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1.1 Physical Features, Population, and Food Production

Lying astride the equator, Uganda is a landlocked country endowed with plentiful freshwater resources. Of the total 241,000 km2 area of the country, about 44,000km2 or 18% is covered by water, including major and minor lakes, rivers, swamps, dams, valley tanks, and fish ponds (MPED 1991a -- see Table 1). Of the land area itself, it is estimated that some 34% is comprised of forest and woodland, 26% is made up of pasture, 28% is under cultivation (20% seasonal and 8% perennial), and 12% consists of mountainous and non-arable zones (FAO/ADB 1984). Administratively, Uganda is divided into 34 districts (Fig. 1).

The national population is currently estimated at 17 million people, 90% of whom are reckoned to live in rural areas and to depend on agriculture for their livelihood. The highest concentrations of rural and urban populations are to be found in the disticts comprising the “Lake Victoria Crescent”, where land fertility and levels of agricultural development are comparatively high (UNICEF 1989 -- see Fig. 2). Agricultural production contributes some 95% of the country's foreign exchange earnings. Industry is mostly agro-based, heavily dominated by food manufacturing and crop processing factories. Farmers, livestock keepers, and fisherfolk are generally small-scale operators who produce for home consumption, with modest surpluses going for market sale (MAIF 1989).

Crop surpluses make up about 90% of total marketable farm produce (MAIF 1989). Many kinds of staple food crops are cultivated across the country, their distribution varying according to altitude and climatic conditions (Fig. 3). Millet, cassava, and simsim are common to the drier areas of seasonal rainfall in the north; bananas are important around the wetter central zone of the country; in the west and south, bananas, millet, and cassava are widely grown. Maize, groundnuts, beans, rice, soybeans, potatoes, and varieties of green vegetables are other important crops wherever conditions are suitable. Estate farming has only gained significance in connection with tea and sugar. The other major cash earners, including cotton in the east and north, tobacco in the northwest and southwest, and coffee in the central zone and mountainous eastern areas, are mostly produced by small-scale farmers.

Small-scale farming is often of a mixed character, in that many rural households may keep a limited number of cattle, goats, sheep, and/or poultry to complement their food crops. Livestock production takes precedence in the northeast and east and some parts of the southwest and west. According to current Ministry of Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAIF) estimates, Uganda's livestock population stands at 3.9 million cattle, 3.8 million sheep and goats, and 0.47 million pigs, with cattle accounting for almost 90% of the domestic animal biomass.

1.2 The Fishery Sector3

There are some 165 lakes in the country, the largest and most productive of which are Lake Victoria, Lake Kyoga, Lake Albert, Lake Edward, and Lake George (map, Fig. 4). The national waters are all fresh in nature and contain an impressive array of fish species -- over 90 in all. This count does not include the Haplochromis complex, which itself is made up of more than 200 species. Fish that are the target of most commercial and subsistence exploitation include species of Lates (Nile perch), Oreochromis (Nile tilapia), the herring-like Alestes, the catfishes Bagrus and Clarias, Hydrocynus (Tiger fish), the small pelagic “sardine” Rastrineobola, Protopterus (lungfish), and the haplochromines.

Overall potential annual yield from national waters has not been precisely determined, though it has been estimated to be as high as 300,000 tonnes (MAIF 1983). Such a figure would amount to a level that is about 33% higher than the estimated current annual harvest of the capture fisheries. If fish farming could be revived from its presently nearly moribund state, and developed as a major emphasis in appropriate regions throughout the country, national fish production could in theory be boosted very significantly (Balarin 1985; vanden Bossche and Bernacsek 1990).

Whilst it is generally assumed that substantial increases in production could be achieved without risk to the continued viability of the capture fishery, assessment is urgently required of the exact state of the national stocks and the actual harvest potentials they can sustain in the long term (Orach-Meza, Coenen, and Reynolds 1989).

Table 2 and Figure 5 provides time-series data on annual catch levels in the major fisheries over the period 1961–1989. These data are best taken as indicative rather than exact measures of catch levels, since the monitoring and reporting procedures through which they are derived are in need of considerable improvement in certain respects (Reynolds, Wadanya, and Nyeko 1989).

The total commercial catch of fish in 1989 was estimated by the Uganda Department of Fisheries (UFD) to be around 211,000 metric tonnes, down slightly from the 214,000 tonnes estimated for 1988.

The UFD figures for 1988 have been further disaggregated according to catch by water body, species and value, as shown in Table 3. Estimated total worth of the 1988 catch was on the order of UShs 14 billion (US$ 71 million) ex-canoe, or about UShs 38.5 billion (US$ 193 million) at the market level. Nearly half of the total national production for that year was derived from Lake Victoria; Lake Kyoga, formerly the country's leading producer, now ranks second in the yield standings, accounting for about 40% of the national catch (Fig.6; Fig.7). In terms of species composition, Nile perch and tilapia represent by far the most significant proportions of the catch, accounting for 51% and 39% respectively. The substantial increase in national catch levels in recent years, almost double of what they were during the 1960s (see Fig. 5), owes in large part to the upsurge of the introduced Nile perch population in Lake Victoria (Table 4). The evolution of the Nile perch fishery has been a remarkable success story in terms of employment, earnings, and production within the industry. Contrary to widely held belief, Nile perch stocks do not seem to have expanded at the expense of the popular tilapia species (Reynolds and Greboval, 1988). The fishery for Rastrineobola has also grown very significantly of late. Although it is apparent that Rastrineobola are being harvested and marketed in unprecedentedly great quantities, this fact is not adequately reflected in available statistics. Very often these small pelagic fish are lumped into the category of “Others” in the returns, or are not recorded at all (Reynolds, Wadanya, and Nyeko 1989).

