Zambia: Villagers turn their backs on overfishing

Photo: Patson Mwasila/UNDP

Sebi Nafukwe, who never had any agricultural experience before, is busy harvesting rice for the first time in Mbete village, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Zambia. She is one of 700 women who have turned their backs on fishing from the lake after overfishing made it difficult to turn a profit.

These days, Nafukwe and the women in her local women’s association are making Kwacha 1.4 million (US$ 279) a year per household from the sale of the rice they are farming, after an initial investment of only Kwacha 300,000 (US$ 60).


  • Lake Tanganyika, the second deepest lake in the world, provides a livelihood for 7-10 million people.
  • Overfishing and other environmental factors made it difficult for 300,000 people living on the Zambian side to earn an income.
  • Through the project, members of the community have been able to access small loans to give up fishing and to diversify their income generating activities.

“We never knew farming could be so economically rewarding,” she said with a sense of surprise and accomplishment.

Through the project, members of the community have been able to access small loans to give up fishing and to diversify their income generating activities.

The women, encouraged by the success of the rice farming, have expanded their business activities to poultry, vegetable gardening and fish pond farming. With this new income, they are now able to support their families’ nutritional requirements and send their children to school.

The introduction of a revolving fund in 2009 dedicated to the environmental and economic management of Lake Tanganyika — an effort supported by UNDP and with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) – has enabled Nafukwe and many like her to take out small loans. With these loans, communities are investing in developing environmentally-friendly, sustainable livelihoods. They are building fish ponds, raising poultry and growing crops like rice and maize.

At the same time, they are planting cena and pine trees to control sedimentation loss from the effects of erosion on the steep slopes of Lake Tanganyika. Sedimentation pollutes the water, prevents natural vegetation from growing and kills fish. Lake Tanganyika, the second deepest lake in the world, provides a livelihood for 7 to 10 million people living in Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Zambia. Since the project began, the sedimentation rate of Lake Tanganyika has fallen from 159 tonnes per day to 115 tonnes per day in the Lufubu River catchment area, where 2 of the 11 participating villages are located. 

Buka Buka Fish (Lates stapperssii) used to be caught throughout the year on the Zambian side of Lake Tanganyika up until the mid-1990s. Due to overfishing, changes in habitat and a wide range of other factors, the Buka Buka Fish is very rarely caught between April and October.

As fisherman John Simwiinga watched the fish stock in the lake dwindle, he realized he would have to turn to fish pond farming for survival. But Simwiinga lacked both capital and know-how. However, after attending a practical training on fish farming offered by the Lake Tanganyika programme, he received a loan of Kwacha 10 million ($1,923) to set up his dream business.

“I have stocked 15,000 fingerlings in these ponds,” Simwiinga said, pointing proudly at four ponds stretched over 130 square metres. He now earns over Kwacha 15 million ($2,884) every six months, an income that he and his family had never before seen.

“Before we were nomads… clearing trees and tightening our nets to catch the ever dwindling fish from the lake,” Simwiinga said. “But now, with the support of UNDP, we have not only become settled but also financially stable.”

Newly-created village communities have been instrumental in instilling peer pressure to repay the loans at a rate of 100 percent. To apply for a loan from the revolving fund, recipients must be socially responsible and active members of the community with no history of domestic abuse or violence.

Willies Simfukwe, district commissioner of Mpulungu and the chair of the district development coordinating committee, explained that the economic gains have not only contributed to the project’s main goal – reducing sedimentation and overfishing – but it has also stimulated a change of attitude among the communities.  “People have developed a habit of saving, they have opened a savings account, something that was unusual before,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Mbete village, Sebi Nafukwe has been proudly working in the field alongside women from her fish-farming community group. She hopes one day she and other members of the community will be able to afford a rice polishing machine that will bring them even more income and free up their time for other productive activities.

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