Fishing communities in three Western border districts are pleading for help after the coronavirus- induced ban, and the subsequent annual fishing embargo left many struggling to survive without alternative sources of income.
Fishing, unlike other sectors that were allowed to resume after prolonged lockdown of the border districts, emerged the hardest hit by the pandemic, affecting thousands of families engaged in fishing and those in the trade chain.
Rubavu, Rusizi and Nyamasheke district authorities quickly moved to ban fishing as a means to deal with illegal border crossing blamed for the rise in Covid-19 cases since late May.
The suspension had not been lifted by the time the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) imposed a two-month fishing ban in Lake Kivu effective August 2 to allow restock.
The government also uses the ban to curtail illegal fishing by a section of the local population.
“Fishermen and their families here are among the people living the most miserable life now. We have not received any assistance as we speak despite having no income for two months and this will go on for another two months. We need help,” said Jean Claude Nzeyimana, head of the federation of more than eight fishermen associations operating in Rusizi District.
“We had pushed to see if RAB can allow us to resume fishing for at least one month to help the families earn some income that can take us forward, but that has not yielded fruits.”
While local officials spearheaded social assistance interventions that involve the delivery of free food targeting vulnerable families who lost incomes, the fishing communities indicate that the programmes reached just a few, and were put on hold after the lifting of the lockdown in late June in the respective districts.
Rwanda Today learnt that only a section of them living on the Lake Kivu Islands like Nkombo had continued to get food assistance.
Equally affected are families whose livelihoods depended solely on the dealership in fishery products.
They were initially hit by the lack of market due to restrictions imposed at borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo where almost half of the local fish produce is sold, and have since been unable to get enough supplies.