Geographical introduction

The majority of the East African lakes lie within the East African Rift System, which forms a part of a series of massive fissures in the Earth's crust extending northward from the Zambezi River valley through eastern and north eastern Africa and the Red Sea to the Jordan River valley in southwestern Asia. In East Africa itself the southern, eastern, and western branches of the system can be discerned.

Occupying the Southern Rift Valley is Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi), which drains into the Zambezi River. Marking the course of the Western Rift Valley are LakesTanganyika, Kivu, Edward, and Albert-the first two of which are situated within the drainage basin of the Congo River, while the other two constitute part of the Nile River drainage system. With the exception of Lake Rudolf (Lake Turkana), the lakes found in the Eastern (Great) Rift Valley are smaller than those of the Western Rift and constitute several independent inland drainage basins.

Located in a huge shallow depression between the Eastern and Western Rift highlands is Lake Victoria, which among the freshwater lakes of the world has a surface area that is second only to that of Lake Superior in North America. On a smaller scale, East Africa also includes some fine examples of crater lakes, and on Mount Kenya and in the Ruwenzori (Rwenzori) Range are found glacial tarns, small lakes each of which occupies a basin, or cirque, scraped out by a mountain glacier.


East African Community Organisation

The East African Community (EAC) is the regional co-operation that comprises the Republic of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Its headquarters are in Arusha, Tanzania. These three East African countries cover an area of 1.8 million square kilometers with a population of over 90 million people who share a common history, language, culture and infrastructure. Since the community’s re-establishment in 1999, the community has recorded a number of achievements. The achievements include: success in establishing the organs of the community as stated in the EAC treaty, establishment of the EAC Custom Union, strengthening of an East African identity, harmonization of monetary and fiscal policies, improvement of transport and communications systems, the launching of the Lake Victoria Commission and deepening of co-operations in different sectors. However, there are challenges to be addressed for EAC survival. These challenges are economic, global, political and social, with financial resources challenges.

An assessment of the East African Rift Valley lakes was initiated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) with funding from Global Environment Facility as part of the Global International Waters Assessment <GIWA>. The purpose of G1WA was to produce globally comparable assessments and examine stresses on international waters: marine, coastal and fresh; surface and groundwaters. The assessment of the East African Rift Valley lakes was undertaken from the perspective of water quality and quantity, associated biodiversity and habitats, their use by society and societal causes of the regionally identified issues and problems. Assuming intrinsic values of aquatic ecosystems, the assessment of social perspective focused on human use of water and considered the incremental costs of measures to encourage sustainable development. The assessment identified the major concerns facing the East African Rift Valley lakes.

By and large, pollution and unsustainable exploitation of fisheries and other living resources emerged as critical concerns attributable to human activities. East Africa has a very high concentration of humans and economic activities. Pollution is from uncontrolled discharge of wastes directly into the lakes. Unsustainable exploitation of fisheries and other living resources is caused by over-fishing, destructive fishing practices, and introduction of non-native species that affect the composition of the indigenous communities, resulting sometimes in the collapse of certain species and dominance by resilient ones. Loss of biodiversity also was identified as a major concern; and the issues of excessive by-catch and discards are also relevant. Trawling using undersized mesh-nets for target species and indiscriminate fishing gear or poison is serious, in most cases resulting in indiscriminate catches, including juvenile fish. Given the transboundary nature of the issues identified in this assessment, appropriate multilateral policy and institutional arrangements need to be established in East Africa to address the main concerns of these large lakes. Riparian countries must pay attention to the regional management of these transboundary water bodies, and appropriate planning of human population sizes and their settlement, land-use and waste disposal to control pollution. Although East African lakes contribute relatively little emission of greenhouse gases, there is a need to reduce the rate of deforestation and even restore cleared areas since forests serve as sinks of greenhouse gases towards mitigating adverse climatic changes.

The Albertine Rift is an important region for global conservation. It harbours more species of vertebrates than any other region on the African continent. This region shelters more than half of continental Africa’s bird species and nearly 40% of its mammal species. There are more endemic mammals, birds and amphibians found in the Rift than any other site in continental Africa. The Albertine Rift was recently listed as one of the world’s most endangered spaces, based on levels of species endemism and rates of habitat destruction. Southwest Uganda is a key component of the larger Albertine Rift. In terms of biological diversity, the forest and lakes within this area constitute one of the richest parts of the world. The Rwenzori Mountains are reported to have more mammal species that any other site in Africa. The importance of the area for conservation stems from not only the high number of species but also an impressively high level of endemism. A combination of a high population density with a high birth rate and the use of forest for fuel, food and agriculture provide the impetus for projects to sustain ecosystem services. Uganda has good examples of schemes involving payments to communities to protect ecosystem services (PES), particularly to encourage the sequestation of carbon in forests and tree plantations.

Markets for ecosystem services

“Give a man a fish and he’s set for supper. Teach him how to fish and he’s set up for life.”

