By Cliford Ochiel
Good governance forms a fundamental base in local management of fisheries resources. In Kenya, co-management has become a popular paradigm in fisheries management giving grassroot communities the opportunity to participate in the management of these resources which they directly depend on for their livelihood. In coastal Kenya, co-management has been achieved through the establishment of Beach Management Units (BMUs), where fishing communities and the government collaboratively manage fisheries resources.
For many years, BMU leaders along the Kenyan coast have been making concerted efforts in managing fisheries resources, but due to limited skills, knowledge and inadequate finances, they have not been able to effectively carry out their roles. This has resulted in unsustainable practices such as illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing leading to degradation and decline of fisheries resources.
The journey towards building strong community institutions
Since 2021, COMRED, in partnership with Blue Ventures, has been on a journey towards improving the operation of BMUs in Kwale county, with the long term objective of improving fisheries resource management. This journey began with a theory of change exercise conducted together with BMU leaders, where challenges such as poor understanding and implementation of roles by leaders, lack of transparency and accountability, and low participation of members in BMU activities were identified.
There is no good governance without principles such as participation, transparency and accountability. One of the actions COMRED took to improve performance of BMUs was conducting training for leaders from 8 BMUs in Kwale county on leadership skills, financial management, planning, record keeping and BMU by-laws. To date, COMRED has reached a total of 120 BMU leaders.
Most training in the past has been one-off with minimal to no follow-up. COMRED changed this history by being intentional about doing monthly follow-up and mentorship after the training to ensure that the leaders apply the knowledge and skills gained.
The success path in learning and implementing
The trio; Training, Follow-up and Mentorship have proven to be a magnet for success towards improving leaders’ confidence, leadership skills, planning, transparency and accountability.
“As leaders we have a better understanding of our roles as this was the first training we have received since we were elected as BMU leaders.” Offered Hatibu, Secretary Majoreni BMU.
Analysis of before and after training scores done in excel reveals that leaders have a better understanding of their roles, which has been translating to better implementation as well.
” Because the BMU executive committee members now have a better understanding of their roles, there is unity and teamwork among leaders in BMU activities such as patrols.” Said Mwanatumu Kadau, Chairlady, Vanga BMU.
An improvement in record keeping for example updated financial and minutes records has been noted in most BMUs, as well as better planning evidenced by endorsed work plan and budget that guides BMU activities and spending.
Within a span of one year, there have been notable changes in operation of the target BMUs. Even though these changes are evident, there are challenges such as inadequate financial resources and support from government agencies that derail the effectiveness of leaders in implementing their roles. This calls for the need for strengthened partnerships and collaborations between government, non-government agencies and the BMUs. Strengthening governance of local community institutions will ultimately lead to better management of fisheries resources.
A key lesson learned during this process of building strong local institutions is that it is important to integrate capacity building and livelihood enhancement incentives with fisheries management initiatives. These incentives will give BMUs leaders and members the motivation to be actively involved in sustainable fisheries management. Let us not forget that
“Everything starts and stops with good governance,” Patrick Kimani, Governance Project lead.
Contributing authors: Jane Muteti and Patrick Kimani