Fishing is a principal source of employment for the rural populations who dwell around the shorelines and on the islands of all the major water bodies in Uganda. Estimates vary as to the magnitude of the employment base provided by the fisheries. The the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development has recently cited a figure of 73,000 individuals working directly as small-scale fishing unit owners or as crew (MPED 1990a). An additional 300,000 people are thought to be finding employment indirectly, through involvement in secondary and tertiary activities related to the sector, such as processing, trading, boatbuilding, net-making, and provision of various support services. Thus far “industrial” or large-scale mechanised fishing has been developed only minimally in Uganda. Two pair trawl units (four boats) are currently fishing the waters off Entebbe and the Ssese Islands. Fisheries analysts have quite forcefully made the point that any further expansion of trawling in near-shore areas would be in direct conflict with the interests of the extensive artisanal canoe fishery (Reynolds and Greboval 1988; Reynolds and Ssali 1990).

3. The descriptive material in this section is based on excerpts from several earlier papers, including Kirema-Mukasa and Reynolds (1989; 1990), and Orach-Meza, Coenen, and Reynolds (1990).

1.3 The Food Marketing System

The food marketing system in Uganda is based largely on the activities of small-scale traders who operate between rural food-producing areas and major urban centres. Transactions between trader and consumer are conducted on a relatively unrestricted, willing-seller/willing-buyer basis. Attempts under previous regimes beginning from around the mid-1970s to impose Government price controls on such items as sugar, salt, meat, and milk were largely ignored and since 1987 have been withdrawn. Prices for foodstuffs are generally a function of supply and demand forces operating under the overall influence of fuel prices, which are controlled. The distribution system is based on the national road and railway networks. These were designed primarily to serve the major urban and densely settled, agriculturally productive rural areas in the southern half of the country.

In rural localities especially, a substantial amount of farm produce moves to market sites or bulking points by headload and bicycle. On the main access roads and on major trunk roads, pick-ups and lorries are the principal modes of transport, with busses and vans serving to some extent as well. A major bottleneck to food marketing is the poor state of the roads in many places. The problem is particularly acute because basic maintenance and improvement work was neglected during the long period of civil instability and maladministration suffered by the country from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s. The present poor state of the railway network is also a legacy of this period Water transport in the form of ferries, small motor vessels, and freight canoes exists on the larger lakes such as Victoria, Kyoga, and Albert. But waterborne transport services have generally declined from the standards seen during the 1960s, before the national economic collapse.

Aside from its dependence on road, rail, and water transport infrastructures, the food distribution and marketing system does not rely extensively on specialised, technologically complex facilities. A national cold chain has yet to be established, and shipment of frozen, ice-chilled, or refrigerated products is virtually unknown. Within the last few years, however, good progress has been made by private sector firms in the handling of fresh and frozen fish intended for export markets, and external assistance has been provided to the National Dairy Corporation for the rehabilitation and expansion of milk collection and handling facilities to serve the domestic market.

On the whole Uganda is fortunate in that several of the major products constituting the national food bank are those which do not require specialised technology for their preservation and handling. Millet, sorghum, and cassava flour are major staple foods for a large segment of the population. These only require drying under the hot sun and pest-free storage environments to ensure their long-term storage. Beans, peas, groundnuts, simsim, and soybeans similarly are relatively easy to process and store and are also important foods for many people.

1.4 Food Consumption Characteristics and Malnutrition

Because of its geographical, climatic, and cultural diversity, there is no one staple food that characterises Uganda. As noted by Goode (1989), however, a uniform feature of Ugandan dietary patterns is that some sort of starchy staple component is accompanied by a “sidedish” or “sauce”:

The sauce is prepared separately and is eaten with the staple food. The compostion of the sauce varies according to the …[ethnic] and geographical area and to the season of the year. In general, however, it consists of a mixture of onions, tomatoes and local green leafy vegetables when available, with legume such as peas, beans or groundnuts…. Meat or fish is sometimes included [1989:15].

In the dry north and northeast (Gulu, Lira, Soroti, and West Nile Fisheries Regions -- see map, Fig. 4), people depend on ground millet (sorghum), often mixed with cassava flour. A typical meal is prepared by boiling the flour mixture into a stiff dough and consuming it with a sauce made of crushed and boiled groundnuts mixed with green vegetables and simsim. Beans may be used as a substitute for groundnuts. Amongst the Karimojong of the northeast corner of the country, millet serves as a starchy complement to the traditional staple foods of milk and blood from the family herds.

In the central and south-central part of the country (Entebbe, Jinja, Masaka, and Mityana Fisheries Regions), where precipitation is both higher and better distributed throughout the year, the main staple is the plaintain or green banana known locally as matooke. Normally steamed fresh and mashed into a heavy paste, matooke may be eaten with any type of sauce, whether of fish, meat, groundnuts, or vegetables. Oftentimes “bitter berries” (entula and katunkuma, locally) provide a substitute sauce base for groundnuts or beans.

In the west (Bushenyi, Mbarara, Kichwamba, Fort Portal, and Masindi Fisheries Regions) and east (Tororo and Mbale Fisheries Regions), both millet and matooke are widely eaten. Within the mountainous areas of the Rwenzori range on the border with Zaire, cassava flour is the major staple food and the favourite sauce is made with smoked fish. In the hilly areas of southwest Uganda (Kabale Fisheries Region) around the volcanic mountains of Mufumbira, millet is the traditional staple food, though it is gradually being supplanted by Irish potatoes.

