Fighting poverty is a daunting task, but the women of Katosi have overcome the odds to form an association aimed at both conserving the lake and benefiting from it.
A place that is endowed with the second largest fresh water lake in the world should not be bathed in poverty. This is what was at the back of Masitula Namaganda’s mind. Namaganda who lives at Katosi landing site in Mukono set out a decade ago to heal the problems afflicting women and Lake Victoria in their neighbourhood.
Namaganda still remembers how their scattered efforts had failed their dream of living better lives. Today, their lives are changing tremendously and their capacity to act as stewards of the lake is improving. Their efforts to save the environment are also taking shape.
Under Katosi Women’s Development Trust (KWDT), they planted trees such as mangoes and agro-forestry trees like grevillea that protect the lakeshore from erosion and silting. “ You cannot separate trees and people,” she says.
Namaganda is one of the founder members of the women’s group that has also won local and global accolades.
She added; “It is important to go beyond tree planting and secure the livelihood of the people around the lake. A hungry person cannot protect the environment.”
She says giving people knowledge and skills through training so that they can co-exist with nature is paramount.
Namaganda moves with her head high because of the enviable track record that has seen the Katosi Women’s group decorated with local and global awards.
As a way of ensuring food security, Katosi women have discovered that creating water reservoirs is a priority. This could help them to grow crops even in the dry season and also provide drinking water for their cattle.
Women have been able to set up businesses at Katosi. PHOTO/Gerald Tenywa
“We have constructed up to 200 water tanks around Katosi,” says Namaganda, adding that this has increased access to water and helped women fight poverty.
“The water enables animals to produce milk. You cannot be poor when you are keeping animals because it is possible to get a loan which you can service by supplying milk. Cattle is a source of security for the women,” Namaganda adds.
Gertrude Kaggwa, a beneficiary of the initiatives, who makes yoghurt from milk, says coming together as women made her prosperous.
After mastering skills in fish rearing, Katosi women are also reducing pressure on the lake by creating their own ponds. This, according to Namaganda, has increased fish supplies and employment.
She said four ponds have been constructed to increase supply of the protein-rich fish at Katosi.
Demanding for their rights
While women have started initiatives to improve their lives through income generation and access to safe water, KWDT is also training women in leadership so that they can demand for their rights from Government. “We organise community dialogues and remind community members to demand for their rights,” says Namaganda.
Also, Katosi has a chance of getting exposed to the outside world through exchange visits. The group leaders have been globe-trotting, sharing their experience at Katosi in different parts of the world and also borrowing a leaf on what works from others.
Barriers to development
But Katosi’s campaign has not been a total success. The management of the lake, they say is still wanting and so is the land neighbouring the lake.
Namaganda notes that the lake is something that brings together so many actors, including the Government. Others are communities, especially fishermen who live in what is considered hard to reach communities.
The fishermen, according to Namaganda, are shy when it comes to engagement in the development and conservation processes. “Even when you organise fishermen for skills training they do not come,” says Namaganda, adding that fishermen accept loans with prohibitive interest rates from money lenders and lose out.
She added, “Fishermen should cooperate and form an association that pushes their agenda and can demand for better services from Government and also create bylaws to drive their affairs.”
(Pictured right, Namaganda stands by one of the trees planted to reduce erosion)
Weak laws and policies
Women at Katosi have improved the productivity of their land and also contributed to better management of the lake. But challenges remain for KWDT, says Richard Kizito, a resident of Katosi.
“What we need is collective responsibility. It is good the women are leading the way and the fishermen should also follow. Government should also strengthen the Fisheries Department because it is supposed to offer expert advice and enforce the law,” Kizito says.
The lake is now in the hands of ill-intentioned people, according to Fred Mukasa, a fisherman. “The leadership of most Beach Management Units supposed to regulate fishing and fight poverty at the landing sites is made up of illegal fishers,” says Mukasa.
“You cannot manage the lake by sidelining the legal institutions mandated to promote sustainable use of the lake,” Mukasa adds.
He says Namaganda and her colleagues have become the light for Katosi. As much as Katosi women have attempted to work with the authorities there is still much more to do. “We need to practice what we preach,” says Mukasa.