This popular proverb expresses well the appeal of integrated conservation and development projects, ICDPs, and other indirect approaches: removing the obstacles to sustainable development (poverty, shortages of capital, technology and skills) would ‘fix the problem’ and make people embark on pro-conservation paths — in principle, forever.

Following the Brundtland Report and the Rio 1992 conference, tropical conservation gradually adopted a more people-oriented direction. The trend reflected the conventional wisdom that alleviating poverty was the only way to conserve and protect the environment. Integrated conservation and development projects, and sustainable forest management were two major instruments intended to simultaneously increase incomes and conserve the environment .

ICDPs are biodiversity conservation projects with rural development components. This is an approach that aspires to combine social development with conservation goals. These projects look to deal with biodiversity conservation objectives through the use of socio-economic investment tools. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) first introduced ICDPs in the mid 1980s. They wanted to attend to some of the problems associated with the "fines and fences" (non participatory) approach to conservation.

Yet despite scattered successes, neither approach has so far achieved major shifts in tropical land-use trends or silvicultural practices . Moreover, there are fundamental doubts about the extent to which it makes sense to forcibly link the conservation and poverty-alleviation agendas when the trade-offs outweigh the synergies..

As wilderness and natural habitats shrink, environmental services (ES) previously provided free by Mother Nature are becoming increasingly threatened. This emerging scarcity makes them potentially subject to trade. The core idea of PES is that external ES benefi ciaries make direct, contractual and conditional payments to local landholders and users in return for adopting practices that secure ecosystem conservation and restoration.

Based on these insights, much debate has emerged around the need for new conservation paradigms. The concept of payments for environmental services (PES) is at the centre of calls for more direct conservation approaches.

Four ES types currently stand out:

1. Carbon sequestration and storage (e.g. a Northern electricity company paying farmers in the tropics for planting and maintaining additional trees);

2. Biodiversity protection (e.g. conservation donors paying local people for setting aside or naturally restoring areas to create a biological corridor);

3. Watershed protection (e.g. downstream water users paying upstream farmers for adopting land uses that limit deforestation, soil erosion, flooding risks, etc.);

4. Landscape beauty (e.g. a tourism operator paying a local community not to hunt in a forest being used for tourists’ wildlife viewing).

Sometimes several services can be provided in a synergetic way — and a ‘bundled’ payment scheme can enable several service users to package their payments to service providers. But not all services are truly threatened and scarce, and not all users are willing to pay. Partial trade-offs between services are also likely: for example, a fast-growing plantation that maximizes carbon sequestration is perhaps not particularly biodiversity-rich, water-enhancing or attractive for tourists. Environmental services other than those listed above could potentially be traded (e.g. wilderness areas providing pollination services to agriculture), but so far only the four identified above exhibit signifi cant commercial scale.

This message about the alleged synergy between development and environment from Brundtland and Rio 1992 was politically attractive, but unfortunately, in the conservation field, the flaws in the ‘teaching-to-fish’ strategy are increasingly apparent. ICDPs attract two main criticisms. First, although you have taught the man to fish, he might still have enough time and resources to extract logs, shoot game, and clear forests — nothing per se obliges him to change his approach. Secondly, what does it take to teach the man to fish? If it takes one strategy paper, two village-development plans, three participatory workshops, four action researchers, a fish processing plant and an army of project staff and consultants… it might just be cheaper to buy the man a fish every day.

This is precisely the justification for PES — the promise of more effi ciency from giving the man a fish as a direct reward, if and only if he conserves. Notwithstanding the attractiveness of PES directness, various caveats remain. First, as an ES buyer you need a sustainable source of PES financing, often into infinity. Further, while demand may remain restricted, supplydriven expansion of environmental services is unrealistic. From the provider side, any random upland community cannot just decide in a village meeting: “What are we going into this year, folks — watershed protection, biodiversity or landscape beauty”? Except for the geographically mobile carbon services, the spatially specific ES character will imply that the buyers or intermediaries will usually take the initiative, approaching providers because they realize the latter control a strategic and increasingly scarce environmental asset. Second, one has to build the initial trust or “social capital” for PES. The man out there in the wilderness may believe when you offer him fish that you in fact want his land, or some other PES-camouflaged advantage. Building that trust, and setting up the rules, monitoring and rewards, may be cumbersome, take time and require an ‘honest broker’ like an NGO as intermediary — yet success is still not guaranteed. Indeed, communities may not accept a quid pro quo agreement when they are accustomed to multiple donors and agencies offering benefits for free. Decades of paternalistic rural development projects may thus create expectations that are hard for innovative initiatives to break, even if both sides might be better off.

What features distinguish PES from other conservation instruments.

Fig 1 PES compared with other conservation instruments


Figure 1 ranks a set of conservation approaches according to two criteria:

  • first, the degree to which they rely on economic incentives;

  • second, the extent to which conservation is targeted directly rather than integrated into other development approaches.

