Seremos Kamuturaki, Executive Director of the Uganda Fisheries & Fish Conservation Association (UFFCA), says he runs a “monopoly.” There’s no other advocacy group, he says, giving a voice to the fishers and fishing communities surrounding Lake Victoria (the largest lake in Africa), Lake Albert, or Lake Edward.
Like the pastoralist communities we’ve been writing about, policy makers have had a tendency to ignore the plight of fishing communities. One reason for this, says Mr. Kamuturaki, is because “government agencies are afraid to go into the water,” both literally and figuratively. For people that didn’t grow up in fishing villages, like Mr. Kamuturaki, there’s a fear of the water, he says, that prevents them from understanding the challenges fishermen and fisherwomen face. That’s why he’s been working since the 1990s to help gain rights for fishing communities, while also developing fisheries policies that increase income and protect fish populations.
Although fishers have an abundance of resources, they still tend to be among the poorest in Uganda. Government run fisheries management policies were supposed to help give them a voice in decision-making, but corruption has stifled these efforts, leading to food insecurity and overfishing from the lakes.
And the lack of representation for women members of the fishing communities leaves many of them and their children without a source of income and food. Because of the growth in fish exports in Uganda, women are now competing against multi-national companies for fish for their families.
In some cases, says Mr. Kamuturaki, women are forced to “befriend” male fishers and exchange “sex for fish” in order to get food. Not surprisingly, this has helped encourage the spread of HIV/AIDS in fishing communities, where the virus is spreading rapidly.
But UFFCA is working on a pilot project with four women’s groups to help them become less dependent on both men and fish. Although they’re helping women buy boats and nets for fishing, UFFCA is also helping them diversify their incomes, by encouraging small-scale poultry and other livestock production. These projects, says Mr. Kamuturaki, take very little funding, but can have huge benefits and he’s hoping to get more funding to scale them up.
He hopes to “show the world that fishing communities need support” and that they are important for both increasing food security and protecting an important natural resource.
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