For an island district to survive, it has to rely on mainly maritime activity, and perhaps the allure of tourism. A kick from agriculture would boost revenue but as economic records since its inception in 1989 show, fishing is the livelihood for most residents on this landmass district in Lake Victoria.
In the past two decades, a large harvest of fish, banana, beans, maize and timber was shipped to the mainland, from this isle, earning individuals income and the district revenue in terms of taxation. This went on as fishermen and traders struggled to beat the challenges associated with the risks of water transport and illegal activities.
Most fishermen use motorised or oar-powered canoes, built from timber, to ferry their merchandise. However, even these were few! Transporters, eager to earn an extra back, would overload, leading to capsise accidents.
That was not the biggest challenge. Catching fish is not as easy as it sounds! Not like in the Biblical times when Jesus ordered weary fishermen, to cast their net just once more and they had a catch they could not draw from the waters. It takes much more.
To catch fish, it takes long hours of endurance, especially in the wee hours of the night, on the lake, drifting with nets cast. Some days are bounty while other can be of scarcity, returning to the shores empty handed.
The species most sought after on the lake include; Nile Perch, Tilapia, Dagaa (also known as mukene) and Bagrus (catfish). Nile Perch’s predatory ways led to the decline of many other species or the extinction of them.
Since the higher the catch, the more the earnings, fishermen have indulged in illegal fishing activity. The district leaders, beach management committees and the Fisheries minister, Ruth Nankabirwa, have tried to stamp out the vice but it persists just like any illicit but lucrative trade.
Tonnes of captured immature fish (mudeeke) and outlawed fishing gear have been burnt but fishermen still find a way of procuring or making more.
In fact, dissuading residents from illegal fishing has become a permanent feature in the President’s speech whenever he visits Kalangala.
“Banyankore (herdsmen) never eat calves! It’s a taboo! Calves help the herd to regenerate. Why do you capture immature fish?” President Museveni has asked on one of his visits.
But there is also the menace of pollution! Residents here have a bad practice or is it a belief that, “ennyanja tenoga” literally meaning that the lake can never get saturated. So they, of course erroneously believe, however much you dump into the lake (Victoria), there will be no effect.
The effect is there and will affect both the perpetrators and innocent bystanders. The purity of water had declined. There rotting of dumped refuse, as environmentalists warned, affects the oxygen levels in the water and hence the breeding of fish declines.
The farming activities on the shores and the rampant deforestation in the hinterland have all combined to affect both the water levels and brooding of fish. And now the fish catch has declined and local revenue in Kalangala has slumped.
Kalangala district leaders have been relying on these levies, supported by subventions from government, to monitor and run projects within the district and deliver services to people in the 62 out of the 63 habited sub-islands.
The district gets most of its local revenue from the lake through taxing fish products, companies in fishing trade and licensing equipment used to fish. However, this revenue has since 2007 been dropping. In October 2007, the district fisheries officer Mr Jackson Baguma told a meeting of stakeholders that there was a decline in the amount of revenue generated from the fishing sector.
Declining fish stocks
Mr Baguma revealed that fish species had declined in the lake due to severe degradation of the ecosystem and illegal fishing methods. In 2007, he said, Kalangala was getting up to Shs689 million annually from fishing but the figure had shrunk to only Shs226 million, as indicated in the 2014 / 2015 district budget.
“We can’t get this amount if this lake is not secured from this high degradation,” he warned. “Anything that is considered harmful to aquaculture is considered as degradation of the lake,” Mr Baguma explained.
According to the District Chairperson Willy Lugoloobi, 18 trucks used to collect fish from Kalangala District per week. Today, he said, a mere seven trucks ply the route.
Each truck would ferry a minimum of 10 tons of fish worth Shs80 million from which the district would levy a three per cent tax. The District chief Finance Officer Kasule Jingo says the amount would total to approximately Shs2.5 billion a year.
This revenue contributed to about 70 per cent of the districts locally generated revenue by 2007. However, the district 2013/2014 budget indicated that fishing now contributes only 40 per cent of the local revenue.
