, more innovation, better decision-making, improved customer responsiveness and retention, and are also able to attract gender lens capital.

With the aim to support climate smart agriculture enterprises in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to scale-up and simultaneously mainstream gender in their operations, Intellecap launched the ‘Business Acceleration through gender mainstreaming’ program. This program is funded and supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada. The accelerator program has selected 11 enterprises operating at the nexus of sustainable agriculture and climate change spread across the four focus countries. The selected enterprises have been divided into 3 cohorts, to provide focused gender mainstreaming and business support over a period of 6 months.

AquaRech Ltd in Kenya is one of the enterprises supported by the program to enhance gender integration within the business value chain and also help fishing communities around Lake Victoria adapt to climate change. Aquarech is striving to reduce the vulnerabilities of women fish traders and enhance economic empowerment for women fish farmers. The fishing industry in Kenya is already under pressure from overfishing, habitat destruction, and weak governance due to inadequate policies and increased food demand from a rapidly growing population. These local stressors, along with the direct and indirect impacts of climate change, are resulting in an estimated 40% of the potential growth of the aquaculture sector being lost. The sector is grappling with increasing sea temperatures and rising sea levels that affect fish breeding patterns and lower fish food supply, disrupting the regional fishing industry. Changes in the marine ecosystems have resulted in fish moving from the shore into deeper waters, which makes it riskier for small fishermen to accumulate enough catch to sustain their livelihoods. Although fishing is customarily considered a male activity, in Kenya, women play a substantial role in the fisheries sector, making up nearly half of the overall workforce in the fisheries value-chain. Despite their participation in the value chain, persistent gender inequalities exist due to inadequate education and training, cultural and societal norms and lack of financing, which prevent women from fully participating in economic opportunities and decision-making in the sector. Aquarech, through its innovative business model, is playing its part in helping small-scale fish farmers adapt to climate change while actively championing gender mainstreaming in the sector.

Aquarech sells high-quality fish feed to fish farmers, and buys back fish from small-scale farmers to sell to fish traders and other local businesses. It trains farmers on good aquaculture practices (GAP), climate change effects, and coping mechanisms, including using improved and more efficient feeds. Aquarech has an online platform, Aquarech farmer app, which allows fish farmers to directly trade with buyers on the platform, enhancing transparency in pricing. The app allows farmers to buy quality fish feed by placing orders through the platform leading to improved efficiency in the feeding cycle and reduced overall production costs. Furthermore, the platform offers a precise feeding regime that helps farmers adapt to climate change by monitoring and controlling water temperature. This feature eliminates underfeeding or overfeeding, thereby boosting fish production. By aggregating fish on the app and selling it to traders and businesses, it creates a reliable market for fish farmers thereby providing income stability, while also providing a platform for traders to buy fish. Aquarech also runs fish distribution outlets that directly serve low-income communities, increasing their access to fish source of protein.

In addition to the above interventions for farmers, Aquarech is building sustainability for fish farmers by offering credit financing. Access to finance enables the fish farmers, especially women fish farmers, to increase their production whilst adapting to climate change and thus enables them to build sustainable businesses.
However, fish farmers, particularly women, face barriers accessing quality inputs and knowledge on GAP, and few were able to link to Aquarech platform to access the same. Women traders also face challenges accessing fish due to underlying social issues and vulnerabilities, like navigating through the cycle of fish for sex (FFS) trade, and in effect affecting their equal opportunity to earn a living from fish trading. The Aquarech app was mostly being used by fish farmers to access high quality feed; fish traders still seemed to prefer sourcing fish from offline channels such as Aquarech distribution outlets.

As part of the acceleration program, Intellecap conducted a needs assessment for Aquarech which assisted in the discovery of opportunities for gender mainstreaming across their operations. The enterprise spent the first six months of the program going through targeted gender-lens business development support including developing core value propositions through a business model canvas, market analysis and marketing opportunities, scaling strategies (including business planning, growth and operational efficiency), team and partnership management, financial management, capital raising and investor readiness. Intellecap worked alongside the Aquarech team to develop a Gender Action Plan to guide them in their gender mainstreaming efforts.

A major part of the recommendations and advisory was focused on increased use of the digital platform, as it has the potential to better link fish farmers to inputs and advisory services while transparently linking traders to markets. With continued advisory support from Intellecap, Aquarech has been onboarding increasing number of fish farmers onto its app to be able to source high quality feed leading to better incomes and productivity for them. Increasing access to fish feed for its women fish farmers and contracting women farmers for cage farming has the potential to improve their productivity, provide livelihood opportunities, increase income levels, and lead to various other social benefits. In addition, Intellecap worked with Aquarech to expand app usage on the trading side. Such a sales platform allows women traders to source fish in a safe manner, reducing their exposure to the prevalent FFS trade in the sector.

While several enterprises offer climate-smart agriculture products and services in East Africa, multiple challenges limit their effective adoption and use; access to relevant and timely information, and inadequate capital are the most critical ones. The gender-impact potential of such products and services often remains unrealized due to the insufficient focus of the business on gender mainstreaming. By gender mainstreaming and including more women as farmers and traders, Aquarech is increasingly impacting women by helping them to cope with climate change, and also contributing to transition towards a low carbon economy through adoption of the climate smart agriculture techniques.

Going beyond the technical assistance, there was a need for capital to expand Aquarech’s reach and impact on the fishing community. In November 2023, Aquarech announced a successful $1.7 million seed funding to fuel its mission to empower small-scale fish farmers in Kenya. The funding will allow Aquarech to hire talent, acquire more feed to serve increasing demand, expand adoption of its solution, link more women farmers and traders onto the platform, and set-up infrastructure to support vertical integration of their technology; leading to improved outcomes for small-scale fish farmers.

The funding, led by Aqua-Spark, a global aquaculture investment fund based in the Netherlands, will provide much-needed support to the Kenyan fish farming community.

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