Press Releases

Kenya’s Leonard Akwany Wins 2023 Whitley Award for Fisheries Revamp at Lake Victoria

“These wetlands are surviving because of the efforts of local conservation groups.”

London, 26 April: UK charity Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is recognising Kenyan conservationist Leonard Akwany with a 2023 Whitley Award for his work to bolster grassroots fisheries management at Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake, where native fish species have more than halved and unsustainable fishing is tipping waterside communities into food insecurity.

WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, will present the awards to Leonard and five other winners on 26 April  at the Royal Geographical Society in a ceremony  which also marks the 30th anniversary of the Whitley Fund for Nature. WFN Trustee Sir David Attenborough said the work of conservationists has never been more urgent: “We need the work of Whitley Award winners to succeed and to help them to whatever extent possible.”

Shared by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, Lake Victoria is a key global biodiversity hotspot, with fishing activity supporting the livelihoods of four million people and producing an annual catch worth $600 million USD. However, overfishing, climate change, pollution, and the degradation of critical aquatic habitats such as wetlands have led to plummeting fish stocks and reduced native fish species from 500 to 200. Globally, freshwater species have fallen by 83 percent, the largest decline of any species group, according to the most recent Living Planet report.

The Founder of non-profit Ecofinder Kenya based in Kisumu – the hometown of Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o – Leonard’s project will create a community-managed fishery reserve of 3,000 ha to allow native fish species to recover. He will use the award to bolster the capacity of five Beach Management Units (BMUs) – which consist of fishers, fish traders, boat owners and stakeholders – so they can effectively manage fisheries in their zone, and reduce environmentally damaging fishing practices, like the use of trawl nets. With 281 BMUs in total across Lake Victoria’s shore in Kenya, the success of Leonard’s new programme has the potential to have a much wider impact.

Leonard’s plans include the training of 200 BMU members on alternative green livelihoods to reduce fishing pressure while protecting local incomes, building on previous work in restoring wetlands which promoted ecotourism, green energy technologies and regenerative agriculture.

Training will also address the poor involvement of women in BMU leadership. Leonard expects the proactive participation of women in the fisheries industry to help address the gender-based violence in fishing communities, known locally as “jaboya culture” or “sex-for-fish” which is prevailing amid a slump in fish stocks and which involves fishermen prioritising their catch for sexual partners.

“I am a native of Lake Victoria. I share local people’s problems and aspirations. So I am in intimate synch with problems facing Lake Victoria fisherfolk communities. They have traditional ecological knowledge of fish breeding grounds but protection of those areas is constrained by limited resources and inadequate BMU empowerment,” says Leonard. “Local people’s involvement in wetlands restoration, citizen science monitoring and surveillance, and the developing of green-value chain options such as ecotourism exemplifies involvement, benefits and positive attitude to this work.”

“I am inspired by the proactiveness and sense of community service from local fisherfolk communities; youth, women and men working with me towards the conservation of fisheries and wetlands resources of Lake Victoria in Kenya.”

His new project will be implemented in the Winam Gulf area covering Kisumu, Siaya – the hometown of Barack Obama’s father – and Busia Counties in western Kenya and will target three native fish species which are Critically Endangered; cichlids, Ngege and Mbiru as well as the Ningu, found in shallow, inshore waters. It includes the protection of riparian wetlands and river mouths and will indirectly benefit papyrus birds and semi-aquatic antelope known as sitatunga.





  • Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK charity supporting grassroots conservation leaders in the Global South. Over 30 years it has channelled £20 million to more than 200 conservationists across 80 countries.
  • An early pioneer in the sector, WFN was one of the first charities to channel funding directly to projects led by in-country nationals. Its rigorous application process identifies inspiring individuals who combine the latest science with community-based action, to benefit biodiversity, climate and people.
  • WFN’s flagship prizes – Whitley Awards – are presented by Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, at a prestigious annual ceremony in London. Winners receive funding, training and media profile including films narrated by Trustee, Sir David Attenborough.
  • The 2023 Whitley Awards Ceremony is on Wednesday 26 April at the Royal Geographical Society, streamed live to YouTube from 8pm BST. The 2023 Whitley Award winners are:
    • Yuliana Bedolla in Mexico who is protecting marine bird life from invasive species on the Baja California Pacific islands
    • Tulshi Laxmi Suwal is a world expert on pangolins who plans to conduct Nepal’s first forest fire impact assessment on pangolins, the most traded mammal in the world.
    • Mamy Razafitsalama is working to improve livelihoods and reduce forest fires in Madagascar, which has lost nearly half of its forest cover and where one-third of the country’s 110 lemur species are now Critically Endangered
    • Serge Alexis Kamgang in Cameroon will expand the only lion-focussed project in the Bénoué ecosystem where lion numbers have fallen to just 250
    • Albert Salemgareyev in Kazakhstan plans to find sustainable solutions to emerging conflict between saiga antelope and local pastoralists over water resources in the country’s newest protected area
    • Leonard Akwany in Kenya works in Lake Victoria where native fish species have more than halved to 200 and local livelihoods are threatened. He plans to create community managed protected areas to allow fish populations to recover.
  • Every year, a past Whitley Award winner is chosen to receive the Whitley Gold Award, worth £100,000, in recognition of their outstanding contribution to conservation. Joining the Judging Panel, the Whitley Gold Award recipient also acts as a mentor to Whitley Award winners and an international ambassador for conservation success. The 2023 Whitley Gold Award winner is Kenyan conservationist Shivani Bhalla, recognised for her community-led work to secure a future for lions in northern Kenya.
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Carol Roussel, Head of Media Relations at Whitley Fund for Nature

E: [email protected]

T: 07379 019 804


Kate Stephenson, Head of Communications at Whitley Fund for Nature

E: [email protected]

T: 07460 136 571