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This document reports upon the preliminary compilation and analysis of data collected through a survey of Lake Victoria-Uganda fishing communities carried out by the Socio-Economic (SEC) working group of the FAO/UNDP FISHIN Project UGA/87/007.

1.1 Survey Organisation and Objectives

Field investigations took place from March to May 1991 and covered all the fisheries regions of the Uganda sector of the Lake (see maps, Figures 1 and 2, Appendix 1). The main aim of the survey was to create an information base that could serve as a foundation for development planning and management of the Lake Victoria fisheries. An account of the organisation and conduct of the survey has been provided in a previous SEC Report (Kitakule and Reynolds 1991). Briefly to recapitulate, three questionnaires were devised to elicit information at the community (SECSURV1), household (SECSURV2), and individual enterprise (SECSURV3) levels respectively. General topics for investigation were established as follows:

Of principal concern here is the material collected through the community-level interviews, though some of the household-level data has been summarised as well. A fuller review of survey findings for all three levels -- community, household, and individual enterprise -- will be presented in a Field Document now under preparation (Reynolds and Kitakule 1991).

1.2 Sample Selection and Sample Case Weightings

Sample selection was based on a stratified approach which ensured full geographical representation of the lakeshore and islands. The five fisheries regions of Lake Victoria -- Entebbe, Jinja, Tororo, Masaka and Kalangala -- were divided into a total of 50 strata, and one community from each stratum was selected for inclusion in the first stage sample. Communities were selected randomly in proportion to the size of the landing associated with them. Five households from each community were randomly selected for the second stage sample, and there was complete enumeration of all individual fishing-related enterprises for the third stage of the exercise. It was anticipated that weighting factors would be applied to the case data collected for the final tabulation of survey results.

Case data were assigned weight values in proportion to selection probabilities at each stage of the sampling. This provided a basis for estimating socio-economic parameters for the whole of the Ugandan sector of the Lake. Since the chance for any one community to be selected for first stage sampling was a function of its size in relation to all other communities within a given stratum, that community becomes representative of its stratum according to the inverse of its probability of selection.

This procedure was extended for the second and third stage case data. Weight assignments for any one household case and for any household member were determined by taking the inverse of the community selection probability times the total number of households within the community over the number of households actually sampled.

The weighting factors computed in this manner for the first and the second and third stages of sampling within each of the 50 strata are shown in Table 1 (Appendix 2). The strategy through which the sample communities were assigned their original probabilities of selection is more fully described in the earlier report (Kitakule and Reynolds 1991).

All survey data were coded and captured casewise onto dBASEIII PLUS files. These were then converted into SPSS/PC+™ system files for processing and preliminary analysis. SPSS/PC+™V3.0 was used for this purpose. It should be borne in mind that the results presented in the various tables of Appendix 2 reflect case weightings for the raw frequency distributions, not the distributions of sample communities or households according to their actual numbers. In principle the weighted frequencies represent all the fishing communities (somewhere around 900) and all the individual households (somewhere around 30,000) lying within the Ugandan sector of Lake Victoria -- as estimated on the basis of the survey sampling strategy. In practice however it must be remembered that the absolute figures associated with particular characteristics or features -- n communities display this, n households that, etc. -- are purely extrapolations. It is advisable therefore to interpret them only in a broadly indicative way. Thus it is usually the percentage or relative distributions that are remarked upon in this initial review of findings.


2.1 Settlement Patterns and Access to Land

The fishing communities in the five regions of Lake Victoria-Uganda can be boldly divided into two categories -- namely, those that are dispersed around the general area of a landing and those that are more tightly clustered as nucleated settlements at or near a landing.

Dispersed fishing communities are associated with sites which are used only for the purposes of landing catches and beaching canoes. Such types of communities were found to make up less than 20% of the total communities on the Lake (Table 2).

It is thus the nucleated settlement at or very near a landing site that is by far the most common type of fishing community. Whether dispersed or nucleated, settlements can either be ‘temporary’ or ‘permanent’ affairs. As these labels suggest, the former tend to be short-term or transitory whilst the latter are of a more established or fixed character. This difference is reflected in the kind of building materials that residents have used to construct their shelters, shops, and kiosks.

The frequencies of types and numbers of houses found in fishing community settlements are shown in Tables 3 and 4, respectively. By far the most usual sort of dwelling is the simple mud-and-wattle ‘standard’ unit with a grass- or reed-thatched roof. It can be seen that the number of houses ranges from only a few to as many as 500.

