Hooked on Equality: How Rio Fish is Transforming Fish Farming in Kenya

Women buy fish at a market in Kenya.
Women buy fish at a market in Kenya. Photo credit: Rio Fish Limited

When Angela Odero created her enterprise, Rio Fish, she faced an uphill battle entering the fish farming industry in Kenya. As a traditionally male-dominated space, Odero was largely not accepted – simply for being a woman.

“I remember the first time I got on a boat, my husband was told that they’re not going to have fish on that side of the lake because a woman is in a boat fishing,” says Odero, the Co-Founder and CEO of Rio Fish.

These traditional gender norms have restricted many women’s participation in an industry that is also highly capital-intensive. However, these obstacles have only fueled Odero’s drive to change the industry for other women.

The Rio Fish solution

Rio Fish emerged from her desire to build a more inclusive fish farming industry. The enterprise, which is majority women-owned and women-led, mobilizes smallholder fish farmers and traders into groups and cooperatives. It provides them with capacity strengthening on aquaculture best practices and financial management, and connects them with financial institutions, input suppliers, and markets to sell their fish. Rio Fish is also developing an e-commerce app that will help connect women traders directly with consumers to increase their earnings.

This process prevents women from having to go to markets to search for fish, saving them time and money. It also helps more women avoid the sexual exploitation they often face from fishermen when they are forced to engage in sexual activities to access scarce fish resources.

A woman participates in fish farming in Kenya.
A woman participates in fish farming in Kenya. Photo credit: Rio Fish Limited

Partnering to scale

While Rio Fish had a proven concept and had saved money to put into the business, scaling its initiatives proved to be a challenge. In particular, providing valuable training to women in the industry was actually a roadblock, as they were unable to access financing from the bank for training purposes.

However, MEDA’s partnership with Rio Fish has provided support by subsidizing that cost through the Leveraging Equality for Gender-Inclusive Economic Development (LEGEND) project funded by Global Affairs Canada. Under the partnership, MEDA and Rio Fish both contribute equal amounts with the goal of mobilizing and training women fish farmers and traders to improve their inclusion and productivity, and to promote more environmentally friendly aquaculture technologies.

Walking the talk for gender equality in decent work

To date, Rio Fish has recruited 400 women into fish farming, giving them the training and equipment they need to succeed and ensure consistent incomes. The enterprise has also supplied fish to around 500 women traders consistently over the past year in the Lake Victoria region using their integrated value chain and new e-commerce app. Through MEDA’s support, Rio Fish aims to train 2,000 smallholder traders and farmers over the coming year.

Odero recognizes the importance of walking the talk with her business – with Rio Fish employing 28 women as full-time staff, which comprises 70 percent of their workforce, and ensuring that around 80 percent of their managers are women.

“What I really want to share today to women out there – and especially young women – is that sometimes we look at an industry and feel that ‘no, I can’t get into this because it’s male dominated.’ And then, when you get in, you face challenges, and you feel like giving up. What you should know is that you’re not alone and if you surround yourself with like-minded women, you can make it.”

– Angela Odero, Co-Founder and CEO of Rio Fish Limited

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  • MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates)

    MEDA is an international economic development organization that creates business solutions to poverty. We work in agri-food market systems, focusing primarily on women and youth in rural communities in the Global South. Our success is measured by income, improved processes, increased knowledge, and the creation of decent work.

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