Promoting sustainable livelihoods at Lake Victoria by introducing solar lamps for night fishing

By loading the map you accept the privacy policy of Google.

To replace kerosene lights for night fishing by introducing energy hubs to power sustainable lighting systems

This joint project conducted by the Global Nature Fund in cooperation with the industry partner Osram replaced common kerosene lamps with more reliable, low energy lamps along the Ugandan and Kenyan shores of Lake Victoria, The lamps are powered by a battery, charged during daytime at a photovoltaic energy hub, which is run by local energy hub managers. Fishermen, can borrow the batteries and use the lamps for night-fishing activities. This system reduces the financial risks for the users. The project which is based on the outcomes of a feasibility study, was combined with a dissemination campaign on the new technology and aimed to reach around 1,000 fishermen in its first year.


For generations, people on the shores of Lake Victoria in East Africa have been using kerosene lamps for night fishing. However, kerosene contributes to the degradation of the lake's ecosystem due to spillages, negatively affects health and is increasingly expensive as the international price of oil rises. As well as being polluted with kerosene, the ecosystem of Africa's largest lake is in an imbalance due to several factors: the introduction of the Nile Perch and its massive population growth, the introduc-tion of foreign plants, de-forestation of the surroundings and human population growth. Despite the negative effect that fishing has on the lake's ecosystem, the majority of the local people rely on this industry. One of the few species that has withstood the spread of the imported Nile Perch is the native Silver Cyprinid, locally known as Omena and a major source of proteinfor the poor. Every night, fishermen leave the shores in small boats and use kerosene lanterns to attract the fish to their nets. This project aimed to introduce efficient, reliable and affordable replacements for kerosene lanterns. A new solar-based lighting technology was intended to improve food security, sustain the fishermen's livelihoods and safeguard the environment. WISIONS supported the aspect of the project that addressed capacity-building, both of the fishermen and those people responsible for running the energy stations.

Technology, Operations and Maintenance

Kerosene lamps are commonly used in night fishing and for domestic lighting around Lake Victoria as 70% of the population lack access to electricity. Each fishing boat uses 5 lanterns and, because of their very low efficiency, every lamp consumes approximately 1.5 litres of kerosene per night. In a pilot project implemented by Global Nature Fund and OSIENALA it was proved that an 11W CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) gives comparable results to a kerosene lamp in terms of light intensity and colour. To introduce this technology it was necessary to construct a whole new energy system. The main elements of the new system, which was developed in collaboration with OSRAM, are solar energy stations, batteries and CFLs. Photovoltaic panels with a peak capacity of 9.3 kW are installed on the roof of each energy station and the electricity generated is used to charge the 12A/12V lead gel batteries. To maximise the batteries' life expectancy, they can only be recharged at the energy stations, which can charge 250 batteries per day. The batteries are equipped with two sockets for CFLs or other devices, such as mobile phones or radios. The lamps comprise 11W CFLs, white lampshades and waterproof cases. The energy stations are managed professionally, thereby establishing livelihoods and fostering entrepreneur- ship. As well as the need for lighting, the energy stations address other fundamental needs in this off-grid region. As mobile phones become increasingly important in regions with poor infrastructure the need for charging stations grows rapidly. Therefore, the energy stations are equipped with a charging rack that can charge 48 mobile phones simultaneously. The purification of drinking water is another crucial function carried out at the energy stations.

Financial Issues and Management

On average, a fisherman burns about 1.5 litres of kerosene every night - costing about €1.50 (150 Kenyan Shillings, KES). The amount spent on kerosene accounts for approximately 30-50% of the fishermen's income. Solar powered lamps are not only cleaner and safer, but also cheaper. When completely charged, the batteries can power the 11W energy-efficient lamps for one night. The charging fee for the battery is €1 (100 KSE). To rent a battery lamp system the fishermen must leave a deposit of around €20 (2000 KES). In the given context this is a lot of money but, as the running costs are about 30% lower than for kerosene lamps and the batteries can be used to power other devices such as mobile phones, the deposit is a worthwhile ‘investment'. When the fishermen return the lamps, their deposits are refunded.