Other foods commonly eaten in the country are sweet potatoes and maize meal. The latter is an important diet to the town dwellers because it is relatively cheaper than matooke and for millet- and cassava-eaters it is a good substitute fare. Maize is also widely used to feed children in boarding and day schools. Very often maize meal is prepared in the form of a watery porridge (uji) and taken for breakfast. In this form it is also frequently mixed with milk and fed to children, especially during weaning.

There are marked regional disparities in the health and nutrition status of the Uganda population. Available evidence on morbidity and mortality rates show that children in the under-five years age category are particularly vulnerable to problems of disease and malnutrition. Recent figures cited by a UNICEF report (1989) place the infant mortality rate at over 100/1000 and the cumulative under-five mortality rate at over 150/1000. Reference is also made to an estimate that deaths amongst children under five years account for more than half of all deaths in Uganda each year. According to the UNICEF report, available data indicate that the most frequent causes of illness and death for the very young are respiratory infections, malaria, measles, and diarrhoea. It is feared that AIDS will become the leading cause of death in the under-five category over the next decade.

Acute malnutrition is reckoned to occur in children at the rate of 2% “under normal circumstances in Uganda”, but local nutrition surveys suggest that rates of acute and moderate malnutrition are subject to regional variation. Children are at higher risk in poor urban areas, and in parts of the west, north, and northeast. Significantly, all are places in the country where economic displacement and marginality, and/or recent episodes of war and insecurity, and/or dietary habits including the avoidance of fish, have been most in evidence. Nutrition survey researchers have also noted that the incidence of underweight and stunted children tends to be associated with illiteracy and lack of formal education amongst parents.


Fish marketing in Uganda is quite complex, since it involves fairly wide geographical areas, an assortment of products, and a large number of traders and processors who supply the consumer in ways that may be direct or indirect, formal or informal. The operation of the national fish marketing system in the country have been the subject of previous studies, most notably the excellent pioneering work of Crutchfield (1959). The system was also reviewed as part of the TDRI “Fisheries Rehabilitation Study” in the early 1980s (TDRI 1983). Whilst informative and useful, earlier studies naturally do not reflect transformations in the marketing pattern that have occurred in the last few years, mostly as a consequence of the boom in the Nile perch fishery in Lake Victoria. In order to update the information base, members of the FISHIN Project team conducted a survey of markets during July-September 1990. Although the scope of the survey was limited to marketing areas fringing Lakes Victoria and George/Edward (i.e., the target fisheries regions of the Project), a substantial body of data was gathered. It should also be noted that the areas covered lie in the central and southwestern zones of the country, or precisely those places where most people are concentrated and marketing activity is most intense (Fig.2; Fig.4). The survey findings, in combination with information available in earlier studies (particularly Crutchfield's work of 1959) and Uganda Fisheries Department and FISHIN Project records, and with knowledge gained through the authors' personal observations and experiences, form the basis of discussion in this and following sections.

2.1 Marketing Stages and Channels

The marketing of fish in Uganda takes place through a series of stages and a wide variety of sites. Usually the primary stage occurs at landing sites, when canoes return from the fishing grounds and discharge their catches to waiting traders, processors, and consumers. In some cases, however, and particularly on Lake Victoria in recent years, fish can be sold directly on the water to those operating collection boats. It can thus be said that catches are sometimes sold as soon as they leave the nets.

2.1.1 Producer-consumer linkages

The different avenues through which fish may ultimately reach the consumer, directly or indirectly, formally or informally, are diagrammed in Figure 8 and are summarised below.

2.1.2 Recent changes in marketing patterns4

Fish distribution and marketing in Uganda has been marked by dramatic changes in recent years, altering a pattern that had remained more or less the same from the time when commercial fisheries first developed on a significant scale during the 1920s.

Despite its long history of subsistence and commercial exploitation, immense area, and huge potential, the Lake Victoria fishery was for many years not the main contributor to the national catch. For quite a lengthy period this distinction rested with Lake Kyoga, the smaller and shallower complex of flooded river valleys into which Victoria flows. Comparison of the trends apparent in Figure 6 (for Lake Kyoga) and Figure 7 (for Lake Victoria) shows that Lake Kyoga production consistently outstripped that of Victoria through the 1970s up to the mid-1980s, when the situation reversed itself.

Several factors contributed to this development, including: increased use of illegal gear and destructive fishing practices due to a severe shortage of inputs; a gradual decline in water level over the last decade or so; deterioration of feeder roads providing access to and from the landings; and a severe disruption of fishing operations from several landing sites due to problems of civil insecurity. A recent and even more worrisome problem that seems bound to curtail the Kyoga fisheries very drastically unless countered somehow is the appearance of water hyacinth in the lake. The weed is now proliferating rapidly and some waterways are already completely clogged up (Reynolds and Coenen 1991).

Lake Victoria, in the meantime, has been following a rather different course of development. The statistical record (Table 4) depicts a peak in the annual catches occurring in 1969, and then a steady decrease down to a low of around 10,000 tonnes in 1980, at the time when input shortages were hampering all the country's fisheries. From that point on, the explosive increase of Lates niloticus (the Nile perch or mputa) in the Ugandan sector of Lake Victoria made itself apparent in spectacular fashion. Starting from a level of less than 1,000 tonnes in 1981, catches of Lates skyrocketed to a level of 92,000 tonnes in 1988. Earlier harvest levels were thus not only recovered, but were overwhelmingly surpassed. It is interesting also that over the last few years there has been a distinct improvement in tilapia or ngege catches (mostly Oreochromis niloticus). For 1988, combined Nile perch and tilapia catches accounted for 97% of the total tonnage recorded for the Ugandan sector of the Lake.

