A sea of opportunities for women’s empowerment, prosperity, and sustainability in fisheries

As a direct result of USAID prioritizing and investing in women’s entrepreneurship, and securing women’s access to capital, the El Rosario Cooperative in Nicaragua (pictured below — credit MAREA USAID) was able to transform their undervalued raw black cockles into high-value appetizers — increasing the value of their products by 1,100 percent.

In Gulf of Fonseca, Nicaragua, Julia Berta remembers when women from her black cockles cooperative, El Rosario, earned about US $0.40 for each dozen of the raw mollusks they harvested. As President of El Rosario Cooperative, Julia was concerned about the cooperative’s struggle to find buyers and fair prices. 

“We could not continue like this,” said Julia. “There were a dozen of us in the cooperative, and though we could collect 400 dozen cockles per week, it meant we were earning about US $160 per week between twelve people. It was not enough to live on.”

Making matters worse, Julia and the women in her cooperative were harvesting in mangroves forest along the coast that were increasingly over-exploited by timber extraction and by unsustainable harvesting of mollusks and crustaceans — both of which threatened their livelihoods.

Through its Regional Program for Management of Aquatic Resources and Economic Alternatives, USAID supported the cooperative in successfully lobbying the national environmental authority for exclusive rights to sustainably harvest the mangrove’s black cockles, while also conserving three hectares of mangroves for 20 years.

Working together, USAID and the El Rosario cooperative fenced mangroves, installed elevated wooden walkways to protect the habitat, completed reforestation work, and continually repopulate cockles by planting and raising juvenile species.

Access to capital significantly increased the income for the women of El Rosario. USAID assisted the cooperative in successfully applying for finance for a canoe and other equipment which improved the effectiveness of their cockle harvesting.

USAID also supported the women to prepare, market and sell delicious appetizers to increase sales. This allowed them to create a new product from the cockle, which increased their income potential without needing to increase  the amount of black cockles being harvested.

The USAID project enhanced their business plans and skills. For example, they increased their knowledge of hygienic food-preparation practices and their ability to secure kiosk space to sell their products.

The results have been impressive: as a direct result of USAID prioritizing and investing in women’s entrepreneurship, and securing women’s access to capital, El Rosario Cooperative  was able to transform their undervalued raw black cockles into high-value appetizers — increasing the value of their products by 1,100 percent.

Caption: The women of El Rosario prepare their harvest into cocktail appetizers to increase their earning potential. (Photo credit: MAREA – Programa Regional de Manejo de Recursos Acuáticos y Alternativas Económicas – USAID)

El Rosario’s success demonstrates the importance of understanding and addressing issues that women face in the fisheries sector, including investments in women’s economic opportunities to strengthen both sustainable fisheries management and empowerment outcomes.

As underscored by the launch of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative by the White House, investing in gender equality and women’s empowerment can eradicate extreme poverty, build vibrant economies, and unlock human potential on a transformational scale.

In the wild-caught fisheries sector, El Rosario’s experience demonstrates how fisheries are an important entry point for achieving the goals of W-GDP by economically empowering women who work in a wide range of sectors.

In developing countries, 2.6 billion people depend on fisheries as a source of protein and income. In many fisheries, the management is either unsustainable or does not optimize productivity, resulting in forgone losses of more than US $80 billion annually. Women account for 90% of global fisheries processing roles and 15% of the global harvesting workforce, together equating to about half the overall fisheries workforce. Yet, women are often underrepresented in the fisheries management decision forums that are responsible for securing the future of fisheries, and therefore their own futures.

Today, for International Women’s Day, USAID and IUCN are launching a guide developed as part of their partnership on Advancing Gender in the EnvironmentGender in Fisheries – A Sea of Opportunities.

Produced by USAID’s Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GenDev), USAID’s Office of Forestry and Biodiversity (FAB), and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the guide provides an overview of the unique roles and contributions women make in the wild-caught fisheries sector. The guide also explains how persistent gender inequalities limit women’s economic empowerment, and increased risks of gender-based violence negatively impact the potential of women to thrive and contribute towards strong economies.

Gender in Fisheries – A Sea of Opportunities summarizes research on the intersection of gender and wild-caught fisheries, exploring the ways in which fisheries offer important entry points to enhance gender equality and women’s economic empowerment while also contributing to more effective interventions and more sustainable outcomes.

This guide will be an important resource, particularly for USAID missions and implementing partners working in sustainable fisheries management.

Development practitioners can use the guide to access the latest evidence on gender empowerment and sustainable fisheries management; find tools and resources to conduct gender analyses; design strategic interventions to strengthen program design and implementation through the development of comprehensive gender action plans; and learn more about how to develop results chains to help programs define goals and refine assumptions.

Building on the guide’s findings and to advance research in this nexus, USAID recently launched a Learning Initiative on Women’s Empowerment, Access to Finance, and Sustainable Fisheries. This Initiative will further explore and test the hypothesis that empowering women through access to finance and collective action results in stronger fisheries management outcomes than programs that lack these elements.

As Julia notes, concerted investment and support towards women’s empowerment unlocks potential, reduces poverty, and can transform ecosystems: “Now, we really win!”

You can read Advancing Gender in the Environment: Gender in Fisheries – A Sea of Opportunities here.

This post is cross-posted and originally appears at the USAID Biodiversity and Conservation Gateway.

Contributed by Corinne Hart, Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GenDev) and Heidi Schuttenberg, USAID Forest and Biodiversity Office (FAB)

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Advancing Gender in the Environment (AGENT) is a ten-year Public International Organization (PIO) grant to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that was established in 2014 and is managed by the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment’s (E3) Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. The purpose of the grant is to increase the effectiveness of USAID’s environment programming through the robust integration of gender considerations, improving gender equality and women’s empowerment outcomes in a broad range of environmental sectors.

AGENT provides an array of support for national, regional and global environmental activities to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality. AGENT’s support is designed to complement existing or emerging USAID environmental efforts. AGENT broadens the reach of technical support, builds evidence for gender integration throughout environmental sectors, fills critical information gaps, and develops targeted resources and tools that can be directly applied in Agency programs, training and communications.

You can learn more about AGENT here.