By Linda Ogwell
EXPERTS say the fish stocks in Lake Victoria are dwindling. This could have negative implications on the fight against poverty and hunger in the region. It could undermine efforts to achieve the first UN Millennium Development Goal â€” to eradicate poverty and hunger by 2015.
The Lake Victoria region hosts the second largest freshwater lake in the world and has a population of almost 40 million people. Economic development has been based mostly on fishing, agriculture, agriculture-based industries, fisheries and to a smaller extent, mining.
Poverty is widespread in the region with many households depending on fishing for income generation. Although women do not participate actively in fishing, they form the biggest percentage of fish vendors and small scale entrepreneurs in the region. This means that they are directly affected by the decrease in fish stocks. Fishing is a key economic activity for the Lake Victoria region and the only economic activity to many people.
However, illegal fishing practices, environmental degradation of Lake Victoria and harmful weeds that kill fish have seen the reduction of fish stocks. This has led to deprivation of income-generating activities for many households, which in turn has hampered the regionâ€™s endeavours to eradicate poverty and hunger. The United Nations earlier this year warned that the rise in food and oil prices would undercut the progress made by many African countries in eradicating poverty and hunger. The Lake Victoria region is no exception.
Already, there is a food crisis marked by the increase of food prices to levels that are unaffordable to many. A walk to fish markets in Uganda reveals that fish that used to go for sh3,000 now costs sh5,000. This means that many people cannot afford fish anymore. Fish, which used to be the alternative to beef for the low income earners, is now more expensive than beef. Fish is the second foreign exchange earner in Uganda and there are indications that the export volumes have gone down considerably.
It is time to act. If nothing is done, many fish factories will close down and many people will be out of work. The food crisis will worsen and this will in turn push the level of malnutrition and diseases like AIDS upwards. Diseases like AIDS require patients to have good nutrition so as to control the effects of the disease but this will not be possible in a food crisis, meaning that many people may die earlier than they would in a normal situation. It is time to act. Fish is not only a major foreign exchange earner for Uganda but also for Kenya and Tanzania. It is a source of food and income for many households in the region.
Therefore, we must save the situation. Proper fishing methods must be observed and Beach Management Units along the shores of the lake empowered to stop the illegal fishing practices.
Leaders and other stakeholders in the Lake Victoria region must address the need for preserving Lake Victoria. Holding workshops and coming up with policy papers that gather dust on our shelves will not help that hungry malnourished child in Kalangala or Kigungu.
We need legislation and by-laws on sustainable use of the lake. We need to follow up and ensure policies are implemented. We should empower the communities to â€˜ownâ€™ the lake and use with tomorrow in mind.
We also need the participation of leaders in conservation measures. There is a saying: â€˜Fish makes brains and brains make money.â€™ The reduction of fish stocks in Lake Victoria means that we shall remain poor. Let us protect our livelihoods by conserving the lake.
The writer is the communications officer for the Lake Victoria Region Local Authorities Cooperation