A Rising Tide in Lake Turkana: USADF Helps Thousands of Kenyans Create Food Security and Increase Incomes in the Fishing Industry

The women of Naremiet Beach Management Unit at Lake Turkana are the lifeline of the local fishing industry.

The women of Naremiet Beach Management Unit at Lake Turkana are the lifeline of the local fishing industry.

The Kalokol Division of Turkana County, located in Kenya’s northern region, is known for its hot and dry conditions. The area sees little rainfall year-round, causing immense challenges for the local population to successfully grow crops, raise livestock, and create food security.

Part of Kalokol, however, is on the shore of Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world. Fish are abundant in the lake, so fishing is both a major source for food and is the primary means of employment for many men and women. But workers in the fishing industry often suffer from insufficient infrastructure and inadequate resources, preventing them from succeeding.

Naremiet Beach Management Unit formed in 2010, led by a group of local youth determined to foster sustainable fishing in Lake Turkana. The cooperative grew to more than 200 members within a few years – about half of whom were women – but they lacked proper organizational and management skills and were making do with subpar fishing equipment. The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) began investing in Naremiet BMU in 2015 to help the group address some of their challenges.

Awarding a two-year, $97,000 Operational Assistance Grant (OAG) to Naremiet BMU, USADF provided the cooperative with training in post-harvest handling, data collection to effectively measure their catches, governance and financial guidance of a beach management unit, and new equipment including two fishing boats. The group’s productivity increased significantly during USADF’s two-year investment.

fishermen of Naremiet BMU at Lake Turkana in Kenya.jpg

By mid-2017, the fishermen in Naremiet BMU were catching more fish than they could store and effectively sell. The remote areas around Lake Turkana lack electricity, so fishermen often don’t have cold storage facilities. They would sometimes lose as much as 40 percent of their catch to spoiling or be forced to sell the fish at significantly discounted prices before it spoiled. And while men are primarily the workforce that’s going out onto the boats catching the fish, it’s usually the women who are responsible for the fish processing, which is essential to the success of the industry.

woman processing fish with Naremiet BMU at Lake Turkana in Kenya.jpg

Recognizing Naremiet BMU’s growing pains, USADF awarded the organization an Enterprise Expansion Grant (EEG) of $245,000 over three years, beginning in September 2017. It’s common for USADF to reward enterprises that excelled under the initial, smaller OAG, providing them with the larger EEG. By this time, Naremiet BMU had also grown to represent 3,000 fishermen – again with a large percentage comprised by the women who handle the fish processing.

Two-thirds of the way into the second investment by USADF, the fishery group has installed a 3.6 kW solar refrigeration system with the capacity to store three tons of fish. So not only does Naremiet BMU now possess adequate cold storage facilities, the source of power is from clean, renewable energy, which is more sustainable, cost-effective, and healthier than using diesel-fueled generators to power limited-sized refrigeration units.

Today, when large volumes are caught, the fish can be preserved and sold when the market prices are best, rather than the fishermen selling at a discount to prevent spoilage. USADF has also provided the technical assistance that’s helping the cooperative learn new marketing skills to continue to grow their enterprise. Naremiet BMU has more than doubled its sales revenues to over $170,000 per year.