The Source. The Roots. The Solution?

The Source of the Nile River. The famed cross between the Nile River and Lake Victoria lies at Jinja, one of the most populous cities in Uganda and the base of the National Fisheries Resources and Research Institute (NaFIRRI). As our last stop on our mission in Uganda, we would come to realize everything we’ve done so far would connect just as the Nile River does through the city.

After arriving yesterday and spending some time becoming acquainted with the city core, today marked our final meeting, one with the Director of NaFIRRI and his colleagues who are interested in collaborating on projects with Canadian students alongside our new program. Our walk to the centre passed through a massive student conference, where uniform colours covered the rainbow and the streets were packed with students from all around the province.

Before the meeting, we had a background on mukene, a small fish which is at the core of almost all agricultural feeds, which is one of the biggest undertakings by the Institute. The fish is made into a powder that is combined with maize and cotton to produce the nutrients for other fish as well as livestock like cows and chickens. The centralization of such an essential nutrient to the Institute set a proper tone of its importance for the Ugandan nation.

We began with introductions, first from our team followed by NaFIRRI. Dr. John Balirwa is the Director of NaFIRRI, in charge of overall operations and deciding the focus of strategic research and partnerships. The other head researcher was Dr. Richard Ogutu-Ohwayo, who leads the climate change division at NaFIRRI. They were joined by some of their research assistants and students working on their projects. Dr. Ogutu-Ohwayo shared his perspective on climate change, specifically the contingency and Plans B, C and D that we must be aware of as climate change affects the livelihood of agriculture and people themselves. Using new temperature and weather technology they can now track the trajectory of different water basins’ future outlook, and create action plans for the community to act accordingly. One the researchers spoke about his project exploring the impact of algal blooms which have shown to cause neurological damage to those nearby the water basins, but with 66% of all water basins having significant amount of algal blooms it is hard to compare to a control group when the norm is toxic. A similar study demonstrated a strong link between some of these algal bloom areas with Lou Gehrig’s disease near our very own Lake Eerie, highlighting the devastating effects that foreign contaminants can do to shake an entire ecosystem, the human one too.

Another issue brought up was that of studying the socioeconomic effects of their research and policy. How does one translate the research into working policy, and in turn apply it through the locals most affected by the research’s discoveries to ensure change can occur? As the centre’s focus has moved closer to strategic implementation and policy it is a major question that requires support from other groups to ensure that NaFIRRI’s goal of sustainable fishing, aquaculture and biodiversity is reached.

When asked about how an Institute like NaFIRRI is able to tackle such crucial areas for the economics, livelihood and environment Dr. Ogutu-Ohwayo simply said “We cannot try, we have to do.” When you speak about climate change especially, there isn’t always a window to try, and getting it done right the first time may be the only time to ensure that the future path is the right one.

On the topic of strategic partnerships, the most current topic at hand was the partnership between Western University and NaFIRRI as a bilateral partner for research and student placements. Aquaculture, Conservation and an Information Systems approach were the big three areas where a partnership would be most imperative, and that hit the nail with a hammer of the source of why we were here. The butterfly effects of fish’s population and water changes spread far into the fringes of the populations, even ones removed from dependence on aquaculture. Conservation of habitat, of diverse species and water bodies themselves is a separate area altogether as it needs to be aligned with sustained development. Finally, a systems approach, one that incorporated technology combined with on the ground expertise is fundamental to solving the problems at hand. As a partner to NaFIRRI, students can be involved in of the three areas, through a trans-disciplinary approach that give hope that we can shoot for the Plan A’s with the backing of research and support to ensure that we wouldn’t try, but we would simply do.

It was a fast-moving, all-encompassing meeting that brought our goals full circle. Global Health Systems are the deep rooted frameworks that underlie the workings of livelihood. NaFIRRI’s imperativeness stems from the fact that it underlies the entire aquaculture industry in Uganda, and their decisions change the outlook and focuses of the general population at large. We would leave the centre for a final adventure that would open our eyes, one last time.

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