Africa
2 Feb 2016

Securing sustainable futures for wetland communities in Lake Victoria Basin

A section of Lutembe bay wetland ©BirdLife International
A section of Lutembe bay wetland ©BirdLife International
By Mercy Kariuki and Chris Magero

Wetlands and Local Empowerment work hand in hand around the Lake Victoria Basin. Communities around Lake Victoria rely on wetlands for their livelihoods. These wetlands provide important ecosystem services including food, raw materials, fresh water, medicine, wastewater treatment, carbon sequestration, erosion prevention and fertility. They also provide habitats for species and support cultural, recreational and tourism activities. On this 2nd day of February 2016, we celebrate World Wetlands Day and look at how these wetlands are providing sustainable livelihoods for their surrounding communities.

Lake Victoria Basin is one of the most densely populated rural areas in the world, extending across the five East African countries of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi. With high levels of poverty being a major hindrance to sustainable biodiversity management around the lake, nevertheless, it is regarded as an engine of eco nomic growth. Rapid agricultural expansion and overexploitation are among the well documented threats to the biodiversity and ecological integrity of wetlands around Lake Victoria basin, resulting in pollution, soil erosion, increased sedimentation and reduced fish catch, with consequent direct impacts on local livelihoods.

BirdLife International and its national Partners in these countries are working with communities in eight Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) to strengthen the capacity of community based Local Conservation Groups (LCGs) to conserve biodiversity and to sustain the ecosystem benefits of Lake Victoria Basin for human well-being. These IBAs include Mpungwe Mountains and Ruvubu National Park in Burundi, Yala Swamp and Dunga Beach in Kenya, Akanyaru wetland in Rwanda, Mara Bay and Masirori Swamp in Tanzania and Mabamba Bay and Lutembe Bay in Uganda.

LCG members from Akanyaru working on handcrafts from papyrus. © ACNR

“This exercise is time consuming but sustainable. Therefore, as women we realized that we should use this waste as raw material to generate incomes for our families. The idea was simple but required adequate skills: to dry the hyacinths, prepare them and make handcrafts”, Nyiraneza explained.

 

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These groups that have been enabled to advance the development of their crafts from either papyrus or hyacinth have been able to demonstrate that they can produce superior market oriented products to those that they were making before. This means that they are now able to make more money from the new products.

Ecotourism is also a common livelihood activity that most of the young people living adjacent to the lake shores engage in. Ecotourism has the potential to support environmental sustainability while also providing economic benefits to the local communities.  In Yala and Dunga in Kenya, and Lutembe bay in Uganda, the LGGs were provided with basic training on tour guiding as well as the necessary equipment such as binoculars, guide books and boats. The training and equipment have bolstered the confidence of the guides in receiving and managing guests who come for tourism in their wetlands. In Lutembe, the LCGs also have diversified livelihood projects such as tree nurseries, vegetable gardens, liquid soap and bar soap manufacture, crisps and bagiya (a rice sweetmeat) making, and agroforestry.

As a way of showcasing their achievements to others in the community, the LCGs with support from the national BirdLife Partners, organise events to celebrate international activities such as World Wetlands Day and World Environment Day.

Wetlands therefore play a vital role for the future of humanity and have special relevance for achieving the new global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As demonstrated by these grass roots projects, effective wetland conservation and economic activity can combine to achieve some of the SDGs:  poverty reduction; sustainable agriculture and harvesting; control of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices; and implementation of science-based management plans.

LCGs working with the BirdLife Partnership across the Lake Victoria Basin IBAs are working to identify and evaluate their wetland resources and the threats that they are facing, going on to develop Community Action Plans that can help to address these issues and ensure the sustainability of resources.

Cattle grazing at Akanyaru Wetland © BirdLife International

LCGs from Lutembe, Mabnamba, Yala and Dunga received trainings on developing a project which aimed to improve their livelihood and contribute to the conservation of their wetland ecosystem. Members LCGs who are involved in these projects have positively demonstrated the benefits that they gain from the wetland through engaging in livelihood initiatives.

For example, in Yala wetlands, Kenya, LCGs have received training on the potential uses of the papyrus product, through which they gained knowledge and skills, increasing their ability to develop a more diversified and market oriented product. In Akanyaru wetlands, Rwanda, a member of Cooperative Sugira Musenyi (KOSUMU), whose members depend on the resources from Akanyaru wetland, explained how the local community jointly engages in the removal of water hyacinth, an invasive species, using it to make handicraft products such as mats, hats and bags.