Once a thriving fishing village, Kampi Ya Samaki Township on the shores of Lake Baringo in Kenya’s Rift Valley province is a pale shadow of its former self.
Its name loosely translates to a fishing camp – an indication of its repute of yesteryears. But today, a different scenario exists. Thorny Prosopis juliflora trees, known locally as Mathenge, are the only common things here, and they have more disadvantages than benefits.
According to a recent report by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), the Lake Baringo fishery has been on the decline since 1988.
In a foreword to the report, a senior deputy director of KMFRI, Dr Enock Wakwabi, says that Lake Baringo was once a vibrant fishing ground with a wide range of species, supporting a processing plant and a large fish market. Today, the fish market is non-existent and the fish factory has been dead for several decades.
At some point, managers of fisheries introduced closed seasons when fishing was stopped to give the lake time to recuperate, but this failed to work.
This, experts say, suggests that the problem has less to do with fishing, and more with unsustainable exploitation of the freshwater lake and habitat degradation.
One of the reasons for the destruction of the environment, the report states, is the 1.2 million livestock kept by pastoralist communities in the area. These cannot be sustained by the vegetation in the predominantly arid and semi-arid area.
“The livestock destroys plant and animal habitats and their tracks cause gulleys that are conducive for soil erosion and sedimentation,” the report explains.
There is heavy deposition of silt into the lake at a rate that the scientists put at 206 metric tonnes per hectare per year. This accumulates to 10.38 million metric tonnes of silt entering the lake annually.
This not only reduces the depth and surface area of the lake, but also affects the aquatic habitat. Dr Wakwabi says the highly valued tilapia species is worst affected because it nests in deep water.
Erosion also washes FLUORIDE fragments into the lake. The report says that the lake water has a heavy fluoride load that is above the levels recommended by the World Health Organisation. As a result, residents have bone and teeth problems.
The poor condition of Lake Baringo is traced back to the rivers draining in it. The main rivers that empty into the lake are Molo and Ol Arabel, both of which flow from the Mau highlands.
Mr Jones Muli, the project coordinator of Lake Baringo Research Expedition, says preliminary results indicate that Molo River dries up before reaching the lake.
Besides reducing flow to the lake, the dry rivers affect fish species that migrate from the lake to breed in the rivers.
The report lists Kirandich, Chemeron and Kimau dams in the lake basin as some of those reducing recharge of the rivers.
Then there is the rapid destruction of indigenous forests in the lake basin. The project coordinator says that the basin has lost over half of its natural forest cover. “The area has dropped from 829 square kilometres, in 1976, to 417,” he says.
Mr Muli says that there is need to encourage conservation of catchment areas in the lake basin to stem drastic loss of indigenous forests in the basin.
He proposes that the government purchase land around catchment areas, and protect it. Alternatively, communities living along river courses could be given incentives for conservation.