The survey indicated that fully two-thirds of Lake Victoria communities are situated on private land (Table 5). The remainder are found on Government land, including Forest Reserve areas in some cases. Some are also to be found on what is known as mailo land, or former ‘crown’ land of the traditional Buganda kingdom. Such land now has the status of freehold property in the sense that individual titles to it can be bought and sold.

The fact that so many residents live as tenants or ‘spontaneous settlers’ on land not their own, together with frequent lack of any clearly specified tenure agreement, has obvious implications for domestic and community development undertakings. In this context the generally poor state of public services and the simple and temporary type of housing, conditions that are immediately apparent to any outside observer visiting these communities, come as no surprise.

2.2 Population and Household Size

Populations of individual settlements may range in size from a few individuals to as many as 4500 or more (Table 6). Estimations based on survey findings put the population of all Lake Victoria-Uganda fishing communities combined at about 130,000 (Table 7). With a total household count estimated at around 32,800, it can be reckoned that mean household size within the fishing communities is roughly 4. Table 8 shows breakdowns of the population by region, sex, and age. The data suggest that Tororo Region has the highest mean household size (6.4), and that Kalangala has the lowest (3.7). They also suggest that there are more males than females in the overall population of the lakeshore communities -- about 55% as compared to 45%. The age structure of the general population is not entirely uniform across the different regions, but on the whole it appears that community age composition is heavily skewed towards the young. In all cases at least 70% of the community residents are 30 years old or less. In most cases about half of the population is made up of individuals who are 20 years or less.

2.3 Community Growth and Development

Survey findings depict a pattern of substantial growth in Lake Victoria communities within recent years. As indicated in Table 9, growth in terms of economic activity, population size, and number of structures and services present is estimated for two-thirds of the sample communities. Strong growth has occurred in settlements that are adjacent to good fishing grounds. Of those communities reported to have grown larger over the five years prior to the survey, ‘high fish catches’ were cited as the reason for this development in almost 80% of the cases.

Another commonly cited reason for community growth was the existence of ‘good discipline’, a gloss for the perception that the incidence of gear and other property theft is relatively low and that there is an effective system of local leadership and community interest management whereby security is maintained, disputes settled, new arrivals welcomed and registered, and so on. The availability of markets and social services within an area were less frequently cited as reasons for community growth.

On the other side of the scene are those communities which registered no growth (‘stayed the same’) or negative growth (‘became smaller’) over the last five years -- roughly a third of all the sites. Major reasons cited for these patterns included ‘lack of fishing inputs’ or their ‘high cost’ (39%) and ‘low catches’ (36%).

2.4 Group Perceptions of Development Problems

Questions asked during the group-level interviews yielded additional information about the problems that lakeshore residents must cope with in developing their communities and general standard of living. Reference to Table 10 shows that problems most often perceived are those related to fishing inputs, marketing, and public services. ‘High input costs’ and ‘low fish prices’ are the two most frequently encountered themes, each being listed for 47% of the community cases. Other major mentions are for those of ‘poor access to and from the community’ (40% of community cases), ‘lack of enough gear’ (35% of cases), and ‘lack of social services’ (33% of cases).

To a large extent ‘poor access’ lies at the basis of the other problems most frequently cited. Input costs can be expected to by high and conversely fish prices low in situations where commodities must be transported for long distances and/or under difficult conditions. Lack of enough fishing gear either because of non-availability (no transport, no sales agents in remote places) or non-affordability (high prices, not enough money from fishing due to poor markets) and low levels of services in the form of schools, water supplies, shops, etc.) likewise can be related to ease of access.

During the community-level interviews the field teams noted down the distance from the closest main or trunk road for each site and also rated each according to how difficult access appeared to be. Scores were assigned using a scale of three grades:

From the results it appears that over half of the mainland Lake Victoria-Uganda communities are situated at a distance of more than 5 km from any trunk road (Table 11). In terms of accessibility scores, some 57% can be classified as ‘Poor,’ 37% as ‘Fair,’ and only about 6% as ‘Good’ (Table 12).

3. At first this scoring system was designed with five grades -- ‘Very Poor’ to ‘Very Good’ with the present ‘Good’ equalling ‘Fair’ and the present ‘Fair’ equalling ‘Poor.’ Thus the initial ‘Good’ was reserved for mainland sites served by a tarmac road, and the 'Very Good' for sites situated on or immediately adjacent to a trunk road -- categories for which there were scarcely any candidates. All sites were later recoded into the three grade system.

