Virunga Lake Edward’s Blue Potential: a Real Alternative to Oil

A Real Alternative to Oil: Lake Edward’s sustainable Fisheries

Lake Edward is one of the many lakes in Central Africa’s Rift valley. Its waters spread across the neighboring countries in the region. The Lake is fully enclosed in Virunga National Park (Virunga), which is found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and in Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) that is located in Uganda. The DRC considers the Lake’s waters as a part of its national park, while Uganda considers the Lake separately from the national park.

A recent study on the DRC Fisheries of Lake Edward showed that Lake Edward’s fish resources are essential for survival and securing livelihoods, and the services provided by fish, should not be put in danger through non-sustainable short-term initiatives aiming at exploitation of non-renewable natural resources. Furthermore, approximately 10.000 families (90.000 people) living on the lake shore have fisheries-based livelihoods and their diet relies predominantly on fish from the lake, which constitutes more than 90% of the local protein source. The actual economic value of the fisheries resource is 24 million (24 000 000) US$/year. If more value would be added to the fish (for example through improved smoking, packing, etc.), the economic value could eventually rise to 36 million (36 000 000) US$. If the fish resource is managed in a sustainable way, the economic value over a 10-year period would be higher than 240 million (240 000 000) US$. Source

This is in line with one of the main pillars of the large-scale program to sustainably and efficiently harness Virunga National Park’s huge economic development potential called Virunga Alliance.

This next article is an excerpt of the last African Progress Panel’s report, Grain Fish Money Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolution. While there are many differences in the challenges posed by marine and inland fisheries _ like Lake Edward in Virunga National Park, there are also important similarities and lessons to be learned:

1 / No less than non-renewable petroleum and metals, Africa’s renewable fishery resources and forests are a potential source of wealth and opportunity.

2/ Governed wisely, they could support livelihoods, promote food security, generate export earnings and support vital ecological systems.

But in the absence of effective national institutions and international cooperation, Africa’s forestry and fishery resources are consolidating the power and personal fortunes of ruling elites, and enriching foreign traders. As with oil and minerals, governments across the region need to take responsibility for stopping the plunder of public assets – a task that most have failed to address.

3/ Unlike the mining and petroleum sectors, fisheries represent a critical source of employment, trade and food and nutrition security.

In West Africa, up to a quarter of jobs are linked to fisheries, and the sector provides essential proteins, minerals and other nutrients to the diets of the region’s people. Up to two-thirds of all animal protein eaten by people in coastal West African states is fish.(10) Meanwhile, artisanal fishers are linked to consumers through a vast intra-regional trading network in which women play a central role.(11) Apart from draining the region of revenue, overfishing is reducing fish stocks, lowering artisanal catches, harming the marine environment. It also is putting the livelihoods and food and nutrition security of millions of people in West Africa at risk.

4 / Taking action to ensure fisheries are sustainable, protecting assets and managing wisely resources

African governments have primary responsibility for policies that maintain fish stocks while enabling their people to benefit from them. But Africa’s capacity constraints mean it is crucial to strengthen international cooperation in defense of marine ecology and sustainable fisheries, which are vital global public goods.