On the road from park HQ in Rumangabo to Vitshumbi…
By Evelyne Malfliet
A quick trip to Vitshumbi, a fishing village on the shores of Lake Edward, is easier said than done. It’s a three-hour car ride from park headquarters in Rumangabo and the roads are anything but smooth. Bumps and potholes aside, the landscape along the route is ever-changing and stunningly beautiful. This is African savannah at its best, with antelopes, buffaloes, elephants and even lions!
The fishing village of Vitshumbi. The two boats in the foreground are Virunga National Park ranger patrol boats.
Vitshumbi is situated in Virunga’s central sector. It’s a small, quiet town where people live exclusively off of the fish they catch. Lake Edward is the smallest of the African Great Lakes, and apart from hippos, Nile crocodiles and an array of birds on its shoreline, it’s most known for Nile tilapia and catfish. Mornings in Vitshumbi are spent preparing fishing nets, after which the men go out on to the lake in their fishing boats called pirogues. A normal fishing day involves 8+ hours on the lake. While the men are away fishing, the women take care of the children. That changes when the men return, though, for women are the ones that sort, weigh, and sell the fish. The subsistence fishing life is difficult for all here, but it’s the life they choose and love.
A proud fisherman gives the hull of his boat a fresh coat of paint.
Fishing nets need to be repaired on a daily basis and loading them into the boats — without creating a tangled mess — takes skill.
Virunga National Park is responsible for protecting the waters and fisheries of Lake Edward. “Sustainable fisheries” is one of the four pillars of the Virunga Alliance, which aims to create social and economic prosperity for the 4 million people living within a day’s walk of the park border. The park has invested heavily in building strong relationships with the local fishing communities. These investments have taken the form of improved roads (which enable villagers to get their perishable products to market quickly) and robust protection of the fishery. Electricity is also coming, which will enable fisherman to refrigerate their catch and thereby open up more distant markets.
There is an inextricable link between the fisheries of Lake Edward, the well-being of the local population, and Virunga National Park itself. The Virunga Alliance is doing it’s best to serve all parties in this tightly-knit web of life on Lake Edward.
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