The approaches are not mutually exclusive; they could be combined in different conservation strategies.

Command-and-control regulations (including the creation of strictly protected areas) aim rather directly at protecting the resource, without using economic incentives. They are thus located in the extreme South-Eastern corner of the diagram and stand in stark contrast with the voluntary, flexible character of PES. However, PES can coexist with or even enhance command-andcontrol measures, as in the case of the Kyoto Protocol preconditioning carbon mitigation markets.

Sustainable forest management (SFM) and similar resource-use improvements also directly pursue conservation by influencing production and extraction processes. Technical modifications are the main instrument, although economic incentives and development mechanisms also can play a role.

In the South-Western cluster of Fig 1, ICDPs are by their very nature the opposite of direct. They are non-contingent and explicitly integrate conservation and development concerns, looking for ‘conservation by distraction’ and ‘less poverty — less degradation’ effects. Their holistic efforts include building local institutional capacity, generating benefi ts to ‘buy’ local goodwill towards conservation and infl uencing government policies. Economic incentives in ICDPs play a variable role. Unlike PES, ICDPs require investments in alternative production forms. They are ‘projects’ or ‘programs’, often surrounded by mutual expectations of holistic (sometimes: paternalistic) interventions. In contrast, PES are designed as ‘transactions’ that may be sensitive towards local development dynamics, but without pretending to hold community hands — it is all about selling and buying a service to achieve a more rational land use. Yet, one could also imagine some hybrid forms, such as integrated projects that are financed in a contingent way.

In a cluster adjacent to ICDPs, we have “social markets” . These comprise systems of reciprocity and exchanging favors at different social scales. By definition, these systems are non-monetary — and critics argue that introducing PES project tends to jeopardize them . Social markets are often traditional systems that have evolved locally over time. Points of leverage for conservation include moral persuasion, social pressure, or promised favors — all factors closely linked to integrated social systems and development processes, rather than to direct conservation.

Obviously, PES belong to the family of approaches making pronounced use of economic incentives (Northern cluster) — in fact, incentives are at the very core of PES. In that respect, PES resemble environmentally motivated taxes and subsidies. But the PES approach of ‘purchasing conservation’ in a contingent way is more direct than most taxes and subsidies which aim more at changes in broader production and resource-use patterns. Ecological price premiums linked to product certification can be seen as overlapping with PES.

The ‘ecological VAT’ program practiced in several Brazilian federal states is another border case between PES and fi scal environmental instruments: tax transfers being made from federal states to municipalities, which are rewarded for the size and quality of conservation areas .

Land acquisitions for conservation and similar measures such as buying out logging concessionaires are one-off solutions aimed at eliminating environmentally problematic actors. PES instead try to make deals to work with these actors. PES normally do not involve changes in land tenure. PES might thus be cheaper and more adaptive, local people need not be expelled, and the conservation buyer does not need to worry about enforcing land tenure. Conversely, setting up and running a PES scheme could over time require higher transaction costs (negotiation, monitoring, etc.) than once-and-for-all land purchases, and there is always a risk that the landowner cancels or violates the PES deal. Notably, land purchases are fully direct; they have no posterior integrated conservation-development dimension. In turn, to the extent that receipts from PES change local livelihood dynamics through income, consumption, labor and land markets, this can either strengthen or weaken conservation — be it by affecting the sustainability of the PES deal itself or through unexpected environmental side effects. These indirect feedback loops triggered by the development dynamics of PES are sometimes forgotten by those who see the PES approach purely as ‘direct conservation’.

Naturalisation of the land


...To make more natural or lifelike;
...To see one's land as part of the human ecological niche;
...To shared land with other living things and so become part of nature in all that you do.

Between 2010-14 a UNEP project was mounted in Uganda to evaluate a methodology for testing the effectiveness of payments for ecosystem services to enhance conservation in an area on the eastern side of Lake Albert. Communities living in these non-regulated forest lands depend on forest resources for firewood, building materials, and medicinal plants but are also faced with more immediate livelihood needs, prompting over-exploitation. The deforestation rate for Uganda is estimated to be 55,000 ha per year, based on habitat change from 1990-1995. Other estimates push the figure higher to between 1.1% and 3.15% per year. Today, while only 15% in forest reserves is degraded, 50% of all the tropical high forest on private land is degraded. It is estimated that Uganda’s forests and the wildlife they contain will disappear without an effective system to curb deforestation on private and public/communal land.

Although a PES system is the essenntial centre piece of this work, it also requires a behavioural shift on the the part of the participating communities to return to pre-industrial values that were attached to plants and animals of the forest by past inhabitants of these lands. These were expressed in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005 as:

‘...the non material benefits that people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation and aesthetic experience, including, for example, knowledge systems, social relations, and aesthetic values,’