Lambu’s fishermen take to saving their landing site.
Lambu Landing site is amongst the numerous fishing sites on the shores of Lake Victoria that are choking on waste plastic pollution. Declining fish stocks and overfishing as a result of this pollution are in turn destroying the lake and the economic engine of the people. Lambu’s fishermen with Godfrey Ssemanda in the lead, have taken the initiative to clean up and save the lake that has for decades been a means of their survival. Every month, the fishermen collect over 7.5 tons of waste, a good start to solving a challenging situation.
Vice Versa Global Journalist Martha Nalukenge visited Lambu and below she writes about their efforts to save their source of livelihood.
The fishermen’s initiative
When approaching Lambu, one gets a sense of unperturbed beauty as they look beyond the horizons of the vast waters of Lake Victoria. However, upon getting closer, this falsified beauty quickly turns into an ugly picture of heaps of floating plastic waste. This waste has taken over the shores of Lambu and many other fishing sites along the shores of Lake Victoria.
Further away another sight catches the eye, miserable looking fishermen who quickly express their exhaustion from cleaning up plastic waste that keeps piling up. The plastic waste is dumped on Lake Victoria and ends up at different fish land sites, Lambu being one of these.
“I decided to start collecting plastic waste for recycling after realising it was destroying and endangering the lake and aquatic life. By collecting and recycling the waste we are helping unclog the fish breeding areas and this in turn improves our catch,” explains Ssemanda.
Today he is a Resource Recovery Agent categorised as a ‘Collector Collectors’ a term used to refer to large scale plastic collectors who buy waste from their small-scale counterparts.
The 52-year-old native of Kalisizo village in Kyotera district has been a resident of Lambu Landing site, Bukakata sub-county, situated in Uganda’s central region for 28 years. Ssemanda moved to Lambu to help his mother with her fish business. He later became a fisherman after realising the economic benefits he could gain from the activity.
“At the time, fishing was a very lucrative business, unfortunately this is not the case anymore,” says Ssemanda. He continues; “plastic waste pollution has led to dwindling fish catches leaving the fishermen with no choice but to take part in plastic collections and recycling.”
This is not only a second economic activity but also enables the fisherman to ensure the lake is not destroyed as a result of pollution. They have become waste collectors during the day and fishermen in the night.
“As a result of the pollution, I was not catching enough fish to provide for my family. Turning to recycling and collecting plastic waste is not only beneficial to the lake but also to my economic situation and that of many other fishermen,” says Ssemanda.
Lambu landing site is one of the biggest and most populated landing sites in Masaka District and along the shores of Lake Victoria. For years, it has faced challenges of poor solid waste disposal from the fishing community.
Ssemanda set up the collection and recycling business after he was trained by Eco Brixs, a recycling company based in Masaka on the dangers of plastic pollution.
“Eco Brixs introduced me to the idea of recycling for money. At the time most of the fishing villages were choking on plastic waste,” explains Ssemanda.
With this income he has been able to educate his children, the eldest a graduate, provide for his family and start saving. He has also been able to invest in his fishing business and is creating employment opportunities for people at the landing site.
Ssemanda has mentored over sixty-eight fishermen, he employes 6 fishermen and 15 people within his plastic and waste collection business. He has nine collection sites in Kazilu, kabasisi, kunya, Ensi Eganye, Bahutu, Kakyanga, Nansere, Lambu and Kikonoka.
With over 3,000 kilometres of shores, Lake Victoria cuts across, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. It is Africa’s largest freshwater lake and the second largest in the world.
A shared resource within the three countries, the lake’s pollution by plastic waste has been a major concern for the East African (EA) communities.
The unchecked disposal of solid waste matter at Lambu landing site mirrors what is happening on other landing sites not only in Uganda but also in Kenya and Tanzania.
Where there are no laws……
Laws on cross-border plastic waste pollution on Lake Victoria are non-existent. According to a study published in ScienceDirect, “microplastics that derived from degradation of large plastic debris were present in surface water of Lake Victoria”.
The study goes on to say that proper plastic waste management measures should be put in place and implemented in communities around the lake in order to safeguard the ecosystem benefits derived from it.
Luckily, this lack of laws has not stopped civil society organisations (CSOs), NGOs, volunteers, local community leaders and fishermen from finding a solution to plastic waste pollution.
In August 2021, Masaka District Environment authorities in collaboration with Biodiversity Conservation Foundation (BCF), Green Climate Campaign Africa (GCCF) and Fridays for Future Uganda (FFU) launched a campaign to relieve Lake Victoria of the solid waste especially plastics and polythene bags at Lambu.
While cross border waste pollution has drawn attention amongst the East African community, measures to solve the problem are still lacking.
Lambu’s ‘mad man’
Ssemanda’s efforts to save the lake do not come without challenges. He gets mocked by residents who call him mad for being a Resource Recovery Agent. On the contrary this has not stopped him from collecting and recycling plastics and waste around the landing site.
Currently, he is responsible for the Game changer – Uganda’s first ever plastic boat made one hundred percent from recycled plastic waste. A centre of tourist attraction at Lambu landing site, the boat is also inspiring fisherman to campaign for proper waste plastic disposal along the lakeshores. It also creates awareness of plastic pollution and recycling at the landing site.
“Championing for proper disposal of plastic waste at the landing site has given me a sense of comfort knowing I am contributing to saving our Lake Victoria from pollution,” Ssemanda says.