By Hannah Hillebrand
When I ask what they love about fishing, Hamisi, Chafwakale, Kida and Roderick (pictured below left to right) all answer unanimously: the lake gives us everything. They’re four members of the Kaweta Beach Village Committee, one of the 143 committees in this district. Together, they have been working for over 10 years to make the fishing industry on their stretch of Lake Malawi more sustainable. In partnership with government officials and the local chiefs, BVCs work to prohibit illegal fishing nets, promote better fishing methods and encourage their fellow fishermen to take accountability for fishing sustainably to ensure there will be fish in Lake Malawi for future generations.
It’s hard and dangerous work fishing here. Mwera winds can make the lake treacherous, and it’s not uncommon to hear of deaths. They are also working to improve safety standards on boats: outfitting them with life vests and ensuring they have emergency lights to signal for help when needed. They have also recently gained access to better weather reports and have a system set up to warn each other not to fish when high winds are predicted.
The committee describe the initial resistance they encountered when first working to change practices. It was tough to get people’s buy-in. It took many years of gentle persistence to create the incredible changes they’ve seen over the last ten years. Previously extinct fish have returned to the lake, their catch is noticeably improved, and they are all benefitting from this progress.
There is still work to be done, however. Despite the positive changes they’ve seen, they are feeling the effects of our changing climate. Breeding grounds are affected, the timing of rainy season has changed, and last year they saw a massive number of dead fish due to changed oxygen levels in the lake. What impresses me most about these four men is their knowledge of how the forest affects the lake. They all talk to me about how saving the lake starts and ends in the hills surrounding their village. They’re acutely aware of the way climate change is driven by deforestation and speak highly of their colleagues working on tree conservation projects.
They are all grateful for Ripple Africa’s support in the form of education, organisation and funding. They feel hopeful that the work they are doing and the work their colleagues are doing will continue to have a positive impact on the future of Malawi.
To read more of Hannah’s work visit: Blog — Alaska Light Photography