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Fishermen adopt the use of solar lamps on lake to boost catch

BUSINESS NEWS
By Isaiah Gwengi | February 1st 2021

The solar-powered lamps are hired by fishermen at Sh70 per lamp (Photo: Isaiah Gwengi)

As the sun sets over the waters of Lake Victoria in Usenge Beach, Siaya County, the soft sound of the lapping waves is drowned by the hum of motorboats splitting the oranges and blues of the twilight sky.

At first only one or two appear, but soon the few become many, a fleet spreading over the water, appearing to chase the horizon. The vast expanse of the lake, the largest in Africa, appears to swallow the boats as darkness descends.

From Usenge beach, where many of the fishermen live, the collection of lamps on the water looks like a city. Hundreds of lights shimmer and meld into a sparkling succession of glowing orbs. To a casual observer, it could be a town, or a highway in the distance. It’s not until you’re among them, propelled by a fishing boat, that the true nature, and purpose, of these lamps is revealed.

Kennedy Murage is one of the fishermen who work the night shift under a blanket of stars.

Cost of paraffin

In the past, they were using paraffin lanterns, but many are now switching to the use of rechargeable lights occasioned by the ever rising cost of paraffin in Kenya.

Currently, a litre of kerosene costs about Sh90 thereby increasing the cost of input for the fishermen who spend 12 hours in the waters trying to get a bountiful catch.

“Rechargeable lamps are providing a better option for us and cutting our expenditure on fuel,” says Murage, adding that they would spend at least Sh150 on paraffin and other items for one lamp and between them, they used about five lamps so that added up to Sh600.

But they now use a total of Sh700 on at least 10 lamps because they are charged at between Sh70 and Sh100 for each lamp.

The lamp, which is powered by solar batteries, is fixed on floaters and dropped into the lake at night.

Murage tells The Standard that most fishermen in Usenge, Uhanya, Honge and Misori have for the last five years embraced solar lamps, which he adds are also safe.

"There is no fear of burning should the lamp fall, or contaminating the fish with paraffin or even polluting the lake with the lamp oil," he said.

Monicah Akinyi, a fish trader, says she used to spend a lot of money on paraffin.

"The lanterns required daily maintenance and there were very few people who knew how to repair them," she says, adding that she now saves between Sh200 and Sh300 from every lamp.

The high cost of kerosene eats into the profits of fishermen leaving them in a cycle of poverty, said Isaack Onyonyi, a marketing officer for We Tu, a social enterprise organisation that delivers sustainable and innovative solutions for better mobility, clean energy, and safe water.

Transform their lives

"Fishermen make so little money because the cost of input is very high," said Onyonyi.

Solar power is a more affordable, clean and safe alternative whose use among the fishing communities can greatly transform their lives.

He added that the use of solar lamps also lowers pollution of the lake as a result of reduced spillage from the paraffin lamps.

"Fishing has been crucial to the lakeside communities thus the need to increase their access to solar energy, which enhances their economic activities," he said.

He says as an organisation, they rent the lamps to fishermen after paying a deposit of Sh1,000.

Speaking when they launched a charging hub in Usenge beach, Onyonyi said the Lithium-ion batteries replace the widely used lead-acid batteries that are harmful to the environment and lake water.

Threat to Nile perch

"Our model gives the fishermen an opportunity to rent the lamps and pay Sh70 as recharge and maintenance fee," he explained.

While environmental experts say the lamp is clean and environmentally friendly, some people claim it is a threat to Nile perch.

Enock Mwanje, a Uganda Revenue Authority Supervisor based in Hama Island, termed the lamp as an illegal fishing equipment depleting fish stock in Lake Victoria.

According to Christopher Aura, assistant director of Freshwater Systems Research at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, Kisumu Centre, the lamp favours increased harvest of other fish species while forcing the Nile perch to migrate to look for food elsewhere.

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