From a human nutrition point of view, this sudden availability of high quality animal protein must be seen as one of the more fortunate events in the recent history of the country -- a history that has otherwise been marked by widespread instability and severe disruption in food production both at the farm and processing/manufacturing levels. The bounty of the new fishery for Nile perch proved so great that it could partly compensate not only for setbacks in the agriculture and livestock sectors, but for the temporary loss or decline of the contribution of the other major fisheries of the country.

It is not only on Lake Kyoga that setbacks have occurred. Lake Wamala is a shallow water body located some 70 km west of Kampala. Managed as a restricted-entry fishery, it was for many years a major source of tilapia and other fish for the city market. By the mid-1970s, however, production levels had collapsed due to overexploitation. At the same time the highly productive fisheries of Lakes Edward, George, and Albert in the west were suffering disruptions. A general breakdown in road communications and the cash economy, as well as outbreaks of civil unrest, cut them off from traditional major markets for fresh and processed fish in the central and northwestern parts of the country. In particular, the Lakes Edward/George fisheries of Kichwamba Region were isolated from the vigorous market for fresh fish around Kampala and its environs (Reynolds and Greboval 1988). This trade depended on good roads and minimum delays en route. Fresh fish had to be collected by pick-up load from the Kichwamba landings early in the morning and rushed to be in Kampala markets by midday. The popular Luganda names by which this pick-up trade became known, mali egenya (“the money is spoiling”) and zivunda (“it is rotting”), convey the sense of urgency involved.

Also by the early 1970s, the supply of frozen Lake Edward and George fish products from TUFMAC (The Uganda Fish Marketing Corporation) and other small fish factories in the Kichwamba area had started to decline. TUFMAC's processing plant on Lake George finally ceased operations in the late 1970s, after a number of years of mismanagement and other problems (Reynolds and Mukasa 1989; Reynolds and Ssali 1990).

Despite the fact that the situation has now stabilised and road links to the west and elsewhere are steadily being improved, changes in the distribution and marketing patterns that were attendant upon the political upheavals and the great influx of Nile perch products, both fresh and processed, remain in effect. The result in the case of the western lakes fisheries is an almost complete reversal of the situation that obtained in the pre-Nile perch days. Now very little fish from the west is marketed eastwards. Instead it is fish from Lake Victoria that moves west, to and through Kichwamba and Fort Portal Regions, most of it destined for export to Zaire.

Changes from the pre-Nile perch days are evident in other ways as well. Kenya has traditionally provided a ready market for Ugandan fish, especially tilapia products emanating from Lake Kyoga and to some extent from Lake Victoria. Whereas most of the Kyoga trade passes through the customs posts at Busia and Malaba, such formalities have always been easy to overlook in the case of those trading from the eastern part of Lake Victoria, where the boundary between the two countries is an imaginary line cutting across the water just off of the Kenya shoreline. These days, however, Nile perch rather than tilapia is the chief concern of such traders, and the quantities of fish involved are far greater than ever before. This development is a direct consequence of the rapid growth of filleting plants in Kenya, with their very high raw material requirements. Since production from the Kenyan sector of Lake Victoria is perforce limited by its relatively small area, a strong demand exists for fresh Nile perch caught in Ugandan waters.

Another recent development is the rapid expansion of the Rastrineobola argentea fishery. In contrast to its early evolution within the other riparian states of Kenya and Tanzania, this fishery was much underrated and underutilised in Uganda until only a few years ago. Harvested at night using light attraction techniques and scoop and seine nets, the small pelagic mukene or dagaa, as Rastrineobola are locally called, can easily be sundried and packed into gunny bags for long-term storage and transport. The fish command a good export market in Kenya, southern Sudan, and eastern Zaire. All of these places, and particularly Kenya, now receive considerable quantities of mukene through either formal or informal avenues. The domestic market is also becoming quite strong. The fish is very well-liked in northern Uganda and is becoming increasingly popular around the fringes of Lake Victoria, especially amongst lower-income consumers. It is also in heavy demand by the domestic animal feeds industry (Reynolds and Ssali 1990).

The overall transformations in patterns of fish flow can be seen through comparison of Figure 9, which shows the situation as of the early 1980s and before, with Figure 10, which shows the current situation.

4. The review in this section is based mostly on Kirema-Mukasa and Reynolds (1989; 1990); Orach-Meza, Coenen, and Reynolds (1990); and Reynolds and Ssali 1990).

2.2 Main Products

The radical changes in catch levels and composition that heralded the beginning of the “Post-Nile perch regime” in Lake Victoria, along with disruptions to production, distribution infrastructure and trading networks affecting Lake Kyoga, Lake Wamala, and the western lakes, have had far-reaching consequences for the fish trader and consumer. These have been felt in terms of both species availability and product form.

In terms of the former, the most striking development is the appearance of ever-increasing quantities of Lake Victoria Nile perch over the last ten years or so. The availability of other Lake Victoria species in local marketplaces has been mixed. Both the Nile tilapia O. niloticus and the small pelagic Rastrineobola have become more abundant in the marketplace. On the other hand, supplies of such popular fish as Bagrus, Clarias, and Protopterus may have dropped off to some extent, probably due to a combination of factors including a shift in fishing effort and methods by local operators wanting to concentrate more on Nile perch, and changes in stock balances attendant upon the Lates succession (Reynolds and Orach-Meza 1989).