2.5 Community Services and Amenities

One section of the Community Survey form consisted of a checklist of various services and amenities available either within the immediate neighbourhood of a sample community itself or within a range of 5 km. For analytical purposes the neighbourhood and its surrounding area within a 5 km radius is called a Fishing Community Vicinity (FCV). Completed checklists provided the data out of which Table 13 was constructed. The most commonly found service seems to be the kiosk or stand selling petty commodities such as sweets, cigarettes, matches, soda, maize and cassava meal, and so on. Kiosks located within a radius of 5 km are indicated for 95% of the communities. Churches lying within FCVs also register at a high rate -- around 86%. The existence of some form of public hire transport, whether boat or vehicle, is estimated from survey data for about 84% of lakeshore communities. Small eating stalls are apparently quite common as well, showing up in an estimated 78% of cases.

Mosques and primary schools figure as FCV features for roughly half of the Lake Victoria fishing communities, and other services such as carpentry ((48%), tailoring (48%), bars (41%), retail shops (39%), private health/medical clinics (35%), and bicycle repairing (31%) for between about one-third to one-half of the communities. Regular (daily/weekly/fortnightly) markets, secondary schools, Government-run clinics, public lodgings, electricity and piped water supplies, post offices, police posts, banks, butcheries, petrol stations, outboard engine repair, vehicle mechanics, and brickmakers almost all register at rates of less than 25%.

2.6 Community Organisations

Fisher communities of Lake Victoria-Uganda, like all other rural communities in the country, operate under a system of local government administration run by Saza (County) and Gombolola (Sub-County) executive Chiefs. They are also organised politically since 1986 under the Resistance Council (RC) system introduced by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) Government led by President Yoweri Museveni. At the local level RC officials are known as RC1s, and are chosen by vote of neighbourhood Muluka (Parish) or community residents. They are responsible to RC2s at the Sub-County level, from amongst whom the RC3s serving at the County level are chosen. RC3s deal with RC5s at the District level. (RC4s serve as members of the National Resistance Council and are elected by RC3 members.)

In the case of most fisher communities, the position of Gabunga is also important in terms of day-to-day routines and special meetings to settle disputes and consider questions of general public interest.

2.6.1. The Gabunga or ‘Head Fisher’

Gabunga (pl. Bagabunga) is a post traditional to Lake Victoria-Uganda fishing communities. The title reputedly derives from olden times, when it designated the rank of the commander or ‘Admiral’ of the Kabaka's fleet of war canoes -- the Buganda royal navy.

Nowadays Bagabunga serve as ‘Head Fishers’, and are normally chosen by vote amongst regular users of a landing. But a person might come into the position through more informal means, including group requests or simple self-assertion. Experience as a fisher, length of residence in the area, status as a landowner, and personality are all factors that play a part in one's elevation to the Gabunga position. Though it is traditionally associated with males, the field team did come across one woman Gabunga during the survey exercise in Entebbe Region. Survey findings indicate that the position is recognized at fully 70% of the lakeshore communities (Table 14).

Head Fishers' responsibilities do not conform to any strict set of rules. Some play a highly visible and powerful role at their respective landings, whereas others fill the position in only a nominal or figurehead-like way. Generally speaking Head Fishers are responsible for landing site discipline and have the authority to expel unruly or suspicious characters. Very often they maintain a register of resident fishers and of the equipment and gear owned by particular individuals. Sometimes Bagabunga work with a local fishing committee in managing landing site affairs, though such committees are only estimated for 14% or so of the survey universe (Table 14).

Where Bagabunga and/or fishing committees function effectively, the assistance of higher RC officials and/or Gombolola and Saza Chiefs is sought only for special cases that cannot be handled easily at the community level.

2.6.2 Co-operative societies

Survey findings indicate that co-operative societies are almost non-existant in fishing communities. A mere 9% occurrence is projected from the data, and of these only 50% are reckoned to be active to any degree (Table 14). At the same time, however, it was noted during the field interviews that fisherfolk often talk about the importance of co-ops and how better standards of living can be achieved through their formation. Such talk may have its source in the belief that it would be easier to obtain outside assistance from Government or other agencies for the supply of inputs and credit through co-operative organisations.

Factors which may be discouraging effective co-op organisation within the Lake Victoria-Uganda context include: poor mobilisation and extension efforts on the part of national co-op authorities; a history of mismanagement and embezzlement of funds by local co-op leaders; migration between landing sites and the temporary nature of some fishing settlements; and the generally high level of competition between individual operators that characterises the local artisanal fishery.

