DR Congo: How overfishing leads to malnutrition (Syfia Grands Lacs)

| September 27, 2010

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On the western shores of Lake Kivu, many residents are getting used to eating nothing but vegetables.  Residents of Kabare and Kalehe, near Bukavu in South Kivu province, cannot buy meat or fish. It is simply too expensive. They have turned to young fish, or fry, known locally as sambaza, for their animal protein. But that food source is now also in jeopardy.

Catches of sambaza have dropped dramatically in the last two years. A number of factors have contributed. There has been no control over the number of people fishing. Fishers do not comply with “no fishing” times of year. They use banned nets with small mesh to capture huge quantities of fry.

The provincial environment division has burned about twenty of the banned nets. Symphorien Mwandulo is president of Copefima, a co-operative of fishermen in South Kivu. He welcomes this intervention, but also expresses his frustration. He complains that, “The fishermen use these nets with the blessing of some officers from the environment, fisheries and forestry divisions.” If fish stocks continue to drop, Mr. Mwandulo knows he will lose his main source of income.

Fishermen used to bring home an average of five kilos of fish per trip. Mr. Mwandulo says that now they rarely catch more than two kilos. As a result, many fishermen have abandoned the west coast of the lake. Barhebana Jules is one of these fishermen. He says, “We moved to Nkuvu on Idjwi Island where the catch is still passable.” Other fishermen are now working as labourers until things improve.

The diets of the poorest families have changed. They can no longer afford fish fry. Deo Muhindo is a fisherman. He says, “Most families now eat vegetables such as cabbage, aubergine, amaranth and taro leaves.” Cikwanine Immaculate is a housewife. She says, “I feed my children with eggplant and cabbage, with scraps of salted dried fish.”

Animal protein has substantially decreased in the diet. The most vulnerable are the first to suffer. A nurse at a clinic on Ibinja Island says, “Children of two years old weigh between five and seven kilos, while the average weight at this age is 13 kilos.”  Desire Muhigirwa, president of the fishermen of Ibinja Island warns, “We fear the consequences of malnutrition in the coming days.”