In April 2019, leaders of districts sharing Lake Kyoga banned fishing on the water body to allow the Uganda People Defense Forces Fisheries Protection Unit to restock it with fish species which were facing extinction.
The ban was also aimed at regulating illegal fishing activities and conserving water bodies.
Then, the leaders had resolved that the ban would last just about two months. However, in September, the ban was extended after a review meeting held under Lake Kyoga Integrated Management Organization (Lakimo) – an umbrella organization for all districts sharing the lake – where they found out that illegal fishing was still prevalent.
As a result of the ban, hundreds of fishermen lost their main source of income while others resorted to various illegal activities in order to survive.
But all hope is not lost.
Last month, fishermen from the villages of Munami, Zengebe and Kibuye villages in Rwampanga Sub county, in Nakasongola District were given a second chance at life, after the Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU) management opened the gates of the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary for them in line with the fund’s mission.
RFU is a non-governmental organisation established in 1997 with the main aim of repopulating the country with rhinos.
Todate, the sanctuary, lying on 7,000 hectares in Nakasongola District is home to 30 Southern White Rhinos, up from first six which were translocated from Kenya and USA in 2005 and 2006. Two of the other remaining rhinos in the country can be found at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, Entebbe.
Conservationists have described the RFU project, which is also home to about 30 different animal species, as the ‘Best Breeding Programme in the world’ since no rhino at the sanctuary has ever been poached.
“Through conservation education and community projects, we aim to win the hearts and minds of the surrounding communities,” Ange Genade, the executive director of RFU.
One of such projects, Genade said, is to allow of about 3,000 head of cattle belonging to the community to graze inside the sanctuary.
“Not only do they graze in our farms, but we also vaccinate, spray and deworm them,” she said at a function where 38 fishermen from the village of Munami were given an opportunity to work with the sanctuary.
The function was attended by the Nakasongola District Environment Officer, Charles Andama; Chief Administrative Officer, Alex Felix Majeme; RDC Dan Muganga; District Chair Rt. Lt. Sam Kigula among others.
Part of the fishermen’s new role is to clear high shrubs and bushes in order to ease the feeding of rhinos. In return, they will get paid a minimal fee until the lake is re-opened. It will then be up to them to decide whether they want to go back or not.
According to Daudi Makobore, RFU’s board chairman, the new arrangement is a blessing for both parties.
“As you are all aware, RFU is a not for profit organization that certainly looks out for its own. We shall keep our eyes open in order to create an alternative way of surviving other than fishing for all of you,” he said.
Hassan Kagira, who represented the fishermen, welcomed the move, saying atleast now they are sure the ban on fishing was not the end of the world.
“We thank madam Genade for the opportunity to work with the sanctuary. Now we can feed our families as we wait for the fishing ban to be lifted,” he said much to the applause of his colleagues, who included seven women.
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