For many years under the darkness of the night sky, thousands of small-scale fishermen set sail off various beaches of Lake Victoria, lit various types of kerosene lamps and waited for fish to come to their cast nets.
Drawn by the light, hundreds of sardine-like fish popularly known as Omena leap out of the water and into the nets which are then hauled into the fishermen’s canoes.
Although this traditional fishing method continues, safety and cost concerns have seen a shift in the type of lamps used by the fishermen.
Most fishermen have now dumped once popular kerosene lamps for safer and more financially sustainable solar lamps.
Using kerosene for lighting is deemed extremely inefficient, dangerous and expensive, and it has extensive health and environmental drawbacks.
The World Bank estimates that breathing kerosene fumes is the equivalent of smoking two packets of cigarettes a day and two-thirds of adult females with lung cancer in developing nations are non-smokers.
“I cannot forget my worst encounter with the use of pressure lamp three years ago when one of my workers got serious burns after the lamp exploded as he was trying to light it,” says Hellen Omondi, a boat owner in Usenge, Siaya.
With depleting fish stocks in the lake, fishing expeditions now last longer — almost overnight. This means a higher expenditure for those using kerosene-powered lamps.
Ms Omondi, who has been in the fishing business for more than 10 years, is among those who have switched to solar lamps not just for safety but also boost her take home.
“I used to spend more than Sh600 on kerosene per day on my four pressure lamps which enabled me to operate for a period of between seven and 10 hours in the night,” she added.
A study Lighting Africa, an initiative of the World Bank, estimates that fishermen spend up to half of their take-home income on buying kerosene for lighting and maintaining their lamps, yet they could catch just as much fish using clean modern lighting systems powered by renewable energy such as solar and eliminate these huge fuel costs — 35-50 per cent of their income.
Each fishing boat uses five lanterns and because of their very low efficiency, every lamp consumes about 1.5 litres of kerosene per night, according to estimates by Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy.
With kerosene currently retailing at Sh78.66 a litre at the pump in Kisumu, it means each fishing boat consumes about Sh590 a night. On the other hand, a kilogramme of fish retails at about Sh400.
Many of the 12 to 18 million artisanal fishermen in developing countries fish at night using kerosene lanterns to attract fish into their nets, according to Lighting Africa.
Isaac Owuor, chairman of Ugambe Beach Management Unit says most fishermen have embraced solar lamps, which are safe and cost-effective.
“It was a common occurrence for fishermen to abandon their night activities due to the failure of the kerosene lanterns as a result of heavy downpour and breaking of glasses among others,” he says.
“As a person who has had some bad experience with the use of kerosene lamps, I recommend the shift to the solar fishing lamps, which has proved to be more reliable and efficient.”
Another fisherman, Daniel Okumu, says the use of paraffin lamps often resulted in spoilt fish due to spillage.
Several companies dealing in solar products are reporting brisk business as Lake Victoria fishermen take up the new lighting technology.
“We are engaging the fishermen through their Beach Management Units, which are established in the five counties of Siaya, Kisumu, Migori, Homa Bay and Busia,” John Odundo, regional business development manager at Mwezi Solar, a green energy company based in Kisumu.