Processing in one form or another is widely practised and has been considerably stimulated within the last ten to fifteen years due to general deterioration in communications infrastructure and the dramatic overall increase in fish harvests from Lake Victoria (TDRI 1983; FISHIN Project Field Observations 1989–90). Forms of processing include sun-drying, salting, frying, and smoking (Ssali, Reynolds, and Ward 1990).

Table 5 provides an indication of the proportions of fish marketed fresh versus cured in the districts covered by the FISHIN market survey. It is obvious that in places where access to markets from landing sites is fairly easy, the proportion of fresh sales to processed sales is very high. In districts like Luwero (Entebbe Region) and Masaka (Masaka Region), for instance, over 90% of all fish sales entail fresh product. Where access is problematical, the reverse holds true. Thus, in Kalangala District (the Ssese Islands), fully 78% of all sales are in processed fish.

Tables 6 and 7 give breakdowns of all fresh and processed fish sales by species composition for the same districts, based on UFD Regional Fisheries Officers' returns for 1988–90. The pre-eminence of tilapia and Nile perch in the marketing system in obvious. For fresh fish sales in the Lake Victoria Crescent districts (Table 6), about 40% involve tilapia and 57% Nile perch -- 97% of all sales when taken together. Of processed fish sales within the same area (Table 7), 28% involve tilapia and 56% Nile perch -- 84% of all sales when taken together. One additional feature of interest brought out in Table 7 is that almost all of the remaining balance of processed fish sales in the Lake Victoria Crescent districts is accounted for by dried Rastrineobola. Looking at the district figures individually, it can be seen that in some cases dried mukene constitutes quite a respectable proportion of the total sales: about 25% in Rakai District and just over 50% in Jinja District.

2.3 Trader Functions and Characteristics

In Uganda it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the “small-scale” and “large-scale” trader. Bicycle traders and traders who buy a basket or two -- say 50 or 100 kg -- of fish on each trip to a landing or wholesale outlet for resale locally are clearly not operating on the level of the traders who each transport a tonne of fish every day in their private pick-ups. The latter type of traders, in turn, are not in the same league as those who operate in terms of lorry-loads or refrigerated container-loads for export. Bearing in mind that any line of distinction will be somewhat arbitrary, the “small-scale” label is here reserved for those traders who operate in and out of local markets throughout the country, whether by foot, bicycle, hired transport, or privately owned pick-up. Compared with the trading operations of industrial filleting plants or long distance hauliers, which may involve investment on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars (i.e., millions of Uganda Shillings), the local trader is not likely to be heavily capitalised. As a “small-scale” operator, his or her level of investment and operating capital would range anywhere from a few dollars up to a several thousand dollars (i.e., hundreds or thousands of Uganda Shillings).

2.3.1 Small-scale trader functions

Small-scale traders in the sense just defined play an essential role in the distribution of fish throughout the country, supplying major concentrations of consumers in towns and cities as well as villages and homesteads scattered across rural areas. Their importance derives from the multiplicity of vital functions they perform. These may be summarised as follows.

2.3.2 Small-scale trader characteristics

Based on findings of the 1990 FISHIN market survey, it appears that the great majority of small-scale fish processors and traders operating in local markets in central and southwestern Uganda are men. In the 495 markets surveyed, a total of 10,035 traders were enumerated, of whom some 77% are male and 23% female. The gender proportions are the same for both “wholesale” and “retail” sectors. The proportion of women's participation is somewhat greater in the fish processing business. Of the 1181 processors enumerated, about 32% are female. Processing operations recorded include smoking, frying, sun-drying, and salting. In each case the participation of women is less than 25% except in smoking operations, where the rate is almost 48%. It is hoped that further case study work will provide more insight into the reasons for these patterns.

Fish trading is rarely the sole occupation of those involved in the business. Survey data compiled in Table 8 reveal that farming and shopkeeping frequently supplement fishmongering and fish processing as sources of income. Such occupations as transporting, brewing, brickmaking. and civil service work also figure to some extent as additional means of livelihood for traders. In only 20% of the markets surveyed was it found that traders had no other source of income. Almost all of these markets are located in major urban areas, where business is active enough to warrant a full-time commitment.

Small-scale fishmongers in the districts surveyed do not seem very inclined to join together in trade-related associations or co-operative societies. Traders and processors in the 495 marketplaces surveyed belonged to a total of 43 separate organisations (Table 9). It turns out however that many of these organisations are fishing societies rather than traders' groups. This mostly occurs in places that are landings as well as markets. Even if fishing society participation is included in the count, it is still the case that only 1638 or 16% of all traders enumerated were reported to have association/society membership. The gender rate of participation (number of members by sex/total traders) is 2% for women and 14% for men.

The low aggregate level of membership in fish trade associations may be related, either as cause or as effect, to their generally ineffective performance -- a point that came out through observations in the field. On the other hand, it is apparent that fish traders can and do work together in informal ways to help one another. When supplies are scarce, for example, traders in some local markets may agree to conduct their purchasing from landing sites on a rotational, day-on, day-off basis. Extension of daily or overnight credit privileges to fellow traders is also a common practice.

It was found that in some of the large urban markets of Kampala and Jinja, strong vendors' associations have developed. These are specific to each of the markets where they occur. The associations serve as forums for traders to exchange views about conditions and problems in their respective markets, and as a means to represent their interests to municipal market administrators and other authorities. Membership is more or less mandatory in that one would find it very difficult to operate in a market having a vendor's association without joining it.

