The paradox of poverty amidst plenty in the fish product chain in Uganda: the case of Lake George
Keizire, Boaz Blackie
Muhwezi, Wilson Winstons
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Lake George is an important fi sh habitat supporting fi sh stocks estimated to be worth 4-5 billion shillings per year. Secondly, the economic value of fish to the Ugandan economy reached record levels in 2005 with fi sh exports reaching US $143 million. Proliferation of the fi sh business by external market dynamics has made fi shing an enviable activity. Increasingly, the fi sheries sub-sector is being viewed as a potential growth sub-sector that can contribute signifi cantly to national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and ensure eradication of poverty especially among fi shery dependent communities. Fishing has other multiplier benefi ts of boosting other sectors of the economy like construction, manufacturing and transport. Research evidence from the sub-sector points to the fact that, in spite of the profi table nature, many fi sh-dependent communities continue to be mired in relative and absolute poverty. Quality of life in such societies remains low evidenced by low incomes, low education levels, poor health and poor sanitary conditions. It is not uncommon to be told that fisher folk defecate and urinate in the lake or by the lake banks. HIV/AIDS prevalence remains high in fi shing villages. A probable explanation for such trends seem to be the overemphasis on resource conservation without corresponding emphasis on the relationship between the nature of the resource, power held by each of the actors and wealth derived from the resource. Success in conservation of fi sh as a resource and corresponding poverty eradication among benefi ciary communities depends on how policy makers and implementers balance the delicate and complex relationship between nature, wealth and power. This research found that other than the three pillars, behaviour patterns among actors in the fi sh product chain, notably daily lavish expenditures on sex workers and alcohol, largely account for the marginal economic successes achieved in over forty years of conservation. The main goal of the study was to analyse why fi shing communities from around Lake George have hitherto remained poor, despite their access to wealth from the fi shery resource. In this report, we present the probable explanations for the degradation of Lake George fi shery, describe the main actors engaged in the utilization of fi shery resources as well as key factors that determine winners and losers in terms of access to, and benefi t from, the resource. We argue that interventions that have not taken cognisance of the nature, power and wealth relations over the fi sh resource as well as behavioural characteristics of main actors, have had a dismal impact. The study design was cross-sectional, utilising exploratory and descriptive qualitative techniques of data collection, assessment and analysis, notably Focus Group Discussions and Key Informant Interviews. The main strategy was observation of fi shing activities and obtaining relevant views from the fi sher folk on Lake George and making comparative nuances to selected areas around Lake Victoria. The main actors in the fi shing sectors that researchers sought to observe and interview included; the barias, boat owners, the casual labourers on the lake, and the business community. Researchers also got information from the lake management bodies/ institutions that wield power. These included the BMU executives, the Local Council (LC) offi cials, the sub-county leaderships as well as the district leaderships. Researchers also visited market places to interact with fish traders at the workplace and interview them to gain an insight into the profit margins that exist at the landing site and in the open-air markets In this paper, we argue that notwithstanding the imperfections in use of command and control (traditional approaches) in managing a common property resource, a resource like fi sheries, vulnerable to overexploitation will not survive if left to the forces of the market alone. We advocate for policy interventions that can balance the demands of human capital to be in line and cognizant of the growth factors of natural wealth such that both can be exploited sustainably. The Nature, Wealth and Power (NWP) analytical framework and the Commodity Chain Analysis Methodology informed the philosophical analysis that went into preparation of the research report. The NWP analytical framework seeks to explain why previous community development interventions in many African countries in the area of natural resources conservation have failed to produce sustainable results especially in terms of ensuring the ecological integrity of the environment and natural resources while improving the economic living conditions of the targeted communities. The hypothetical drive was that pro-poor interventions have largely failed because of ignoring to address the economic structure and the power relations that provide the framework within which major resource ownership and access decisions are made. We found that Lake George is a habitat for a variety of fish species including, even those considered to have been indigenous and now extinct in Lake Victoria. The main species caught and commercially exploited include Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) locally known as Ngege, Protopterus aethiopicus – Emamba, Clarias gariepinus – Emale and Bagrus docmak – Semutundu. There