• Improving livelihoods and
    gender relations in the
    Barotse Floodplain fishery, Zambia

Drama skits that challenge gender norms have enabled women processors in the Barotse Floodplain to adopt and equitably benefit from improved processing technologies that reduce fish losses

In the Barotse Floodplain in Zambia, where rates of poverty and hunger are high, fishing is an important source of food and income for the region.

But around one-third of the region’s total fish catch is lost every year. WorldFish research shows these fish losses affect female and male fishers, processers and traders in different ways, with women processors experiencing higher post-harvest fish losses and getting less returns on their financial investments than men.

To overcome this challenge, WorldFish helped design and test improved fish processing technologies and a social change intervention that can improve livelihoods and gender relations in rural fishing communities in the Barotse Floodplain. This was done in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries, University of Zambia and private sector partner NoNo Enterprises as part of a research project (late 2014 to early 2017) funded by IDRC and ACIAR through the Cultivate Africa’s Future (CultiAf) fund.

Infographic - Research reduces post-harvest fish losses

Barriers for women processors

Socially, men in Zambia are expected to do the fishing because it’s believed that women lack the physical skills needed to fish. Women, therefore, account for around 60 percent of the people involved in fish processing, the value chain stage when the most fish is lost.

Of the one-third of fish lost during processing, most (70 percent) come from degradation in the quality of the fish, causing traders to offload fish products at lower prices. This results in lost revenue for the woman-dominated processing sector, which already has the lowest gross margins (2.6–5.5 percent) compared to fishing (21.5 percent) and trading (12.2–13.8 percent).

A woman turns her fish as they dry on reed racks in Liyoyelo fishing camp, Mongu District.

But even compared to male processors, females lose far more fish and, subsequently, have lower gross margins (2.6 percent compared with 5.5 percent for men).

This is partly because women have less access to government extension services and training, meaning their technical and business skills are often lower than men. Also, women do not individually-own important assets to fish or transport fish to market, unlike men, and have less time available to process fish due to unpaid household responsibilities.

“If I am busy with household chores such as collecting firewood, cooking, or watching over the children, I will often postpone my processing duties to attend to other chores,” says fish processor and trader Nalukui Muyuombe from Nebubela camp. “But if you delay to smoke, then the fish produces maggots. Or if you delay taking them to the market, then they break.”

Taking action

To combat these barriers, in 2015, the CultiAf project introduced four improved fish processing technologies – salting, ice, improved smoking kilns and solar tent dryers – and trained 12 Department of Fisheries extension officers to facilitate the piloting of the technologies with value chain actors.

Two fishers tag fish in a participatory evaluation of processing technologies in Tangatanga fishing camp, Senanga District.

A woman smokes her fish using a Chorkor kiln in Marana fishing camp, Nalolo District.

A woman salts her fish during a participatory evaluation of processing technologies in Nebubela fishing camp, Mongu District.

Over two fishing seasons (2015 and 2016), 256 male and female fishers, processors and traders from six fishing camps tested the new technologies. This was done using a participatory action research (PAR) approach, where women and men selected one technology to use and modify to their individual or group needs. The PAR approach enables people to solve their own problems through reflection, action planning and learning by doing.

Recognizing that existing social and gender norms could limit women from fully using and benefiting from the new technologies, the project partnered with the Zambia Centre for Communication Programmes to design and test gender-transformative drama skits in three of the fishing camps.

Between July and September 2016, the 30-minute long skits were performed by a local drama group to all fishing camp members who wished to participate. The skits encouraged men and women to critically reflect on the harmful norms and power relations that impact value chain actors, especially women processors.

A woman performs a drama on improving gender relations in Mukakani fishing camp, Mongu District.

Promising results

Together, these technical and social solutions have had positive impacts, particularly for women.

The improved technologies were found to reduce losses, as well as lessen the time and work burdens of processors. Research results showed that salting drastically reduced losses and the time it took for women to process fish, and the solar tent dryers also reduced losses while maintaining a high-quality product.

“With the solar tent, the drying process is much faster, it doesn’t take a lot of time to set up and I can do other work while the fish is drying,” says 38-year-old Kanyanga Chimbenda from Tangatanga camp.

A solar tent dryer designed and developed by members of a participatory action research group in Mukakani fishing camp, Mongu District.

A woman processor holds dried fish in a solar tent dryer in Tangatanga fishing camp, Senanga District.

Overall, attitudes about gender equality improved from the project’s baseline survey (June 2015) to the end-of-project survey (December 2016).

Participants in the drama skits showed a two-fold increase in their attitude scores – measured using the Women’s Empowerment in Fisheries Index survey – compared to those from camps where the drama skits were not performed (18.5 to 23.8 compared to 19.0 to 21.2).

The largest jump in attitude scores (17.6 to 23.9) was seen in men who participated in the drama skits. In particular, a significant shift was observed in these men’s attitudes and behaviours around ownership of fishing and processing assets – 44 percent said they jointly-owned the fishing gear at baseline, which increased to 76 percent at the end of the project.

“We have learned a lot from the drama, including that it is important to work together with your family,” says 43-year-old Mundanga Chimbenda from Tangatnaga camp.

A fish trader collects her dried fish for sale in a bafa (tin basin used to sell fish in) in Mukakani fishing camp, Mongu District.

Women who participated in the skits also experienced a number of positive behaviour changes. Their involvement in fishing activities increased from five percent to 75 percent and a greater percentage of women reported making large inputs into decisions about income generated from processing fish (from 45 percent to 94 percent).

Fish processor and trader Lungowe Mwendabai reports that the project has helped her feel confident using a new processing technology and making more significant decisions relating to processing fish. “There is no need to consult my husband because I’m able to make decisions myself,” says the 29-year-old and mother of four from Marana camp, Western Province.

The research project’s impacts show that using technical and social interventions together is key to enabling poor women dependent on the Barotse Floodplain fishery to benefit more equally from new technologies and achieving improved livelihoods for women and men in developing countries.



fishers, processors and traders trained by the project


improvement in gender equal attitudes for men who attended drama skits (from baseline to the end of the project)


of women who attended drama skits participated in fishing activities by the end of the project, up from 5% at baseline

Photo credits - WorldFish. Published on 21 June 2017.