2.3.3 Large-scale trading concerns5

The last few years have witnessed the establishment of several processing plants in the central region of Uganda. These deal in specialised fish products for premium local markets (hotels, the diplomatic and expatriate community, and others of the urban elite), but are primarily geared to serve overseas export markets (Reynolds and Ssali 1990). Three private firms and two parastatal companies are involved in these operations. The largest of the private companies is based at Jinja, and is capable of producing cold and hot-smoked fillets of tilapia and Nile perch, smoked split whole tilapia, frozen fillets of tilapia and Nile perch, salted/dried split tilapia, and fresh whole gutted fish. A somewhat smaller operation in Entebbe supplies fresh chilled whole fish and fillets of tilapia and Nile perch for the export market (direct air shipment), and hot-smoked tilapia and Nile perch for local sale. The newest of the private ventures is located on Lake Victoria just outside of Kampala, and is mostly dealing with frozen fillets of Nile perch for export.

Of the parastatal companies, the Kampala Ice Plant, which began operations in 1981 through an agreement between the People's Republic of China and the UFD, handles limited quantities of both fresh and frozen fish. Mostly however it functions as an ice production facility for the local beverage industry. Although designed to serve as a central fish wholesale market, it has never effectively fulfilled this role. The main problem seems to be the choice of site, which lies in the industrial area and is not convenient to the main points of entry to the city from major landings, nor to the main fish markets and housing estates.

The new Uganda Fisheries Enterprises Ltd. (UFEL), a parastatal company based at Masese near Jinja, has recently started production for both the domestic and export trade. It is certainly the most ambitious fish processing concern started in the country to date in terms of capital expenditure. The aim is to produce a range of products for domestic and overseas sale, including cold smoked and vacuum-packed fillets of Nile perch and tilapia, and fresh chilled and gutted fish. The UFEL operation extends to fish collection and distribution centres at several points around the central region of the country. It is part of a wider scheme known as the Integrated Fisheries Project funded by the Italian Government. Another component of this scheme is the “CICS Project” (Centro Internationale di Cooperazione allo Sviluppo), which seeks to encourage better handling and processing techniques at local landings and formation of fishing cooperatives for greater productivity and profitability in the harvesting and marketing of fish. More will be said about the facilities developed through the UFEL and CICS projects in the following section.

The private firms have been most active in developing overseas connections and supply contracts for premium filleted and whole fish. UFEL has yet to engage the export market in any meaningful way. This can be expected to change with more aggressive marketing practices; indeed it has to if the company is to survive, since the local demand for high-value, premium fish products is so limited. With several other private processing firms in the pipeline, there is no doubt that Uganda's export traffic in frozen and chilled fish products will soon rise dramatically over present levels. These latter are still very low in comparison with those of neighbouring Kenya. Table 10 shows officially recorded export levels for a variety of fish products for the year 1989. By far the greatest proportion of exports by weight, about 79%, is made up of smoked and sundried fish directed to Kenya. But unit values and profit margins are much higher for top-grade fresh and frozen products and the dried Nile perch swim bladders. This of course explains the strong attraction of investor interest, and the rapid expansion seen in the industrial processing sector of late. Total installed plant capacity in Uganda already stands at a level of some 60 tonnes of fresh fish per day.

5. For a fuller account see Reynolds and Ssali (1990), from which this section has been derived.

2.4 Equipment and Installations Used for Fish Marketing

Fish handling facilities at most landings within Uganda are rudimentary. Very few sites are equipped with landing platforms, weighing sheds, cleaning tables, or storage facilities. Adequate sanitary installations are rarely to be found. Installations at local market centres similarly can be described as generally insufficient, though markets in urban areas are somewhat better equipped than those in rural settings.

UFD staff responsible for fish marketing encourage fish dealers and local market officials to provide for certain basic requirements for the handling and sale of fish. These include off-loading tables or platforms, cleaning tables, covered selling stalls, smoking kilns, and dry storage room. Beyond these basics, they encourage local authorities to provide clean and ample supplies of water, permanent market structures with cement floors, and toilets and latrines to ensure that conditions are kept sanitary. In fact only a small proportion of the markets surveyed in the FISHIN study were equipped with even the basic recommended facilities, and the more elaborate and expensive facilities like piped water and permanent structures are very rarely in place. Table 11 shows a breakdown of various facilities by the percentage of markets where they were counted in the FISHIN survey. Whereas over two-thirds of all markets enumerated have temporary selling stalls, and roughly one-third have other temporary shelters (usually grass thatching to provide shade over the stalls), less than 10% are provided with such items as tap water, electricity, dry storage, off-loading and cleaning tables, and the like. In districts with large urban centres like Kampala a somewhat higher rate of basic facility provision is found. Even in these cases, however, it is absence of basic amenities that is most striking.

The generally poor state of handling facilities at landing places and markets in Uganda is the result of the neglect and outright damage sustained at older established sites during the disruptions of the past twenty years. It is also due to the rapid spontaneous development of new sites consequent upon the boom in the Nile perch fishery on Lake Victoria. Some efforts have been made through the CICS Project to develop model landing site facilities around the Jinja and Tororo Fisheries Regions. Six such sites have been established, with facilities comprising Chorkor-type fish smokers, concrete cleaning and scaling slabs, and drying stands. Included also are sanitary amenities, i.e. pit latrines and clean water supplies. Whilst this sort of initiative for landing site improvement is very desirable in principle, it remains to be seen whether the pilot sites will have any lasting impact. Two major sticking points have already been identified. The first is the reluctance of some processors to take the extra bother to use the new facilities and techniques when there seems to be little extra incentive to do so in terms of final selling price to the consumer. The second concerns the management and maintenance of the new facilities in the long term. It is by no means certain that the local cooperative groups set up under the auspices of the CICS Project will remain strong and active enough to look after these tasks. (Reynolds and Ssali 1990).

