Solar lamps boost fortunes of fishermen in Lake Victoria
Amid an ever rising cost of paraffin in Kenya, adoption of solar lamps for night fishing is rapidly becoming a cheaper source of power for fishermen at the expansive Lake Victoria in Western Kenya.
A liter of kerosene cost an average of 0.55 dollars in March, 2015 against the average 0.7 dollars in early 2017 thus increasing the cost of input for the fishermen who spend 12 hours in the waters searching for a healthy catch.
However, solar lamps are providing a better option for the fishermen and to some extent cutting their expenditure on fuel.
"Solar lamps are such a cost relief to us," said Okoth Odhiambo,who has been fishing for the past three decades at Migori County's Muhuru Bay waters, part of the larger Lake Victoria shared among Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the three out of the six nations forming the East African Community.
"It is very cheap recharging the solar lamps than refueling it with kerosene. We would spend two dollars on paraffin for one lamp and we use four so that adds up to eight dollars. But we now use a total of two dollars because we are charged only 0.5 dollars for each lamp," he explained.
Odhiambo said the 18 fishermen stationed at the Muhuru Bay have for the last two years embraced solar lamps which he said are also safe.
"There is no fear of burning should the lamp fall or contaminating the fish with paraffin or even polluting the lake with the lamp oil," he said.
Fishermen are crucial to Kenya's aquaculture sector directly influencing the nation's total economic performance.
More than 129,000 Kenyans draw their livelihood from fishing and fish farming activities, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
In 2013, the sector contributed 0.54 percent to the country's GDP with Lake Victoria making up 90 percent of the total fishery and aquaculture production in the same year.
Experts view access to solar energy as a means of increasing income for the fishermen and improving their lives.
The high cost of kerosene eats into the profits of fishermen leaving them in a cycle of poverty, said Professor Herick Othieno, an expert in solar energy and who has done studies looking into the economic value of using paraffin among the fishing communities in the Lake Victoria ecosystem.
"Fishermen make so little money because the cost of input is actually too high, "said Professor Othieno.
"Kerosene is one of the inputs the fishermen have to cater for since they need the lamps to fish at night. And it is too expensive," he added
He said the fishermen have been enslaved in poverty as they are left with nothing to invest since they make little profits.
He said solar power is a more affordable, clean and safe alternative whose use among the fishing communities can greatly transform their lives.
The solar expert said use of solar lamps also lowers pollution of the lake as a result of reduced spillage from the paraffin lamps.
Professor Othieno said fishing was crucial to the lakeside communities thus the need to increase their access to solar energy which enhances their economic activities and in the long-term lifting them out of the cycle of poverty.
While the fishermen such as Odhiambo would continue to need solar energy in their future fishing activities due to its cost effectiveness, more investments are needed to expand their capacity as its generation is currently very minimal.
Currently, solar energy contribute less than one percent of the total electricity produced and consumed in Kenya, according to the Energy Regulatory Commission.