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Uganda's fishy picture

By Vision Reporter

Added 8th February 2014 01:55 PM

During Jesus Christ’s ministry on earth, he went to towns near and far from home.

Uganda's fishy picture

During Jesus Christ’s ministry on earth, he went to towns near and far from home.


During Jesus Christ’s ministry on earth, he went to towns near and far from home. However, when he returned home in Nazareth, he was rejected because many people doubted his wisdom. “A prophet is respected everywhere, except in his hometown and by his own family,” he said to people in the synagogue (Matthew 13:57).

This cast in Nazareth is being repeated at Kajjansi on Entebbe Road. As the residents wake up, they get swallowed up by the hustle and bustle of urban life, forgetting that ground-breaking research on fish farming at Kajjansi is helping fish farmers elsewhere prosper. Not far from Kajjansi, experts attending a workshop at Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel, Entebbe, heap praise on Uganda as a success story of fish farming in the region. They say Uganda is rubbing shoulders with Egypt and Nigeria, which produce the biggest harvests from fish farms.

The experts advised other countries in the region to borrow a leaf from Uganda’s initiative. “The success in Uganda could provide lessons to other countries in the region,” stated a report titled Regional market assessment: supply and demand, released by Smart Fish, a European Union-funded initiative in eastern and southern Africa and the Indian Ocean. The total production from fish farming in 2009 was estimated at 76,654 tonnes, way up from 5,539 tonnes five years before, according to the EU report.

It also states that most of the countries depend on capture fisheries (wild fish in the lake). But African countries, including Uganda, are punching below their weight, given that they contribute only 2% of the global aquaculture production.

Fish farming in Africa provides employment to less than 1% of the fish farmers globally. As production from fish farms increases, Asian countries are taking the lion’s share of the products, with China getting over 60%. As the population increases, the report notes, fish supplies will be a challenge in the coming years, but there will also arise opportunities in fish farming. Interventions include reducing post-harvest losses, currently estimated at 40% and adding value to fish through processing.


The Minister of State for Agriculture, Prof. Zerubaberi Nyira, says fisheries contribute 20% of the total agricultural output and 5% to the Gross Domestic Product. He also pointed out that the Government is aiming at increasing revenue from fisheries to $1b, from the current $110m.

According to Dr. John Balirwa, a researcher at the Fisheries Resources Research Institute, the Government has prioritised increasing the quantity of fish produced by 300,000 tonnes (wild caught and fish farm produce) in the next few years. In addition to the 450,000 tonnes of fish being produced, the total output in the medium term is expected to rise to 750,000 tonnes. “I do not think this will be enough to feed the local, regional and international market,” says Balirwa.

Increased production calls for research, which Balirwa says is being undertaken to establish areas where aquaculture parks will be set up.

The parks, according to Balirwa, will cover 50 hectares by 100 hectares where power, refrigeration services and roads for easy access will be provided. In addition, research is being conducted to improve on feeds, which has been affecting production. Other researchers are also experimenting in domesticating the Nile Perch and rare fish, Semutundu and Ningu, which are natives of Lake Victoria, but are regarded as disappearing species


The EU report points out that the demand for fish in Uganda is soaring because of the population increase and awareness of its nutritional benefits. In addition, DR Congo is an importer of fish.

Other markets being targeted by commercial farmers include Kenya and Rwanda. “Increased facilitation of aquaculture by the Government could be one way of satisfying demand in the region,” states the report. The expanding aquaculture is partly answering this as the report notes that capture fisheries in Uganda is still the main contributor of fish.

Government is targeting $1b from fisheries

The  Government wants to earn $1b in the coming few years from the fishing sector. However, a lot has to be done since the sector’s contribution to Government coffers has reduced from $146m in 2006, to the $110m, according to the Minister of State for Agriculture, Prof. Zerubaberi Nyira.

A report titled Agriculture for food and income security: Agriculture sector development strategy and investment plan for 2010-2015 states that to reverse the declining fortunes of the industry, interventions are required to halt illegal activities and to exploit existing opportunities.

“The Government will strengthen the fight against illegal fishing, promote and support aquaculture and cage fish farming and stock of small water bodies, including dams,” states the report. Richard Kimbowa, the head of the Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development, called for increased investment in the fisheries sector. He said it was not possible to increase output from fisheries beyond the carrying capacity of the water bodies, citing the need to explore other untapped potential in fish farming .


In Uganda, the land surface covered by open water is about 18%, while a larger percentage is covered by a network of rivers and streams. These fresh water bodies are suitable for aquaculture. The average temperature of 25 degrees Celsius is suitable for production of the common fish types. The cooler highland areas are suitable for high-value temperate fish types.

The streams and rivers, therefore, offer opportunities for pond culture, while the larger rivers and lakes offer opportunities for intensive cage culture. The most highly-priced fish types (Nile tilapia and Nile perch) are native in Uganda and, therefore, do not present any environmental threat.

Most of the fish caught in Lake Victoria is restricted to urban centres of Kampala and its surroundings. Prices of fish in these areas are lower. However, most regions are distant from the major lakes and offer markets for fish from aquaculture

Cage fish farming has been introduced on Lake Victoria

Cage fish farming giving better returns


Cage fish farming, which is by far the most productive form of aquaculture, is being introduced on Lake Victoria. It is promising to bring returns to the investors, but may not spare the environment from harm. It is also seen as a move that will deny indigenous communities access to certain parts of the lake.

