Promoting social relations in fish value-chain activities by women in small-scale fisheries in Lake Malawi, and Lake Chilwa.

April 13, 2022 Paul Emiljanowicz
April 2, 2022 amrith.david

The role of women in small-scale fisheries that engage in social relations along the value-chains of production to democratically represent and participate in Lake Malawi and Lake Chilwa. The generic methods used by women in a social-relational approach aim towards focusing on ways of interacting and communicating with communities to embody values of respect, inclusiveness, and corporation. Social relational approaches influence women's participation, engagement, and outcomes in small-scale fishing villages in Malawi.

Problems and Purpose

Malawi is one of the world's poorest countries, with 50.7 percent of the population living in poverty and 25 percent in extreme poverty [1]. Although certain economic, social, political, and historical conditions contribute to the exacerbation of poverty, women in the small-scale fishing communities are disproportionately represented in the lowest quartile of the income distribution. They are more likely to be poor with no formal methods of participation[1]. Additionally, particularly for these women, involvement in policymaking decisions that affect their own lives is hampered by a lack of education, early marriages, and motherhood, among other issues. In addition, traditional local customs in most regions near Lake Malawi and Lake Chilwa forbid women from publicly criticizing ideas expressed in village meetings dominated by men. Despite public criticisms, in comparison to men, women fisherfolk were consistently the majority of attendees in local meetings that were conducted to recognize decision processes and community-based management policies over natural resources. The problem is that women fisherfolk, who are heavily active in fish processing and trading, have not been completely included in the new decision-making procedures, despite the fact that community-based management policies are in theory supposed to empower all stakeholders participating in fish-related activities[2]. Nevertheless, women often struggled to have their voices heard and input decisions or access leadership roles[3]. 

Social relational approaches were conducted as a participatory innovation method by women in communities to combat the problems of neglect faced in their communities. The purpose of this method engaged both women and men in joint decision-making on the use of money that is collected in participating in the fish value chain activities[4]. In participating through social relations in fish value chain activities, the purpose was to provide women with bargaining power at the home and community levels and the ability to save, borrow and invest.

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, in collaboration with the Government of Malawi's Department of fisheries, aims at supporting women in small-scale fishers to increase agency and social relations to participate in fish value chain activities. Funded and supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, this capacity-building entity, also known as the ‘Small-scale fisheries project,’ is being rolled out from January 2020 to December 2022[5]. The project is organized to support 500 small-scale processors and traders, mainly women, to boost their earnings from fishing, fish processing, and selling using social relations by employing energy-saving or climate-smart technologies[5]. 

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Participant recruitment and selection were based on two small-scale fisheries on two water bodies in Malawi: Lake Malawi and Lake Chilwa, which exhibit different small-scale fishing value chains[4]. The focus on these demographics is based on the community's diversity in environmental, governance, and social characteristics[4]. Participant recruitment and selection were conducted by the respective community Fisheries assistants, who gathered volunteers from the Beach Village Committee (BVC); specific attention was given to women involved in the fish value chains[1]. Moreover, the maximum variation sampling technique was used to gather participants to gain a better insight into the phenomenon of using social relations to participate in fish value chain activities[4]. 

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The process took place with local experts to obtain an expert understanding of the level of women’s participants in the local fish value chain activities, conducting public participation and public engagement in each community with a local leader and fisheries extension officer[4]. This process obtained essential information at individual and household levels on the respondent's involvement in fish value chains, the effects of that involvement, and how social relationships influence participation and outcomes. Interactions and formal decision-making between local specialists and fishers, primarily women, were conducted in order to learn more about how social connections outcomes and hurdles affect women in the fish value chain at the community level[4]. For example, one of the processes used is focus group discussions (FGD) that were immersive and took place between 30 minutes to one and half hours. People interacted through in-person interviews/discussions conducted in their local languages, and respondents’ participation was deductively arranged, transcribed, and analyzed utilizing pre-determined topic areas of participation, outcomes, and social relations on participation and participation outcomes. The findings were presented to a larger audience on the three pre-determined themes of an investigation by each case study site, namely participation in value chains, outcomes of participation in value chains, challenges women face as they engage in value chain activities, and how social relational approaches influence participation and outcomes[4]

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The study influenced the promotion of women's empowerment, dignity, and opportunities in all aspects of the small-scale fishing industry, to ban and remedy sex discrimination, harmful behaviors, and sexual harassment, and to raise public awareness about gender equality concerns. Furthermore, the study influenced the importance of understanding social relations in fish value-chains as detonating various positive and negative repercussions on interactions and social networks, all of which argue for the necessity of social relationships among participants in fish value-chain success[4]. At Lake Malawi and Lake Chilwa, using a social-relational approach to participation in value chains influences the effects of household decision-making, food and nutrition outcomes, personal empowerment, and community-wide outcomes. For example, one female fish exporter living near Lake Malawi revealed that prior to concluding the selling of fish in Mozambique, she brings home cooking oil and pasta, which is later on sold within the community[4]. The study reveals that in both Lake Malawi and Lake Chilwa, women are able to engage in petty trade activities such as vegetable trading and other small businesses such as making and selling doughnuts on improvised booths with the cash generated from value chain activities established through social relations[4]. Overall, the use of social relations in fish value chain activities is found to be a valuable method for women in small-scale fisheries, as it provides an opportunity to build their agencies to become formal citizens of democratic participation. 


[1] Torell, E., Manyungwa-Pasani, C., Bilecki, D., Gumulira, I., & Yiwombe, G. (2021). Assessing and advancing gender equity in Lake Malawi’s small-scale fisheries sector. Sustainability, 13(23), 13001. 

[2] Njaya, F., Donda, S., & Béné, C. (2012). Analysis of power in fisheries co-management: Experiences from Malawi. Society & Natural Resources, 25(7), 652–666.

[3] Nagoli, J., Binauli, L., & Chijere, A. (2018). Inclusive Ecosystems? women’s participation in the aquatic ecosystem of Lake Malawi. Environments, 6(1), 3.

[4] Manyungwa, C. L., Hara, M. M., & Chimatiro, S. K. (2019). Women’s engagement in and outcomes from small-scale fisheries value chains in Malawi: Effects of social relations. Maritime Studies, 18(3), 275–285.

[5] FAO Regional Office for Africa | FAO Regional Office for Africa | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2022, from