are also rare but occasionally caught species which include; Oreochromis leucosti – Bambala, Barbus altianalis – Enjunguli Mormyrus kannume- Kasulubani and the most quoted rare but valuable specie Labeo forskalli/victorianus – Eningu. The fi sher folk on Lake George indicate that the rate at which they were catching Clarias was increasing yet the specie is known to be among the most uncommon, an indication of a poor performance of the fi shery. Lake George presents a potential for fi sheries resource abundance. The lake’s productivity is high based on a combination of factors such as; water quality standards, nutrient abundance, and species composition. However, with extra fi shing pressure, all indications point at the resource being over exploited since too many people were chasing a few fi sh, explaining the market controls alone. The report enumerates perceived causes for the reduction in fi sh catches from Lake George. These include; crocodiles which compete with fi shermen for fish, climatic changes such as decrease in rainfall amounts, too much fishing pressure as a result of increased population around the lake, consumer preferences for younger and smaller fish, increasing numbers of ‘unoffi cial’ landing sites along the lake shores, farming activities taking place during rainy seasons on hill tops adjacent to the lake leading to silting, reclamation of wetlands adjacent to the lake and use of illegal fi shing nets and boats. The fi sh economy around Lake George was found to be male dominated. Women at the landing site were mostly in the category of deyi-deyi where they are providers of auxiliary services. They are also involved in activities such as trading in fish both at landing sites and markets, mending nets, setting fi shing nets (with special strengthened thread), preparing and selling meals – food, porridge, tea etc. at the landing site, selling alcohol in the bars, and sometimes smoking and salting fish. Some women specialized in buying and selling ‘by-catch’ and sometimes acting as sex workers. There are many actors along the fish product chain on Lake George. Some of these actors are conduits in whose hand wealth passes, often leaving no visible wealth impacts. Actors are classifi ed into three categories, which are not mutually exclusive. There are primary actors, who extract the resource (fish) notable among whom are barias and boat owners, secondary actors who are engaged in postharvest handling of fi sh among whom we include artisanal processors, deyi-deyi and traders, and tertiary actors consisting of local institutions involved in local administration such as Local Councils (LCs) and others overseeing resource extraction, handling and trade notable among whom are Beach Management Units and their committees as well as other organisations like LAGBIMO. Other than the economic benefi ts, the research found that there were non-monetary benefi ts that were derived from fi sh on Lake George and shared between the different resource users or actors. These are categorised as food for food security, employment, environmental stability and the cultural heritage. Main challenges of the fi shing sector around Lake George include; poor facilitation of available management (to patrol the lake to curb illegal fi shing), tendencies by fi shers to over saturate the lake with nets to increase their catch chances, absence of a saving culture among the fi sher folk and absence of banking facilities within close proximity of the lake which leaves fi shermen with liquid cash at all times thereby abetting alcohol consumption and procurement of prostitutes. Other challenges include confl icts in by-laws set by the different landing site managements, political interference from local politicians who do not want their political survival jeopardised through apprehension of illegal fi shers and some cultural beliefs that hinder infrastructure development in fi shing areas. In the report, we highlight the fact that, in spite of declining stock, fish is still a wealth creating resource. We present evidence to the effect that some gains accrue to different actors in the fish product chain. A deeper analysis indicates a mismatch between gains received and quality of life for fi sh-dependant communities. To some actors like barias and fi shmongers, the gains are not translated into poverty reduction or livelihood improvement. In the report, we also comment on power and how it relates to access and exploitation of the Lake George fi shery using a decision-making perspective. We assess the role of BMUs and LCs at fi sh landing sites. Beyond the two power centres, we comment on the power of other actors like LCs at the sub-county and, the district, local government chiefs, and fi shery managers at the centre. Important to note is that power that is wielded by boat owners and barias infl uences resource management, ownership and distribution of gains. We underscore the fact that the increasing number of barias had stepped up their infl uence in determining the BMU chairman through voting. In essence, the BMU chairman is seen and considered to be infl uential in determining shared revenues of the landed catch between boat owners and the barias. BMU chairmen also have substantial powers over resource management, which again infl uence resource sharing. The non-barias argue that a BMU chairman, who is a baria, is not strong in enforcing fisheries regulations since fishing multi-practices often benefi t him (baria) and other members of his category. Based on the above findings, we make the