Lake Victoria is shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. It was named after the Queen of England and is the world’s largest tropical lake and the second largest freshwater lake. Since 1858, when the British explorer John Speke ‘discovered’ Lake Victoria, there has been a great deal of research undertaken on the lake, its inhabitants, the ecosystems and surrounding environments.
Nancy Chege, of the Worldwatch Institute, writes in www.cichlid-forum.com, Lake Victoria: a sick giant.
The ecological health of Lake Victoria has been affected profoundly as a result of a rapidly growing population, clearance of natural vegetation along the shores, a booming fish-export industry, the disappearance of several fish species native to the lake, prolific growth of algae, and dumping of untreated effluent by several industries. Much of the damage is vast and irreversible. Traditional lifestyles of lakeshore communities have been disrupted and are crumbling. There is a consensus among scientists that if an accelerated push to save the lake is not made soon, this much-needed body of water will cease to sustain life.
Lake Victoria represents a large scale issue to be resolved by governmental and business interests. Some cross-border responsibility is called for, rather than the pursuit of money with scant consideration for the health and welfare of the local communities whose livestyles and health depend on the health of the lake According to a Greenpeace report, “In the 1960s, for instance, the Nile perch was introduced into Lake Victoria in Africa and, within a decade, the local population of over 400 different smaller fish species declined from 80% to 2% of the lake’s total fish stocks. Probably 50% of the native species disappeared from Lake Victoria because they were not able to cope with the new invader exhibiting its insatiable hunger.”
At its fifth session, the Sub-Committee for the Development and Management of the Fisheries of Lake Victoria reviewed a variety of action programmes and made recommendations to Member Governments on their implementation. Programmes reviewed were concerned with fisheries development, management measures, protection of the environment and prevention of pollution, the water hyacinth, development of aquaculture, fish processing and marketing and technical, scientific and socio-economic issues involved in research policy. It was agreed by members that the concept of the International Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing was applicable to Lake Victoria. The sub-committee agreed on procedures for the establishment of the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization. The report is available online.
Chenge, again reports:
A more recent threat to the lake is the water hyacinth. With the deceptive appearance of a lush, green carpet, the hyacinth is a merciless, free-floating weed, reproducing rapidly and covering any uncovered territory. First noticed in 1989, the weed has already spread like wildfire, and has covered areas in all three countries. It forms a dense mat, blocking sunlight for organisms below, depleting the low concentrations of oxygen and trapping fishing boats and nets of all sizes. The hyacinth is an ideal habitat for snails that cause bilharzia and for snakes. Scientists are desperately trying to control the weed: their most promising approach involves harvesting the hyacinth and using it either for compost or for biogas production.
Richard O. Abila, Researcher, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, Kisumu, Kenya; writes in Fish Trade and Food Security: Are They Reconcilable in Lake Victoria?:
The Lake Victoria fishery has come under increasing pressure in the last two decades. Fish production peaked in the early 1990s and currently catches of most species are showing downward trends. Despite this, there is greater demand for fish of Lake Victoria, chiefly Nile perch (Lates niloticus) and ‘dagaa’ (Rastrineobola argentea), in the export market and for fishmeal respectively, as well as for domestic consumption. The present situation is the consequence of the tremendous commercial transformation that the fishery of Lake Victoria has undergone in those 20 years. From a local-based subsistence fishery before 1980, it is presently dominated by fish processing factories funded from international sources, which aim at enhancing fish exports from East Africa to the developed world, so as to earn more foreign exchange. This takes place against a backdrop of a protein-starved local community whose livelihood depends on the lake. In the past, international trade on fisheries was taken for granted as the means to tackle poverty and food insecurity for fisheries-dependent communities. That idea has, however, been challenged in the last few years as researches look critically at the benefits of global fish trade vis-à-vis the costs, particularly in relation to food insecurity and environmental implications. This report is a further contribution to this debate. It tries to establish a link between the increased liberalization of trade in the fisheries of Lake Victoria and the food insecurity indicators. The paper is based on primary and secondary data collected at various times, published and unpublished documents as well as the author’s own observations over several years working as a researcher on socio-economic aspects of the Lake Victoria fishery. Because of the large investment already made in industrial fish processing, it would be in order to allow some amount of exports to continue. However, the quantities of exportable fish must be limited to ensure sustainable fisheries and reconciliation with the food security needs. Recommendations are made in four broad directions to make Lake Victoria fisheries more relevant to the food security needs of the local population. They include specific policy interventions, interventions in fisheries management, steps to enhance fish supply and refocusing the fish marketing strategies. There is also need for more incisive studies on the fish industry and at household level to understand in greater depth how the various factors raised in this study relate to each other and the magnitude of their contribution to food insecurity.