Conference Themes

Six conference themes will be organized around sustainable development goals for the African Great Lakes (AGL) region, providing opportunities for participants to provide comparative analyses of the different lakes, in addition to sharing specific lake and basin case studies focused on: ecosystem services, drivers of ecosystem change, development and conservation, the impacts of human population growth, and the role of governance (institutions, policies, and financing) as drivers of ecological change. Summaries of data on the lakes, which provide a short situation analysis of some of the issues to be covered, will be available online.

Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity Benefits

Ecosystem services are important to more than 50 million people living in the basins of the African Great Lakes.  The lakes supply water for domestic and industrial use, hydropower generation, and irrigation, serve as transportation corridors, as focal areas for tourism development, are an important food source for the region, and regulate local climate, thus maintaining the water balance and rainfall on which agricultural and forest production depends.  These lake basins also have mineral deposits such as copper, gold, oil and gas, and some have large methane reservoirs in the deep zone.

Urban areas in the basins and along their shorelines are important economic hubs of the countries. In addition to the direct economic benefits provided by these lakes, they are home to Earth’s most diverse assemblages of freshwater fishes, which are a biodiversity treasure of global importance, and also provide a number of indirect benefits in addition to being a food source.  While there is a general appreciation for the above benefits, there have been few attempts to quantify the ways in which the biodiversity of these systems is an asset for the region, and even fewer attempts to understand the conflicts among various beneficial uses and how they can be mitigated.  Contributions under this theme should emphasize:

  • Valuation of ecosystem services (economic and otherwise)

  • Understanding and documenting the unique biodiversity and the threats to its persistence

  • The value of biodiversity including the use of trigger species and Key Biodiversity Areas

  • Understanding the links between biodiversity and ecosystem services, and how these may be affected by invasive species, resource management and eutrophication

  • Understanding how  catchment processes affect aquatic biodiversity and  services

  • Maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services in the face of current and future stressors

  • Opportunities and challenges in using biodiversity for economic development in riparian communities

  • Optimization of the food-energy-water nexus

  • Establishment of protected areas within the lakes

Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture Management

The communities around the AGLs have exploited fish which, apart from their economic value and food security, have played an important role in their social and cultural systems. The AGL fisheries now employ >350,000 fishers and many more along the value chain, and contribute at least 30% of the animal protein supply.

However, rapid population growth, increased demand for fish, over-exploitation, habitat degradation, pollution, non-native invasive species introductions and climate change have contributed to changes in the composition of the fish stocks, to the extent that in some lakes the most valuable species have declined or become commercially extinct.  The impacts from climate change, however, are not fully understood, but have been associated with changes in productivity, catches and composition of fishes.

Efforts to increase fish production through land-based pond aquaculture, amidst dwindling capture fisheries, has not been very successful. However, cage aquaculture, which was recently introduced on some AGLs, seems to be more promising, but has technical, socio-economic and environmental challenges that must be addressed. The key challenge is how to achieve sustainable lake fisheries and promote aquaculture amidst increasing population pressure and environmental challenges such as climate change.

This theme will draw on international and local scientific expertise to examine the values, threats, past trends, current status and future changes in fisheries and the interventions required to increase and sustain fisheries production in the AGL region.  The papers presented under the theme will focus on management and development issues, and the biological and ecological aspects that guide and support management interventions.  They will, as much as possible, make comparisons between the AGLs to promote cross learning and will include the following topics.


  • Contribution of fisheries to SDGs, GDP, livelihoods, food security, nutrition, employment and income among riparian communities and through the value chain to other countries;

  • Past trends, current status, and future prospects of capture fisheries and aquaculture, and adaptation strategies to changes in fisheries from the environment and climate change;

  • Linkages between fisheries and aquaculture development in the AGL region – drivers, issues, and management responses;

  • Fishery management and fishing rights/tenure, equity and access, gender, among small-scale fisheries and voluntary guidelines for securing small-scale fisheries; and

  • Challenges associated with fisheries policies, legislation and regulation, public, private institutions, and gender roles in development and management of the fisheries.