Environmental Issues

Around Lake Victoria kerosene is the main energy source for lighting, but burning kerosene for lighting purposes is highly inefficient as only 0.1% of the energy is converted into light (99.9% is converted into heat). The resulting CO2 emissions are correspondingly high. As credible socio- economic data about the number of fishermen in the region and their fishing habits is unavailable, it is not possible to quantify the levels of CO2 emissions. However, the following illustration gives an indication: the three energy stations in this project have 600 customers. Assuming that they previously consumed 120,000 litres of kerosene per year the resulting annual reduction in CO2 emissions would be about 300 tonnes. Another positive environmental impact is the reduction in kerosene spillages, which pollute the ecosystem of the lake and reduce fish breeding. Kerosene lamps are not only inefficient and pollutant, they are also unhealthy as they expose fishermen to toxic fumes. The new efficient lamps have no negative impact on the health of the users, although losing batteries in the lake by accident, as well as leakages from old batteries and lamps, can cause severe environmental damage. For this reason, the proper disposal of the batteries and lamps is crucial for ensuring the overall sustainability of the system.

Social Issues

The proportion of family income spent on lighting decreased from 50% to 30% and the money saved has resulted in a higher standard of living. Additionally, the money now spent on lighting stays mostly in the country. Between 3 and 5 members of staff were employed at every energy station. A key factor in the success of this project was the organisational structure around the lake. The fishermen are organised into groups of about 60 members in so-called ‘Beach Management Units' (BMU). One key aspect of the project was the training courses given to the energy station staff, the representatives of BMUs, the fisheries officers and other stakeholders. Two workshops were organised in Kenya in order to provide the users with basic information on the technological, environmental and economic aspects of the energy saving lamps, on handling the batteries and lamps and about the services and prices of the energy stations.

Results & Impact

The aim of the project was to serve around 1000 households by establishing 3 energy stations. The actual capacity is even higher: the 3 stations/hubs can serve around 3000 households. In total, the energy stations have about 600 customers who use the lamps, of which only 150 are fishermen. Although the clean, bright lamps were originally developed for use by fishermen, they are increasingly used locally in households and small shops. Nevertheless, the project is sustainable and the number of customers is constantly growing. The general public was informed about the project via "Radio Lake Victoria“, which reaches almost 10 million people around the lake and broadcasts in four languages. The project partners had intended to introduce energy stations/hubs in Uganda, where training also took place. However, despite the positive results in Kenya, the technology was not well accepted in Uganda and by the end of the project the hubs had not been established.


The potential for replication is enormous. 30 million people live on the shores of the lake, of which more than three quarters lack access to electricity. Replication is not restricted to Lake Victoria: in rural areas in developing countries kerosene lamps are often the only means of generating light for domestic use and work. Worldwide, around 77 billion litres of kerosene are consumed annually to generate light. An important factor for successful replication is the existence of some kind of productive use for the light (i.e. work/industry), as the consumers have to pay for it. After the successful implementation of the first three hubs in Kenya, more followed in the following years. In future years it is planned to establish solar hubs in big cities.

Lessons learned

Initially the technology had teething problems and both the lighting systems and the batteries had to be adapted to the local conditions. Once the improvements had been made, however, the concept was up and running. The technology and the business model is one important part of the project, but the social acceptance and the change in traditional habits is an entirely different matter of at least equal importance. This was a key challenge in Uganda, where the solar hub concept did not work. Disseminating the technology more widely depends on a well thought-out campaign and on the education of potential users about the many economic, social and environmental advantages of efficient solar lamps.

Projects with same technology

Exchange: Community Trainers for Renewable Energy Technology Use in Sustainable Food Production and Water Management

The focus of this exchange activity is a social alliance and collective learning process between NGOs and rural communities from three regions of Colombia (Santander, Córdoba and Antioquia). It is based on the accumulated results achieved previously in a WISIONS supported project and ongoing community work in the field of renewable energy and sustainable livelihood strategies.

Solar Water Pumping in urban areas of Argentina

This project aims to install a solar pumping system in order to maintain an adequate flow of water to a building's rooftop water tank which will, in turn, ensure the constant provision of water to the apartments in the building.

Projects in same country

Replacing firewood with biogas in Nakuru high schools, Kenya

To replace firewood with biogas technology for providing clean and sustainable energy at Kenyan Boarding Schools