“Fish require top-quality, nutritionally complete and balanced diet to grow rapidly, but for now, the lack of feeds is a stumbling block to the growth of the sector."
Fish farmers have called on government to reduce taxes on imported fish feeds, which they say are constraining the growth of the sector, and pushing them out of business.
The farmers also called on government to establish a local feeds production facility, to sustainably provide quality feeds and also ensure growth of the aquaculture industry in Uganda.
"Fish require top-quality, nutritionally complete and balanced diet to grow rapidly, but for now, the lack of feeds is a stumbling block to the growth of the sector," sai8d Emma Mugisha, the managing director of Go Fish- a live fish farming and selling franchise in Kampala.
Mugisha said the alternative ingredients that can be used in local fish feeds production are not readily available on the market, forcing some farmers to use rudimentary alternatives like chicken droppings.
"These are not healthy alternatives for both the fish and the consumers. In the long run, we may not be able to export as a country if we do not quickly find sustainable alternatives," she said, on the sidelines of a recent Go Fish branch opening in Bugolobi, Kampala.
According to the Export Promotions Board statistics, government is losing approximately $200m (sh 692b) annually, due to the dwindling fish exports.
The statistics also indicate that fish exports slid to $100m (sh364b) in 2015, down from $300m (sh1.038trillion) three years ago.
"If government doesn't do anything to support fish farmers, these statistics will look worse in the next few years. Taxes and quality guarantee are what we need the government to place emphasis on," Mugisha said.
She said previously the fishing industry would earn more for the country than tea, cotton and tobacco, but is currently facing extinction, unless government moves to stop the dwindling stocks.
"The fisheries sub-sector used to be the second largest foreign exchange earner for Uganda about 15 years ago, but has fallen out of the leading forex earners, having been undertaken by tourism, coffee and remittances. However, if we have quality feeds, the stocks would grow fast, meet the required quality and bring in much more in forex earnings," Mugisha noted.
Recently, the Agriculture minister, Vincent Ssempijja said the government has finalized arrangements to introduce the national aquaculture policy, expected to enhance sustainable research in fish farming.
The policy is also expected to enhance innovation, production and marketing, especially of Tilapia fish across the region, according to Ssempijja.
The minister said government will under the new policy fund technologies that can support breeders and hatchers, and also enterprises that are engaged in the production of fish feeds.
"Export markets prefer farmed fish, but this has to meet certain criteria before it is accepted. Therefore, since government's target is to ensure food security and an income for our people, we shall support innovations that are tailored towards research fish feeds and value addition" he said
The Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association (UFPEA) 2015 report indicates that the country's fish production stood at 461, 000 metric tonnes in that year, against an aggregated demand of 758,226 metric tonnes.
The report also shows that fish exports fetched $113m in 2015, down from $ 143.6m in 2005, due to reduced export volumes.