Climate Change Impacts, Mitigation and Adaptation

Climate change is currently regarded as the major environmental challenge of the 21st century and will aggravate existing problems relating to resource exploitation, habitat degradation, land use, invasive species, dam construction, urbanization and pollution. Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change because a high proportion of its population is composed of subsistence farmers, who would be affected by climate change but lack both the capacity to adapt within fisheries or to find alternative livelihoods.

Temperatures across the AGL region have increased as a consequence of human-induced climate change. This is beginning to affect hydrology, mixing dynamics, and lake productivity processes and fish yield. There is need to understand the direction and consequences of changing climate on fisheries in order to develop mitigation measures, appropriate management plans and adaptation strategies for affected communities. Approaches to climate change have emphasized the need to determine its impacts, and identify adaptation and mitigation measures. The contributions under this theme should examine:

  • The extent to which climate change is affecting resources in the AGL region, practical and innovative adaptation strategies at different scales(i.e. household, community, national, and regional levels), and how to make use of financing opportunities;

  • Our current understanding of future climate change in the African Great Lakes region: what is known and what are the most important questions yet to be answered;

  • Linkages between climate impacts, and consequent adaptation and mitigation strategies, and ecosystem services and biodiversity;

  • Effectiveness of policy and economic instruments, climate-related hazard  and  vulnerability  mapping and assessment; and

  • Early warning systems and decision support tools, Insurance and social protection schemes, Indigenous knowledge and practices, climate and disaster risk reduction; and low carbon development pathways.

Population Dynamics, Health and the Environment

Over 60% of the AGL region’s people depend on agriculture for their livelihood and the rapidly increasing human population increases pressure on the land, which in turn puts pressure on other resources such as fisheries, which have declined in most of the lakes. In the 11 AGL countries, almost 40% of the population—160 million people—lack improved water, while almost 75% (299 million) lack improved sanitation. This leads to a high prevalence of water-borne diseases, which contribute to high morbidity and mortality rates. Population, Health and the Environment (PHE) is a community-based integrated development approach applicable to conservation and development of resources, and includes interventions like providing improved access to health services (e.g. reproductive health) while helping communities manage natural resources, thereby contributing to the conservation of critical ecosystems, improving human health, promoting adaptation to climate change, building resilience, and promoting conservation and development.

Contributions to this conference theme should:

  • Explore how PHE interacts with conservation and development

  • Propose targeted interventions to address these issues through approaches such as women’s empowerment and resilience, the ‘Demographic Dividend’ and family planning

Balancing Development and Conservation

The sustainability of ecosystem services provided by the African Great Lakes and their basins requires appropriate balances between development and conservation. Major investments and development interventions, such as dam construction, oil and gas exploration and exploitation, introduction of fish species, and aquaculture, that are affecting the sustainability of natural resources should be examined.

Contributions to this conference theme should include discussion of:

  • Extractive industries and the challenge of environmental vulnerability, sustainable land management, sustainable fisheries, and community-based natural resource management

  • The effectiveness of good governance systems when applied to conservation initiatives

  • The development of optimal mixes of natural (e.g. wetlands, floodplains, watersheds) and built infrastructure (e.g. dams, levees, irrigation channels)

  • Applied research and community-based practices that support conservation and development

Governance and Financing

National institutions for natural resource management exist in most countries in the African Great Lakes region, however since the lakes and their basins are shared by more than one country, regional institutions to harmonize management measures should be established where they do not already exist, and effectively funded where they do exist. With national governments providing insufficient funding, and internationally-funded projects typically on a short term basis, the policies, institutions, and processes for resource management in the AGL region should be improved by forming appropriate institutions at national, regional, non-governmental or community-based levels to address the challenges in the region.

Contributions to this conference theme should include discussion of:

  • Demonstrating experiences from other lake basin organizations such as those on the North American Great Lakes, West Africa and Southern Africa

  • Providing case studies and models of stakeholders’ participation in lake basin governance and the role of government, non-governmental and private sector agencies in the improvement of policies, institutions, and financing of resource management and conservation efforts in the AGL and their basins