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How 2,000 Shillings is Changing the Narrative for Fisherfolk in Busia County

January 25th, 2022

It has always been our tradition to get to a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) venue at least half an hour before starting time and wait for the respondents to arrive. This day is no different. The air is hot and sticky. We refuse to let the weather break our tradition.

The women trickle in one by one until all 12 of them are seated in this mid-sized hall at Kan’gara Restaurant. They have accepted our invite to participate in a FGD to validate progress towards targeted outcomes of the first phase of Boresha Mama – a cash transfer program targeting cross-border women traders in Busia County who were negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

We start off with the introductions, setting the ground rules, and icebreakers to make everyone feel comfortable. Among the women represented here are fisherfolk, vegetable sellers, a clergy’s wife, among others. This group acts as our control group as they were not Boresha Mama beneficiaries. I am accompanied by the Local Projects Officer, Madam Pauline.

Soon after the preliminaries, the floor is open for discussions. Pauline and I lead the conversations and there is a seamless back and forth with the women who respond to our questions based on their experiences. They are enthusiastic, and during that one and half hours or so, it was easy to become mesmerized by their stories of resilience.

In closing, I am curious to hear more of what in their observation is the main differentiator between Boresha Mama beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries. One after the other, the women stand up and speak.

Sisi wenye hatukupata Boresha tunaendelea kupeana PIN (We who are non-Boresha Mama beneficiaries continue to provide a PIN”, Naliaka, a middle-aged woman blurts out. “Wamama wa Boresha si lazima kupeana PIN.” (Women of Boresha do not necessarily provide a PIN.)

With Naliak joining in the laughter, I can now barely hear her through the rest of the women’s cachinnating. I clearly missed the joke.

Boresha Mama beneficiaries would receive their monthly stipends via M-Pesa mobile money which requires a PIN to access. So Naliaka’s statement doesn’t make sense to me. I am so confused right now!

To remedy the situation, Pauline steps in to save the day.

The lake’s fish industry here is so gendered such that nearly all of the fishing is done by the men while selling of the fish in markets is done by the women.

Due to dwindling levels of fish in Lake Victoria (largely attributed to factors such as overfishing, global warming, among other environmental issues, as well as high poverty level), the women traders are forced to engage in sex with the fishermen, in exchange for fish or to get the fish at discounted rates.

This practice of “sex for fish” is the order of the day along the beaches of Lake Victoria and it goes by various names. In Samia and Bunyala sub counties of Busia County, it is nicknamed “kupeana PIN (issuing a PIN).

This is not the direction I had hoped this FGD would take. And I am now more confused. What surprises me the most is how openly the women speak of this practice.

Since I am recording the session and taking pictures, I ask Naliaka if she is comfortable with me continuing.

Kwani ni siri! Chukua hata video! (Is it a secret! You can also take a video!”, she chuckles in response.

The other women cheer her and continue to chortle.

Huku kwetu ni PIN au pesa. Saa zingine zote!” (Here it’s your PIN or the money. Sometimes both!), Naliaka continues once the women ‘compose’ themselves.

Boresha Mama beneficiaries no longer need to issue their PINS as the money you’re giving them every month has given them bargaining power. The rest of us nonbeneficiaries must still continue issuing PINs”, she concludes.

Sitting in a corner across the room is the clergy’s wife in a neatly fit kitenge outfit complete with head gear.

Our eyes meet. She nods to me in both empathy and avowal.

Many of these women are their family’s breadwinners and solely depend on fish sale proceeds to make ends meet. So, in the absence of funds and/or enough fish supplies, they are left with no option but to engage in issuing PINs.

“So do you give your PIN to every fisherman, or you choose?” Pauline prods.

Utachagua tu mwenye sasa unaona, huyu at least ananipeangako at least sahani mbili za omena, acha nimpe PIN (You choose a promising one, one who at least usually gives me at least two plates of omena, let me give him a PIN),” Naliaka responds amidst her own sheepish laughter and the roaring of other respondents.

Borako watoto wakule (as long as the children eat),” other women from the back of the room chime in.

More roars follow.

“What happens if you’re married? Do you still give the PIN?” I ask.

Sasa unaenda kuiba, ni siri yako. Mtu atakuambia hiyo omena nimekupea ni ya shillingi mia tano. Sindio? Sasa Kan’gara, si hapa tuko na restaurant…. (Since you are going to steal, this is your secret. A fisherman will tell you that the omena I have given you is worth five hundred shillings. Right? Now here where we are at Kangara Restaurant….”)

Our two-hour allocation for this FGD seems to tick away at an alarming rate and we must end.

I ask for a final word from the women.

The women fish mongers have a Sex for Fish women’s group called Rekha Bareke Barisima loosely translated as ‘those who despise you will one day greet you with respect.’

I soon learn that some of Boresha Mama beneficiaries were once members of Rekha Bareke Barisima Sex for Fish women’s group but not anymore.

The women are convinced that Boresha Mama is their ticket out of this “modern-day slavery” just the same way it literally “lifted their chama members from a hole” to quote them.

About Boresha Mama cash transfer program

Boresha Mama is a cash transfer program being implemented by FSD Kenya in collaboration with TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) targeting cross-border women traders in Busia County whose businesses were negatively affected by the Covid19 pandemic.

In phase I, Unconditional cash transfers were disbursed to 1,200 program beneficiaries in three tranches of KShs 2,000 each.

A field evaluation to determine a retrospective baseline and to validate phase I progress towards achievement of targeted outcomes was also conducted in the year.

Findings from this research exercise provided outputs that informed transition to the second phase – that is, a capacity building initiative and modeling of the patient capital initiative whose goal is to take the beneficiaries’ previously struggling businesses to the next level.

1,098 of the beneficiaries received business skills training, and a further 1,075 graduated to the next phase to receive patient capital.

Stay tuned for the next story under this series. We shall be talking to the Boresha Mama beneficiaries who have since quit the PIN issuing practice.

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