Cage fish farming involves the use of nets mounted on metallic frames to form a cage. The cage is placed in a specific area, where it floats on water. The fish, such as tilapia, mature between six and eight months. Dr. John Balirwa, a researcher at the Fisheries Resources Research Institute, says cages are the most productive form of fish farming. In cage fish farming, a stock of about 1,500kg can be accommodated in a cage of two metres large, two metres wide and two metres deep.

The same stock would require a pond of one-and-a-half hectares, according to Balirwa. The disadvantage is that cages can only be used in water which is more than five metres deep. Apart from Lake Victoria and the rift valley lakes like Albert and Edward, cage fish farming may not be applicable in other parts of the country, leaving hopes of many intending farmers hanging onto pond aquaculture. “What you need to carry out fish farming in ponds is trapping water to create a dam,” explained Balirwa.

Other environmental disadvantages of pond aquaculture include siltation, caused by erosion in the catchment of the water source. Balirwa advises regular de-silting to remove the soil. In addition to cages and ponds, farmers could also harvest water in tanks, which they could use for rearing fish in the backyards.

Balirwa says the environmental concerns are always brought to the attention of the National Environment Management Authority, which issues permits to intending investors. He said cage fish farmers are advised not to interfere with the management practices on the lake.


A fisherman displaying mature fish at Kagwara landing site in Serere district.

Perception of aquaculture changing for the better

In Uganda, fish is consumed as fresh or frozen, dried or canned. In relation to species, Tilapia is the most popular fish for local consumption because of tradition, taste, convenience and price. But the sardine species, called mukene in Uganda and dagaa or omena in Kenya and Tanzania, is also becoming popular because of its low price. Nile Perch, which is either exported whole or in fillet, according to the report, tops the most popular products for export from the region. Two species, North African cat fish and Tilapia, were by 2000 the most popular and grown species among fish farmers.


Aquaculture production in Uganda comes from small scale fish farmers, emerging commercial fish farmers and stocked community water reservoirs and minor lakes. An estimated 20,000 ponds exist throughout the country, with an average surface area of 500 square metres per pond, according to the EU report. Production ranges from 1,500kg per hectare, per year, for subsistence farmers, to 15,000kg per hectare for emerging commercial fish farmers.


Fish farming started during the colonial era to enhance the diet of rural families. It became popular in the late 1960s, covering 410 hectares and up to 900 tonnes were harvested. But civil unrest and political turmoil, which hit the country in the 1970s and 1980s, sent fish farming into stagnation. By the late 1980s, production was estimated at 30 to 40 tonnes per annum. “Fish farming is growing. Days when it was treated as a hobby are long gone. It is being transformed into a commercial enterprise,” said Balirwa.


About 20% of Uganda is covered by lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands, meaning that the potential to produce fish is high, according to Dr. Callist Tindimugaya, a commissioner in the Ministry of Water and Environment. He also pointed out that most of the water is stored in wetlands, where it is released slowly into rivers and lakes, increasing Uganda’s water security. Tindimugaya said water security means storing water and using it when it is needed for activities like fish farming. If Egypt, which is a desert, watered by only one river, the Nile, is the leading producer in aquaculture, Uganda where River Nile originates and is endowed with many rivers, streams and wetlands, needs a strategy to match leading global producers.

Fish ponds are an alternative, especially in areas without water bodies

Cages not as holy as hyped

AS Government experts are touting cage fish farming on Uganda’s lakes, Walimi Fish Cooperative Society says rearing fish in tanks has superior benefits and less effects on the environment. According to Willy Cornelius Kwiri, the head of the technical team at Walimi Fish Cooperative Society, a tank could take the same fish as a one-acre pond. In addition, it is labour intensive and costly to dig a pond of such a size.

An acre is the equivalent of a football pitch. Kwiri rates tanks above ponds and cages. He said there is a fisheries research at Kajjansi in Wakiso district, which is undertaking case studies on pond aquaculture and cage fish farming. “Fish farming in tanks means less investment cost, but farmers get more benefits, compared to other forms of fish farming,” he explained. He noted that ponds and cages, have many uninvited guests, including snakes, birds and otters, which prey on the fish, hence reducing the amount of harvest the farmers make.

According to Kwiri, the cages have negative effects to the environment, such as pollution, a reason why cages are being abandoned in Asian countries. Others are security concerns, which also attract costs, where farmers have to invest in patrol boats in order to keep away intruders. He also said the lake had different users, such as fishermen, transporters and patrons, who may not want the pristine nature of the lake to be altered.

Low-dissolved oxygen syndrome is a major drawback of cage farming and often requires artificial aeration because of low oxygen levels, which make it difficult for fish to survive.

The spread of diseases is another potential drawback to cage farming. Conversion of natural habitats to cage farms may also adversely affect natural fish and sea food species. Fish which escape from cage farms can also cause disruption by the introduction of foreign species into an ecosystem. Cage farms that are located in open waters are also vulnerable to potential vandalism or poaching.

When tilapia is grown in tanks, most farmers opt for a high stocking density, which creates a stressful environment for the fish and the risk of ill health is increases. According to, the risks will be increased further if the farmer fails to provide the fish with optimal water conditions and a satisfactory diet. In order to strictly control the environment in the tank, you have to use efficient pumps and aeration equipment, which are costly to purchase and use. Recirculation systems also require a substantial investment and must be properly managed. All equipment that needs electricity will stop working during power outages and this can lead to mass deaths if you do not have a back-up system.

Uganda’s fishy picture

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