Three modern fish collection centres have been installed under the UFEL development programme. One of these is on Lake Victoria close to the Kenya border and the other two are at sites on Lake Kyoga. Each collection centre is supposed to be linked as a source of supply to a distribution centre. Thus the Majanji site on Lake Victoria is supposed to serve the distribution centre at Mbale; the Bukungu site on Lake Kyoga the centre at Kamuli, and the Lwampanga site also on Lake Kyoga the one at Luwero. Each collection or distribution centre is equipped with a clean water supply, a small ice plant, and a chill room. UFEL insulated vans also distribute chilled fish to a number of kiosks situated in major urban centres.

With reference to the industrial processing plants, it can be said that facilities are for the most part very new and of advanced design. This makes for a vast disparity between standards found in most of the landing sites and local markets and those that are encountered in the plants. Quality control is strictly maintained to international standards through all stages of the processing operation: premises are kept clean, employees follow a strict code of hygiene, fish are kept iced from the moment they are received, and so on. All the filleting plants have chilling and ice-making facilities, and freezing facilities (either plate or blast freezing) and cold storage units are installed in the three private firms. UFEL and the private firms also use insulated or refrigerated vans and lorries to collect fish direct from landings, and two of the private firms have started using boats with insulated ice-filled compartments to collect fresh fish from remote landings on the Lake Victoria shoreline and some of the islands. Chilled fresh fish reaches European destinations by weekly direct air shipment; consignments of frozen fillets are sent off via refrigerated container-load by road to the port at Mombasa in Kenya, for transfer onto cargo vessels.

2.5.1 Fresh and processed fish prices

Consumer prices in major urban fish markets in the country are usually two to three times the ex-canoe price. Depending on the techniques employed, cured products can normally be given a fresh weight equivalent according to a ratio of 1:2 or 1:3. On this basis prices for smoked, sundried, or salted products can in effect be said to be lower than those of fresh fish, since nowhere can one find processed fish prices two or three times dearer than those for fresh. All else being equal, the processor/trader would stand to lose by smoking a consignment of fish if there was a chance to sell it fresh. For example, in Kampala fresh tilapia currently sells for UShs. 407/kg whilst smoked tilapia sells for UShs. 527/kg -- only 29% higher than the fresh. For Nile perch, the processed product sells at a rate that is 27% higher than the fresh; for Clarias, the rate is 25% higher; and for Bagrus, a particularly well-liked fish in the central part of the country, it is 62% higher.

That the “all else being equal” condition rarely applies to the situation of the processor/trader is obvious from previous discussion. Catches from remote landings often must be processed if they are to be marketed at all; inversely, many markets are so remote from landing sites that it is impossible to supply them with anything but processed fish. These and other factors ensure that a high proportion of the national catch ends up being processed in some form.

Indices of average fresh and processed fish prices in the various districts of the country derived from the recent FISHIN market study are provided in Tables 12 and 13 respectively. Several noteworthy points are brought out. For one thing, tilapia prices are uniformly higher than those for Nile perch. Also, relatively high prices for particular types and forms of fish correspond with known consumer preferences in certain districts, as for instance in the case of Bagrus in Kampala and nearby Mpigi, or of Clarias in Masaka and neighbouring Rakai. It can be seen too, not surprisingly, that places of high fish production and limited demand have correspondingly lower price levels. Fresh tilapia is cheapest in Kalangala District where it sells for only 23% of the Kampala price. Kalangala comprises the Ssese Islands, lying in the middle of some of Lake Victoria's richest fishing grounds. It is from here that many of the major mainland markets get their supplies. Prices for Rastrineobola, which now rank as the third most important commercial fish in Lake Victoria after Nile perch and tilapia, show a similar pattern of being low in production areas where an abundance exists (Jinja and Kalangala Districts), and two or three times greater in non-production/high demand areas (parts of Mukono and Kamuli Districts). The very high prices commanded by Alestes and Haplochromis would seem to make them objects of heavy consumer demand and therefore attractive targets of fishing effort. In fact the fisheries and markets for both are rather meagre, as will be commented upon again in later discussion of fish consumption habits.

2.5.2 Marketing costs and margins

Marketing costs and margins vary widely between the different categories of fish trading operations. A bicycle hawker working in a rural area lacking formal markets may only have to be concerned about the original cost of the load purchased at the landing site, investment and maintenance costs of the bicycle and the box or basket in which the fish is carried, plus the cost of a fishmonger's licence from the local government authority.

The wholesaler operating in and out of a major urban market, on the other hand, might have to worry about the original cost of the fish consignment, the cost of hiring a vehicle every day, the cost of the required trading licence (officially known as the Specific Licence) from the Fisheries Department, the cost of the medical examinations for a health certificate, the income tax, the local dues at the landing, the levies imposed by the various districts through which fish is transported, the dues in the market where the fish is sold, and payment to people who assist in carrying and selling the fish plus the costs of their working gowns.

A retailer operating in a formally established marketplace mainly incurs marketing costs in the form of investment and depreciation outlays on tables or stalls and on market dues. In areas where there is strict enforcement of health regulations there are costs associated with medical certificates and protective clothing.

