On a beautiful sunny morning at around 10 am, women at Kaiso-Tonya landing site are busy drying silver fish along the newly tarmacked Hoima-Kaiso Tonya road. The women who are drying on used up fishing nets seem to be jealously caring for their fish that no single one drops in the process of drying.
Since fishing activities are organized along gender lines where men fish and women process and sell fish, this is a daily routine to many women who depend on Lake Albert as a source of livelihood.
However, to a 60 year old Betty Bagadila who has lived at the landing site for all her entire life, silver fish was not the type to admire until their endowed natural resource - Lake Albert was threatened by reduced fish stock.
Fred Kabagambe, a fisherman and Chairperson of Kaiso-Tonya Green Radio Listener’s Club attributes reduced fish stock to seismic operations that were done during exploration of oil and gas in the lake, overfishing as a result of population explosion brought by excitement of oil discovery and use of illegal fishing gears.
Bagadila says the threat has rendered many women jobless with no source of livelihood since they have predominantly relied on fishing for long.
“Women have nothing to sell for income, a few sell silver fish which is also scarce! Some families have broken up and men have run away as they have nothing to feed their families. Some women have been left with no other option but to sell their bodies to feed their families,” says Bagadila.
Nevertheless, Bagadila is lucky. She is member of Kaiso-Tonya Women’s group where about 25 women have found pride in weaving as a sustainable and alternative source of livelihood.
The women who are supported by National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) under Sustainability School Program and are also members of Community Green Radio Listener’s Club weave baskets made out of local materials like reeds; bags, necklaces and earrings made out of beads and also knit table cloths from threads after which they sell and get income.
A 25 year old Ajuna slyvia, a single mother of three says weaving has helped her to meet her family needs and pay school fees for her children.
“I couldn’t believe that I would find my way in weaving until fish business started staggering. Here at the lake, fish is on competition because it is too scarce. And I cannot compete with men. I mostly weave baskets and this has helped me to continue providing for my family,” says Ajuna.
Sylivia Kemigisa, the group chairperson explains that their items are sold between shillings 1,000(about 0.3 dollars) and shillings 50,000(about 14 dollars) depending on the type and size.
“We have no good soils to farm and besides, not every woman can afford setting up a business so weaving has become a better income alternative. Since they use local materials, women can weave as many products as they want”, Ms Kemigisa explains.
Kemigisa says with empowerment from NAPE and sensitization from Green Radio, the women have been able to find solution themselves to challenges affecting them. She says women have also embarked on using energy saving stoves and making charcoal briquettes as a sustainable alternative to over dependency on wood fuel.
She reports that women were restricted from accessing Kabwoya Wildlife reserve for firewood due to existing oil wells therefore adopting the making of charcoal briquettes that are a best alternative to fuel wood and use of energy saving stoves that uses less firewood hence controlling the reserve from degradation.
During a community exchange visit that had drawn community members that work with NAPE under sustainability school program from Buliisa district; Rwamutonga, Kyakaboga and Kigaaga villages in Hoima district and Butimba in Kikuube in September this year, the women demonstrated practically how charcoal briquettes are made out of kitchen wastes and how to make energy saving stoves. They also displayed their products like baskets, beads, hand bags and earrings.
They are optimistic that they will train and empower more women so that they can become self-reliant.
Allan Kalangi, the NAPE Sustainability school manager said NAPE will continue sensitizing women on alternative source of livelihoods and sustainable energy use alternatives.
STORY WRITTEN BY PRECIOUS NATURINDA