Bussi Island, Where the Hope for Saving Lake Victoria Lies

Bussi is not that popular an island. In fact, on hearing of it for the first time, one could think it is one of the 84 Ssese islands, part of which form Kalangala district.

Yet the island, which can be reached within one hour by a simple wooden canoe from Nakiwogo landing site in Entebbe, is actually part of Wakiso district. The island is only about 10 kilometres from Entebbe town. At Bussi, Entebbe international airport remains within sight, and the skies above the island occasionally get noisy as planes land and fly out of Entebbe.

Despite the short distance, Bussi is one of the hard-to-access areas, because of inefficient means of transport. But this hasn’t bogged down the island. Instead, it is fast-gaining a reputation for pioneering a new approach to saving Lake Victoria. Africa’s largest lake, which directly provides almost two million East Africans with household incomes, is under threat from different vices.

They include skyrocketing population growth, illegal fishing methods and industrialisation, which have led to a decline in water quality, reduced fish stocks and pollution. Since 2011, the island has served as the incubation centre for a project aimed at improving the health of human life, flora and fauna in and around Lake Victoria.

The initiative, known as the Health of People and the Environment in Lake Victoria Basin (HoPE-LVB) project, is being implemented by Pathfinder International in partnership with Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), Ecological Christian Organisation (ECO) and OSIENALA (Friends of Lake Victoria).

Using a three-pronged approach to issues affecting people living in the Lake Victoria basin, the project integrates the three aspects of population, health and environment (PHE) to address several social issues. The social issues include access to health services, especially family planning, sexual and reproductive health. In the same breath, the project helps communities to manage natural resources and conserve the ecosystems that they depend on for their livelihood.

Model household:

On June 18, the parliamentary fisheries’ forum, headed by Dr Lulume Bayigga, visited the island to see the progress of the three-year HoPE-LVB project. The project is funded by MacArthur Foundation, David Lucile, Packard Foundation and United States Agency of International Development (USAID) to the tune of $3.5m (about Shs 8.9bn).

On arrival, the parliamentarians first visited John Kiwanuka’s model household at Gulwe landing site. The former National Resistance Army (NRA) fighter, who had been frustrated by agriculture because of poor farming methods, has a modest permanent home similar to others on the island. His home is surrounded by lush vegetation. On a seven-acre piece of land, 54-year-old Kiwanuka has a combination of tall trees, beneath which he has hundreds of coffee plants and dozens of banana trees.

“I had given up on life. I had even started growing old so fast, but now I feel better and youthful. I eat well and I am so clean,” says an upbeat Kiwanuka.

Stopping beside a lush green banana plant, Kiwanuka narrates that his frustrations grew after his crops withered away under his watch. However, after HoPE started teaching him better farming methods, Kiwanuka says he realised that all was not lost.

“The cow dung that I used to throw away, I was aised to use it to fertilise my garden. And it is already paying off. Coffee, where I used to harvest only 50 kilogrammes, I have so far harvested 250 kilogrammes and yet the harvesting has just started,” he reveals.

Today, Kiwanuka’s home is more than just a home. It is an exemplary holistic lifestyle that incorporates cultivation, sanitation (with a clean latrine and water point), clean cooking, reforestation and livestock, which provide him with dung.

Kiwanuka is one of several islanders on Lake Victoria whose fortunes had changed for the worse due to declining fisheries on the lake. On the islands themselves, land productivity is down due to soil degradation, desertification, loss of biodiversity, diseases of livestock and crops as well as poor development and trade policies

According to Samuel Mugaya, ECO’s conservation and livelihood officer, the project started with 10 model households among which was that of Kiwanuka. The number has since grown to 152 households.

Threats on resources:

“The natural resources in this area are facing a serious threat. There is a growing number of people turning to fishing as a means of livelihood. But given the dwindling fish stocks, they end up frustrated – leaving them with no option but to turn to trees for charcoal burning, timber and agriculture,” notes Mugaya.

Bussi has got a rapid population growth of 4.1 per cent compared to 3.2 per cent national growth rate, with total fertility rate of about seven children per woman.

Deforestation on the island is for real. While driving towards Kyanjazi landing site, the ugly face of degradation is evident. The island, which was formerly a dense rainforest area, has been all cleared – with the trees cut and ferried to the mainland where there is high demand for timber and charcoal.

Working with the locals, the project has established tree nursery beds and given out 40,000 tree seedlings to people. But because it is hard to attract people to plant trees, the project has tagged along fruit trees and coffee growing as a motivation for planting trees. The project also introduced the idea of gazetting parts of the lake as fish-breeding zones.

This idea was pioneered by Kyanjanzi beach management unit (BMU). The unit, which comprises of 200 fishermen, gazetted nine fish-breeding zones. These, according to Kyanjanzi BMU chairman Laurencio Tadwa, are no-go zones for fishermen. And it is starting to pay off.

“We are beginning to see a tremendous increment in the fish cuts since we started the intervention in October 2013,” says Tadwa.

“Previously, the fish had reduced so much that you would go fishing and come back with nothing. But ever since we gazetted these breeding zones, things have changed. Other beach management units are admiring us and copying our methods of work.”

According to Mugaya, apart from gazetting fish-breeding zones, the project also provides alternative sources of livelihoods to fishermen as a way of reducing pressure on the lake and environment.

“There is behavioural change,” says Mugaya. “The community is realising that there is need to protect this resource because they are not going anywhere.”

The project, which is being pioneered on Wakiso’s Bussi island and Jaguzi in Mayuge district, will for the second phase roll out to other islands on Lake Victoria.

Source : The Observer

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