CNH-Ex: Conflict and Fisheries in the Lake Victoria Basin

This project will investigate the links between fisheries, armed conflict, and food security in the Lake Victoria Basin in eastern Africa. Lake Victoria, the largest freshwater lake in Africa, is home to fisheries that contribute to the food and livelihood security of over 40 million people. The introduction of two species of fish, Nile perch and tilapia, has greatly changed the ecology of the lake. While introduced fishes provide income for fishers, they have apparently caused dramatic declines in the abundance of many native species in the lake. One exception is the sardine-like mukene, which supports the largest fishery in the lake and serves as a critical link between the ecology of the lake and the human populations that depend on the lake for food and income. Food security is inherently tied to civil unrest and eastern Africa has been one of the most war-torn regions of the world since the mid-1990s. Martial conflict significantly suppresses fish catch, which harms food security via decreased food availability and loss of livelihood among fishers. Food insecurity can in turn accelerate political violence. This project will investigate how changes in the ecology of Lake Victoria affect food security, and how conflict affects fishing in the Lake. In collaboration with regional fisheries organizations in Kenya and Uganda, the project aims to a) develop understanding of the relationships between fish abundance, fishery catch and effort, conflict processes, and food security; b) generate estimates of fish abundance using statistical analyses; and c) identify the important links in the system through dynamic structural equation modeling. Researchers will employ geographic information systems to relate fish catch and effort to food commodity prices in regional markets, and use existing data on the occurrence of conflict to relate prices, conflict, and catch.

These efforts will contribute significantly to understanding the role of natural resources in conflict and conflict effects on local food security. There is an urgent need to improve understanding of the links between human and natural systems in the Lake Victoria basin. The human population is growing rapidly on the shore of the lake, accelerating impacts on ecosystem services such as water for drinking and irrigation and fishes for food. This study will contribute to understanding of natural resources and conflict, fisheries ecology, and dynamic modeling of coupled natural and human systems. The project will develop partnerships between U.S. and eastern African scientists and develop the scientific skills of two undergraduate researchers. Moreover, the project will inform sustainable resource management decisions and policies for fisheries that provide food and livelihood security for millions.

Lead Investigator: