Voices of MARG Grantees – Patrick Kimani

This article is a part of WIOMSAs video series “Voices of MARG Grantees”. 

Marine Research Grant I (MARG I) is a capacity building programme of WIOMSA that targets young and upcoming scientists with the aim of providing them with opportunities to undertake independent studies. Some of this research has led to publications in international peer reviewed journals and also produced innovative solutions to address issues at the local level. “Voices of MARG Grantees” is a series of videos that showcases some outstanding MARG I case studies that WIOMSA has funded over the years. We will feature 4 case studies in the video series. This time we feature Patrick Kimani. 

View the video here! 

Lack of access to capital is a serious constraint for all small-scale fishery actors, study reveals

A lack of access to capital emerged as the most serious constraint facing all actors in the small-scale fisheries value chain in Kenya, a finding that could be useful for informing and shaping the development and management of small-scale fisheries into the future.

The study “Analysis of constraints and opportunities in marine small-scale fisheries value chain: a multi-criteria decision approach”, was published in Ocean and Coastal Management in 2020. It was authored by Patrick Kimani, Andrew Wamukota, Julius Otieno Manyala and Chrisestom Mwatete Mlewa, and forms part of the PhD thesis of Patrick Kimani who was awarded his degree from Kenya’s Pwani University in November 2020.

The study used a value chain approach to identify and rank the constraints and opportunities facing small-scale fisheries actors in Kenya. It gathered and analysed the perspectives of all fisheries chain actors, including fishers, small-scale processors, middlemen and company agents, explains Kimani.

“I would say the study is the first of its kind,” he says. “Most studies have either focused on fishermen or on small-scale fish processors or traders, but not all of them together. Also, my study was different in the sense that we used a very robust system of ranking which helped to arrive at which are the most severe constraints – and the best placed solutions to overcome the challenges.”

Fishing in Kenya’s marine waters is dominated by small-scale fisheries with approximately 13 000 fishers operating about 3 000 small boats, mostly canoes, but also larger boats made from wood or reinforced plastic. The value chain structure of the fishery consists of fishers who sell fish to small-scale fish processors, primary middlemen and company agents. Small-scale processors target low-grade, low-priced fish for sale to local customers, whereas company agents and primary middlemen, who also double as boat owners, target fresh fish for national and local markets, respectively. Primary middlemen also sell low-grade fish to small-scale processors and high-grade fish to secondary middlemen.

The study was conducted at five sites on Kenya’s coast: Malindi and Mayungu fish landing sites in the north, Shimoni and Vanga fish landing sites in the south, and Mombasa, an urban convergence fish market. At the five sites, with exception of Mombasa, focus group discussions were used to identify and rank constraints and opportunities. Face to face interviews were also conducted at the five sites. The analytical hierarchical process (AHP), a methodology that is widely used in fisheries resource management, was used to facilitate and structure the discussions. Kimani describes the advantages of the method:

“The beauty of the AHP method is that participants can discuss their responses and arrive at a decision together. It also allows them to check back and see whether they have been consistent in their answers,” he explains.

About 120 actors, including fishers, middlemen and small-scale processors took part in the focus group discussions and a further 403 respondents participated in face-to-face interviews.

At times the field work was difficult to conduct, says Kimani with a laugh:

“Sometimes it was really challenging, especially when the boats arrive, everybody is running for their livelihood. They’re going to get the catch. The women will not want to listen to you after that because they have to prepare the fish before it spoils.”

Some actors were suspicious of what the data would be used for, but Kimani worked closely with fisheries leaders and a data collection assistant who is a fisher himself and who helped to address some of their fears and concerns.


In all, 23 constraints and 18 opportunities were identified by small-scale fisheries actors. These were categorized into nine broad value chain dimensions. Financial capital emerged as the top constraint across all sites and actor groups. Small-scale fisheries actors complained of a lack of access to loans, usually as a result of their not owning assets like land or equipment that might be used as collateral.

Kimani and his co-authors note that although Kenya has a vibrant financial sector – over 75% of Kenyans have access to financial services – it falls short in providing services to small-scale fisheries actors.

“The financial institutions do not trust the actors in the sector because the fishery is not your everyday activity where there is predictability of income,” explains Kimani,

The erratic and unpredictable income of small-scale fishers is what drives them to work with middlemen.

“Middlemen tend to understand them, they know the situation the fishermen face. If financial mechanisms could accommodate them, fishermen would benefit.”

“The banks and financial institutions do not see a business in fisheries, yet there is a lot of money changing hands,” he continues. “It is for the policymakers to know that capital is still a major issue. It needs to be addressed within the context of the erratic nature of incomes in the fisheries sector.

A lack of access to capital hinders savings and practical financial planning.

Suggested solutions include government incentivizing financial institutions to design financial instruments that are sufficiently flexible and adaptable to accommodate the unique characteristics of small-scale fisheries. This has been achieved in Brazil, with the National Programme for Strengthening Family Agriculture, PRONAF.

The study “Analysis of constraints and opportunities in marine small-scale fisheries value chain: a multi-criteria decision approach” was funded by the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association and the Kenyan National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation.

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