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Agrochemicals Threaten Fish Species In Albert Nile Tributaries

by Jacquiline Nakandi
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By Robert Mone

Tributaries of the Albert Nile in Amuru district are experiencing a significant decline in the number of fish species, which is believed to be a result of agrochemicals used on various commercial farms in the district.

Communities in Lakang and Layima sub-counties are reporting a noticeable reduction in fish species in major rivers. The endangered species include tilapia, brycinus, clarias, electric catfish, and mudfish from rivers Omee, Unyama, and Aswa, as well as the Lakang stream, which are tributaries of the Albert Nile.

Clower Ongwech Owiny, a resident of Bana Village in the Lakang sub-county, started fishing in the Omee River in 2013, harvesting tilapia and electric catfish using hooks and nets. He says the number of fish species has reduced significantly compared to other areas that do not border farms.

He believes this decline is due to the use of agrochemicals on commercial farms such as Omee Farm, Acilli, Terra Agri, Nomah, Nevian, and Tahir Rice, which heavily depend on these chemicals.

Francis Okot, a resident of Guru Guru sub-county, says that due to the reduction in fish species, they only go fishing when the water levels rise during the rainy season. He notes that the scarcity of fish is making it difficult to change their diet, as they can hardly catch fish and afford meat, which is their only source of protein.

“We now depend on wild meats, beans, and other farm produce, unlike those days when we could go fishing and change our diet weekly,” Okot said.

Anthony Oringa, the LCIII chairman of Lakang sub-county, says they used to have many fish species along the Apaa stream, like Gnathonemus, but now these have disappeared. He notes that the commercial farms in his sub-county rely heavily on chemicals for weeding, improving soil fertility, and killing termites.

Simon Peter Komakec, the production officer for Amuru district, acknowledges the increasing loss of fish in areas surrounding farms but blames the communities for using traditional fishing methods like poison and indiscriminate methods like using baskets and mosquito nets to catch fish.

He says the district has held several engagements with commercial farms to create buffers of about 200 meters from the rivers to prevent the poisoning of fish by agrochemicals.

Komakec revealed district efforts to protect fish species, including creating buffers along the farms, restocking fish species, and sensitizing communities to avoid traditional fishing methods and use recommended gear.

Brother Charles Lagu, the principal of Adraa Agricultural Institute in the Madi-Okollo district, says some of the chemicals have dangerous compounds that are harmful to both aquatic life and humans.

“Most agrochemicals contain phosphate, nitrogen, potassium, and sulfur. Phosphorus, for instance, is harmful to the eyes and respiratory tract due to the presence of phosphoric acids and phosphine,” he said.

During the African Union Summit on Fertiliser and Soil Health last month, the union endorsed a 10-year action plan to increase investments in the local production and distribution of both organic and inorganic fertilisers, ensuring they reach 70% of smallholder farmers across the continent.

The Ministry of Water and Environment has started creating a buffer of 200 meters along major water bodies in Uganda to reduce pollution and protect ecosystems under Catchment Management Plans since 2011.

The ministry, through the Directorate of Water Resources Management, is operationalising this framework through the four water management zones of Albert, Kyoga, Upper Nile, and Victoria.

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