2.7 Women's Involvement in Income-Generating Activities

Community survey findings suggest that womenfolk are involved in several different income-generating activities. As depicted in Table 15, at a frequency of 68% of all cases the selling of cooked food to fishers, porters, traders, and other landing site regulars is the most important of these activities. Involvement with market gardening farming ((49%), fish processing (30%), casual hire labour (29%), fish trading (28%), and the manufacture and sale of local alcoholic beverages (21%) -- brews (kwete, mwenge bigere, tonto, malwa) and spirits (waragi), are other activities of note. The incidence of women owning fishing gear appears to be very slight (6%).

2.8 Group Perceptions of Local Health Problems

A final set of questions in the SECSURV1 interview protocol related to perceptions of the major disease/health problems with which fisherfolk must cope. Each group of community representatives was asked to identify the three most common forms of illness or other health problems found in their particular areas. A projection of results for the entire lakeshore based on survey findings is presented in Table 16. Malaria far outstrips all of the many items mentioned, showing up for 92% of the cases. ‘Dysentery’ and ‘diarrhoea’ are the only other categories of problems that rate very highly in the mentions, registering at 47% and 43% respectively.

Such findings are hardly surprising given the conditions that generally prevail at fishing settlements and camps. The marshes, papyrus swamps, and pools of stagnant water that are a common feature around such sites offer ideal breeding habitats for mosquitoes; and the fact that many people sleep in makeshift shelters or in other quarters that afford little protection against being bitten by them, together with all the time spent on or near the water during hours of darkness, means that the possibility of exposure to malaria is maximised.

As for the incidence of diarrhoeal illnesses, the extremely poor sanitary facilities and lack of safe sources of drinking water in most places must be seen as the root causes. Quite often landing beaches serve simultaneously as drinking water sources, bathing and laundry places, and fish cleaning and rubbish disposal sites. The situation at some of the more crowded landing is quite appalling.


3.1 Summary

This paper has provided a preliminary look at findings compiled from the survey of Lake Victoria-Uganda fishing communities carried out over a three month period in 1991 by the SEC group of the FISHIN Project. All five Fisheries Regions of the Lake were covered. The survey was intended to provide a broad base of information about the circumstances of lakeshore settlements and their residents by means of a set of questionnaires used to structure interviews at the levels of community group, household, and individual enterprise.

The sampling strategy for the survey ensured representative geographical coverage at the community level, in proportion to the size of settlements. Known probabilities of selection at all three sampling stages also ensured that weighting of case data could be done in order to establish estimates for various parameters across the entire sample universe of Lake Victoria-Uganda fishing communities.

Data processed thus far cover the material collected through SECSURV1, the Community Form, and some parts of SECSURV2, the Household Form. Data processing continues and a more complete review of survey findings including those from SECSURV3, the Fisher Form, is intended for presentation through a Field Document now in preparation.

Main survey findings compiled to date may be summarised as follows:

3.1.1 Settlement and land

The vast majority of Lake Victoria-Uganda fishing communities are comprised of nucleated settlements located directly on or adjacent to landing sites. Most people live in houses of simple mud-and-wattle construction, thatched with grass or reeds. Total numbers of houses within the settlements can range from just a few up to as many as 500. Most settlements are located on private land, though some are on Government land including gazetted Forest Reserves. Uncertain security of tenure is obviously an important factor to consider in devising any programmes for development action for fishing communities.

3.1.2 Population and household size

Fishing communities around the Lake show substantial variation in population size. They can be comprised of anywhere from 5 to 4500 or more individuals. The total population of all communities combined is estimated at around 130,000 people living in a total of about 32,800 households. Mean household size is reckoned to be around 4. The majority of community residents are male (55.5%). In most cases also around half of the community populations are 20 years or less in age.

3.1.3 Community growth and development

Lakeshore settlements have shown a pattern of strong growth over the past five years in terms of economic activity, population, and numbers of new structures and services. Good return on fishing effort (‘high catches’) is apparently the main engine of such growth.

3.1.4 Development problems

Problems hindering development identified by respondents during the group interviews relate mainly to fishing inputs, marketing, and public services. Fishers seem particularly concerned about the high costs of fishing gear and equipment and the low prices that their catches fetch. To a large extent the main problems cited are all aspects of one basic problem -- viz., poor accessibility in terms of roads and reliable means of transport.