following recommendations; Future research should elucidate more on the behavioural aspects of living in a fish-landing site. Government interventions should not focus on conservation alone but should focus on the behaviour of actors in the fi sh-prodcut chain. Government through the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries department must take up and champion sustainable fi shing so as to assist the population to procure fish nets of the right sizes. Many fisher folk are of the view that what they need more is not training and seminars but the recommended fi shing - net size which is 4.5 inches fi shing nets. The Government through BMUs should support fisher folk like Barias and Boat Owners to diversify into other economic activities like rice growing so that the current pressure exerted on the lake is reduced. To the ministry in-charge of ‘Bonna Bagagawale’ (Micro-Finance), it is important to establish Beach Banks in Fishing villages so that a saving culture among fisher folk is cultivated. Fisher folk prefer a loan scheme that would make it easy and convenient to acquire right-sized fi shing nets and life jackets. It is even better idea to give fishermen nets instead of money to buy the nets. Though BMUs are better positioned to protect the lake, they lack the necessary facilities like motorboat engines and fuel to do the required patrols, which abet illegality in fishing. Another weakness is absence of coordination between different BMUs on the lake. While some are vigilant in dealing with illegal fishing, others are not, yet the lake is one-ecosystem without boundaries. Therefore, the District Fisheries Offi cers in the three districts of Kasese, Bushenyi and Kamwenge need to cooperate, coordinate all BMU activities and be vigilant to serve and save the lake from over exploitation. Government through District Fisheries Officers should support less costly sensitisation programs about the role and mandate of BMUs. BMUs had fi nancial difficulties yet they are mandated to provide a number of services to their communities. They are better positioned to ensure sustainable exploitation of fi sh. Beneficiary districts of Lake George would benefit a lot if responsible BMUs are awarded tenders to manage fi sh-landing sites by their respective districts. Given their vested interest in the well being and sustainable stability of the Lake, BMUs are better managers of the lake than private tenderers who may not have an appreciation of fishing dynamics and are driven by profit maximisation intentions rather than resource conservation. Since Lake George’s potential of fish is getting overstretched without a shortterm workable measure to conserve the resource, we suggest that the Ministry of Agriculture, Animals Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) should impose ‘closed seasons’ (periods of no fishing) so as to allow the lake to regenerate. Before imposition of ‘closed seasons’, it is necessary to fi rst carry out adequate sensitisation among local fi shing communities whose lives have since time immemorial been linked to fi sh. They have to be accorded an appropriate frame of mind to consider alternative survival means. The Role and capacity of LAGBIMO - an umbrella organization that brings together actors in the management of Lake George whose membership straddles the three districts of Kasese, Bushenyi and Kamwenge. This body needs strengthening. However, given logistical and fi nancial constraints, the organisation is constrained in as far as ensuring effective management. Though it had motorised patrol boats on some fish landing sites, they in most cases were without a constant supply of fuel. It is important to strengthen such a regional umbrella organisation in order to coordinate inter-district BMU activities. Given the constant confl icts between fi sher folk on Lake George and UWA, whose mandate is for all wild life in the adjacent/surrounding national park, it is important to have a long standing coordination and conflict resolution mechanism. For instance, fishermen were requesting to use Butonga and Rwabitokye islands in the middle of Lake George as resting places against strong winds while UWA officers clarified that such places were being used as dens of illegal fishing activity and roasting poached game meat. We propose that with the BMU framework and LAGBIMO should put in place mechanisms to sort out emerging or prevailing conflicts. It is also suggested that district councillors of the three districts be trained in fishery matters soon after assuming political offi ces. Fisher folk noted that many politicians whose policies affect fi shing activities don’t appreciate the socio-economic dynamics of fi shing. Although there was constant data collection at fi sh landing sites, many fisher folk expressed ignorance about the use of such data. Therefore, fi shing data collected at the landing sites should be explained by DFOs, especially how it benefi ts fi shing communities. Other workable recommendations include; Fisheries Departments in concerned districts should enforce good fi shing practices. Fortunately, it was noted that the lake is small and has rapid fi sh stock recovery. DFOs must re-energize and strengthen baria’s associations, which had since weakened but used to be a powerful voice. We believe that the recommendations and ideas contained in this research report will go a long way in informing policy makers and policy implementers about what can be done to improve the status of fi sh-dependant communities, especially around Lake George.