As Vision Group platforms continue to run investigative articles and commentaries highlighting the irresponsible human activities threatening Lake Victoria, let's explore how family planning and tree planting are being used to save the world’s second largest fresh water lake.
By Agnes Kyotalengerire
If you had visited Bussi Island in Wakiso district three years ago, you would probably be surprised if you went back today. The island has undergone a transformation. Residents have embraced new practices not only to benefit themselves but also to conserve Lake Victoria.
Two years ago, 28-year-old Max Nankabirwa and her husband, Robert Mwamula, both residents of the island, used to struggle to get food for their family and meet basic needs for their four children.
“We depended on fishing for food and income. The situation became worse when the fish population dwindled and my husband sometimes came back home empty-handed. This meant having no food for the family,” Nankabirwa says.
She adds that though they had a small banana plantation, the yields were poor and she could barely get a reasonable bunch of matooke to feed her family. Cooking food was also a hassle because she had to buy firewood which was costly.
Intervention of the project However, all this has changed thanks to the intervention of Health of People and Environment in the lake Victoria Basin (HOPE-LVB) project.
A fishing community with about 40,000 people who mainly rely on pineapple growing is being taught how to diversify livelihood options and incorporate organic farming. The project is building community capacity to adopt supplementary eco-system based livelihoods to reduce over dependency on fishing as a source of food and income.
Residents are urged to incorporate sustainable farming practices for better yields. About 250 households have received improved agro-seeds (maize, beans, cassava cuttings –NASE 14, banana suckers, vegetable).
“We have been taught how to use animal droppings and urine as fertilisers for our crops. I collect the dung, pile it and cover it with grass for some days. I later transfer the manure to the crops and it has worked wonders,” Ronald Kibuuka, a resident at the island explains.
HOPE-LVB project integrates Population, Health and Environment to address complex issues in the Lake Victoria Basin being implemented in Uganda and Kenya.
The project uses integrated approaches to improve access to health services, especially family planning, sexual and reproductive health, while helping communities to manage natural resources and conserve the ecosystems on which they depend.
The three-year project is funded by MacArthur Foundation, David Lucile, Packard Foundation and United States Agency of International Development (USAID).
The project worth $3.5m (sh14217.5b) is being implemented within the Lake Victoria basin by Pathfinder International in partnership with Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), Ecological Christian Organisation (ECO) and OSIENALA (Friends of Lake Victoria).
Helping fishing community
The project is working with three Beach Management Groups (BMUs) to promote sustainable fishing practices and being exemplary community members in family planning. Fishermen have been encouraged to use legal fishing nets. They have also acquired engine boats to patrol the lake and curb illegal fishing.
“We encourage fishermen to use nets of five inches and above so as to catch bigger mature fish which fetch a lot of money,” Sulaimani Ssenyonga, a Beach Management Unit team leader says.
A resident looking after his nursery bed. Each family is given seeds to plant trees to encourage agro-forestry.
According to the programme director, ECO, Charles Kabiswa, the fishermen are encouraged to have a saving scheme so as to buy legal fishing nets and carry out other income generating activities.
Besides, breeding zones have already been marked and the fishermen have been sensitised.
On an island where deforestation is a big problem, with residents cutting trees and ferrying it to the mainland for timber, firewood and charcoal, the project has worked with locals to establish tree nurseries and plant trees.
A nursery for agro-forestry/multipurpose tree species and fruits ( Gravellia, Albizia, Neem, Moringa, Musambya, Mukibu, Exotic Muvule, Mango, Oranges, Passion fruit, avocado, coffee has been established for the community. About 40,000 seedlings have been distributed to community members and planted.
“Each family is given seedlings to plant in an effort to promote agro-forestry and encourage the communities to replace the trees they harvest for timber, firewood and other uses,” Kabiswa explains.
The project has helped establish 50 model households that are learning centres for sustainable agriculture and agro-forestry, reproductive/maternal health, water sanitation and hygiene, use of family planning and additional livelihood options.
As part of the intervention to conserve energy and at the same time reduce the increasing population growth on the island, 15 village health team members (VHTs) and other community members have been trained on how to build energy saving stoves using available materials like grass and antihill soil for households.
The VHTs move from house to house teaching the people how to build the stoves. In the last one year since the project started, 1,040 energy saving stoves have been built for homes at the island.
“Our target is to ensure every homestead on the island has an energy saving stove because the materials are free. This will help reduce on the number of trees cut down for firewood and eventually conserving the environment,” Kabiswa explains.
Bussi sub-county located in Wakiso district has got a rapid population growth of 4.1% compared to 3.2% national growth rate, with total fertility rate of about 7 children per woman.
Rose Kyakuha, the district counselor, says majority of the families are big which strains the resources, including the lake. “This has contributed to household poverty,” Kyakuha notes.
Richard Mwesigwa, the project advocacy officer, says though the pilot project they will be targeting other areas in the Lake Victoria Basin, to reduce threats to biodiversity conservation and ecological degradation in the Lake Victoria basin.
Access to family planning, sexual and reproductive health services have improved maternal and child health in the island communities.
To encourage family planning and environment conservation, trained VHTs move out to the community and given family planning commodities like condoms and contraceptive pills.
“We visit homes and educate the community about the benefits of family planning. We give out condoms and pills and encourage those who want permanent methods like intrauterine device and implants to visit nearby health centres,” explains Nankabirwa, a VHT member.
Dr Gladys Kalema, the founder Conservation through Public Health, says the project was introduced in Bussi Island because natural resources are facing many challenges including deforestation, poor farming and fishing methods.
“Kalema adds that they are using an integrated approach similar to that used in Bwindi to link family planning and livelihood to ensure the community lives in harmony with the environment.
Bussi communities and preserving Lake Victoria