3.1.5 Services and amenities

It was found that Fishing Community Vicinities (FCVs), each defined as an area of 5 km radius from any given community, seem to be relatively well served in terms of facilities like kiosks for the selling of petty commodities, churches, some form of public hire transport, and small eating stalls. They are fairly to moderately well served in terms of such services as primary schools and mosques, carpenters and tailors, bars, retail shops, private clinics, and bicycle repair. But they are relatively poorly served in terms of such conveniences as regular markets, secondary schools, Government-run clinics, public lodgings, electricity and piped water supplies, post offices, police posts, banks, outboard engine repair, and petrol stations.

3.1.6 Community organisations

The traditional institution of the Gabunga or ‘Head Fisher’ still figures very strongly in the conduct of fishing community and landing site affairs. Bagabunga are recognised at over two-thirds of lakeside settlements, serving with varying degrees of influence, energy, and effectiveness as beach leaders, arbiters of disputes, and convenors of community meetings. Fishing committees are also active in some places, but do not seem to be of widespread significance.

Fisherfolk co-operative societies are a very uncommon feature of community life, being recorded for only 9% of Lake Victoria-Uganda settlements. Even for these places it seems that about half of the societies are inactive or moribund.

3.1.7 Women's income-generating activities

Women appear to be quite actively involved in small-scale commercial undertakings such as selling cooked food at landing sites, market gardening, fish processing and trading, and brewing. Their participation in fishing as gear owners is minimal.

3.1.8 Local health problems

Malaria and water-borne diseases leading to dysentery and diarrhoea are the leading health problems identified during the community group interviews. Malaria appears to be especially rampant. The problems identified are totally expectable given the geographical siting of many fishing camps and settlements near swamps and marshes, the living and working patterns that prevail, and the critically poor conditions of sanitation that are commonly found.

3.2 Recommendations

Several tentative recommendations can be made based on the survey findings compiled thus far. These are as follows.

3.2.1 Improved access

Perhaps the single most effective action that could be taken to improve the level of fishing community welfare is road and transport infrastructure development. Many of the constraints on productivity, marketing problems, and service deficiencies that characterise life in lakeshore settlements would be substantially ameliorated with the provision of better, more reliable access by road and water. Development agency assistance and investment policy should be informed of this priority.

3.2.2 Land tenure

It appears that in many fishing settlements residents face a very uncertain situation with regard to land occupancy and use rights. Little in the way of public-mindedness or community improvement spirit can be expected in such a circumstance. Indeed, far from being willing to participate in or otherwise support efforts to build self-help water projects, schools, drainage systems and the like, people may even be hesitant about doing much to improve their own domestic facilities.

The situation is complicated and does not admit of easy and ready solution, but planners and administers should recognise the importance of this problem as an obstacle to community development and infrastructure improvement programmes. It may prove necessary after further scrutiny and consideration to devise means of regularising the status of residents in those places where occupancy and use rights are tenuous. In some cases buy-outs of private property and resettlement of fishers to properly gazetted sites may prove to be the best answer.

3.2.3 Social services and health

The measures suggested above obviously involve a measure of community involvement, but they also depend to a substantial extent on the mobilisation of resources and expertise from outside sources. Actions of a more participatory nature as far as fisherfolk communities are concerned should be encouraged at the same time. Of particular moment are those that bear on the improvement of hygiene and domestic water supplies and other disease control issues at landings. Malaria is one of the occupational hazards of Lake Victoria fishing life, but its incidence could certainly be reduced by eliminating some of the more obvious mosquito breeding places like pools of stagnant water and piles of rubbish in the immediate vicinity of lakeshore settlements. Basic, simple actions of environmental management could also be taken to reduce the rate of diarrhoeal diseases as well. Again there are no instant remedies, but Department of Fisheries extension personnel working closely with Ministry of Health field staff and backed by the active support of their supervisory officers should at least be trying through persuasion and example to stimulate some local initiatives along these lines. In this connection every effort should be made to enlist the backing of local Bagabunga, fishing committees, and RC1s.


Kitakule, J.S. & J.E Reynolds 1991. Organisation and conduct of a fishing community survey, Lake Victoria-Uganda, 1991. SEC Field Report No. 20, FISHIN Notes and Records. Fisheries Statistics and Information Systems, FAO/UNDP Project UGA/87/007.

Reynolds, J.E. & J.S. Kitakule 1991. Socio-economic aspects of Lakes Victoria and Albert fisheries: the FISHIN Community Survey, 1991. Field Document No. 2, FISHIN Notes and Records. Fisheries Statistics and Information Systems, FAO/UNDP Project UGA/87/007.



    (Sesse Islands)
  4. JINJA
  6. MBALE
  8. LIRA
  9. GULU
  15. KABALE



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