Patrick Musenda, a renowned fisherman in Kananansi Landing Site in Mugoye Sub-county and owner of Namujopa Enterprises, a company that deals in fish products laments the reduced fish catch. “I pay taxes for each kilogram of fish that I buy at Shs20 but I end up paying less since there is much fish scarcity.”
Vicky Nakirigya a fish monger at Kisaba Landing Site in Kyamuswa Sub-county says as the population and number of people fishing increase, the stocks reduce. Hygiene is equally a challenge, she said.
“In Kisaba, there are limited latrines and the number of people is too high. You can imagine a landing site of about 3,000 people without latrines. They all use the lake! This is pollution,” Ms Nakirigya says.
Records show that Kisaba Landing Site in 1998 generated Shs101 million to the district treasury from fishing business only. However the district only received Shs29 million in the previous year. It is considered as one of the biggest landing sites in Kalangala District.
As a consequence of the shrink in revenue, Mr Lugoloobi says, many of the district projects like road construction, procurement of drugs for health centres, purchase of maritime ambulances, student sponsorship and monitoring of service provision, have been crippled. “The district council on so many occasions has failed to sit and debate or even formulate policies only because of the lack of revenue,” Mr Lugolobi conceded.
Resources lying idle
Mwena and Kitobo fish plants which cost Shs20 billion to erect, are lying idle since completion 10-years ago. According to Mr Lugoloobi, such projects were expected to boost the fishing business and help improve Kalangala’s local revenue. “We are about to give up since no effort has been done to help the fish plants start operating,” he said without pointing where the help should come from.
The fish plants are supposed to produce ice (for preservation) to be sold to licenced operators who buy fish from the district. Fish would also be bought to the facilities for further management before it is exported.
Other would-be sources of revenue to the district are the palm oil plantation owned by Bidco, planted after swathes of forest cover were planted, amidst protestations from environmentalists.
However, neither government nor the district authorities, tax it. The project only provides grants through “corporate social responsibility” when it deems it necessary.
In the end the district taxes only the 731 palm oil out growers, bringing in only a paltry 13 per cent to the district’s local revenue. “We earn not more than 50 million from oil palm growers in the district,” Mr Lugolobi says.
Palm oil growing blamed
Conservationists have also been quick to blame the growing of palm oil in former forest buffer zones, and in some place up to the shoreline, to the distorted Lake Victoria’s ecosystem and the drop in water levels.
In places like Kagulube, Dajje and Bukuzindu, palms were planted almost up to the lake. This, experts say, destroyed the breeding areas of fish and other aquatic creatures.
“In the long run, you find that many people in the area complain of limited fish products and output whenever they come back from the lake. This is because of the herbicides that are always disposed of by the plantation workers send away fish to other areas. They cannot live within areas that are polluted,” said Mr David Balironda, the Kalangala natural resources officer.
However, Bidco environment officer Richard Ssenkooza said measures have been put in place to ensure that a 50-meter buffer zone is maintained to keep the herbicides far away from the lake to protect aquatic life.
KALANGALA FIGHTS BACK
With the realisation that a whole livelihood of its people is at stake, the district in January passed an ordinance to clamp down on illegal fishing. Police officers and fisheries personnel patrol Lake Victoria shoreline in Kalangala to nab anybody involved in illegal fishing activity.
A fish protection levy worth Shs10,000 is collected from each fishing boat to help support the cause! Some fishermen are however reluctant to pay, perhaps because they feel they are trapping themselves.
The district boss, Mr Lugoloobi says, even government needs to act fast and tough to stamp out illegal fishing and pollution endangering East Africa’s largest fresh water lake.
“The government must understand that the lake can offer much more money for the country in terms of taxes and revenue from exports.”
Fisheries minister Ruth Nankabirwa also pointed out that even when government provides money to protect the lake, the ministry lacks enforcement officers. She said the environment police would be of necessity.