The fish trading business as it is carried out in local Uganda markets holds certain disadvantages for the retailer. Rarely is there a clear separation of “wholesaling” and “retailing” functions. When both are performed in the same place, retail margins cannot be expected to be very significant. Secondly, competition is high amongst retailers especially in the large public markets. Thirdly, fish must be disposed of rather quickly, since the retail stall is at the end of the distribution chain and by the time consignments are received many hours have passed and spoilage becomes a pressing concern.

On the other hand, there are also several advantages to retailing. Because they deal in rather small amounts of fresh or cured products, retailers assume less risk of losing money on any given day of operation. If known and trusted by larger dealers, they may be able to obtain fish on a credit basis. Also, retailers usually have a good idea of their customer's buying habits and can gauge their stock purchases accordingly.

Tables 14, 15, and 16 provide illustrations of gross and net margins for three kinds of Kampala area fresh fish dealers -- the “wholesaler” who operates to and from a landing site on Lake Victoria, dealing in consignments a few hundred kilograms of fish per day; the bicycle hawker who works local neighbourhoods selling about 20 kg of fish per day; and the retail fish trader running a municipal market stall with a turnover of some 30 kg of fish per day. Obviously it is the “wholesaler”, dealing in far higher product volumes and greater amounts of working capital, who enjoys a position of some advantage in the fish trade. Although the marketing costs are quite a bit higher than for the other types of enterprise, the rate of profit is more than double that of the bicycle hawker and more than triple that of the retail stall trader. These are of course very generalised illustrations, but they do give some idea of the relative scale of local fish dealers' enterprises and the rate of return they actually gain. For those who have the means, the fish business can provide a fairly comfortable level of income. For those who are unable to mobilise much in the way of operating capital, the business will not provide much more than what most people, at least amongst the urban dwellers, would regard as a minimum living wage.

2.6 Efficiency and Shortcomings in Fish Marketing Operations

The efficiency of the marketing operations is not easy to evaluate in depth because of the complex nature of the trade and also because few traders keep any records. Neither are the marketing statistics routinely collected by the UFD sufficiently complete and reliable. There is a certain reluctance amongst traders to provide precisely detailed information to “outsiders”, whether they be market researchers or fisheries personnel or other government officials. A similar problem was cited some thirty years ago by Crutchfield (1959), in his pioneering study of fish marketing in the country.

Following Crutchfield's lead, the evaluation of marketing performance or efficiency in Uganda can be guided by three basic and interrelated questions, namely:

With regard to the question of meeting consumer demand in terms of products offered, it can be said that generally the system performs well, considering the overall deterioration in physical facilities that took place over the two decades from the early 1970s. The basic point at issue here, just as during the time of Crutchfield's study, is the relative availability of fresh fish. Crutchfield identified a strong trend towards preference for fresh fish amongst consumers in the late 1950s, as evidenced by surveys in large urban markets and many rural localities, and by the growth in the number of smallholder fish ponds around the country. Although strong demand existed across a very wide area, he noted that it was only the large urban markets like Kampala, Entebbe, Jinja, and Masaka which received adequate supplies, together with small rural markets within bicycle range of landings.

It was remarked that improvements in landing site handling practices and facilities, such as the provision of unloading platforms, covered sorting, cleaning, and selling stalls, could do much to expand the quantity and range of fresh fish. Crutchfield pointed out however that any move to push the distribution of fresh fish on a significant scale to areas far beyond the current operating ranges of fishmongers would be fraught with difficulties of a virtually impossible nature, since it would require the establishment of an expensive, complex network of ice-chilling for product delivery and storage in wholesale holding rooms. The prospects for the establishment of a wholesale distribution system for frozen fish were thought to be somewhat more promising, but still something that could develop only very gradually.

The UFEL collection and distribution centres notwithstanding, little has changed in the thirty years that have elapsed since the time of Crutchfield's study. The gradual improvements in the marketing system that he anticipated never really materialised. Indeed, quite to the contrary, the intervening period of political and economic disruption has been marked by a deterioration in the system's ability to deliver enough of the commodities that consumers desire (see Section 2.1.2 above). Thus the bottlenecks that were identified in the late 1950s -- poor roads, poor landing site handling facilities, and the like -- still impede wider distribution of fresh fish in the early 1990s, but sometimes with all the more force.

The supply of cured fish has increased very substantially within the last ten years or so as a result of the poor state of the transportation infrastructure and the surge in Nile perch catches from Lake Victoria. In the absence of fresh fish, people generally prefer hot-smoked products, and the marketing system clearly reponds to and services this preference.

As regards the efficiency of fish delivery at minimal costs, given existing physical and economic constraints, different considerations apply to different areas of the country. Crutchfield (1959) made the point that small-scale marketing works very efficiently in areas close to landings that can be easily served by traders using bicycles or public transport. Where distances between supply and delivery points are great, however, and where large quantities of fish must be regularly moved to major markets, then it makes sense to conduct assembly and delivery on a bulk basis, with a clear separation of wholesaling and retailing activities. In this way marketing costs could be reduced, resulting in lower prices for the consumer.

Three decades on, there has been very little progress towards the realisation of a wholesale-retail domestic marketing system in the above sense. It is only for processed fish -- dried, smoked, or salted -- that the basics of a real wholesaling arrangement exist. That is, there are some traders moving in and out of landings on Lake Albert, Lake Victoria, and Lake Kyoga who are known to assemble large bulk consignments for long-distance haulage by lorry to major delivery and distribution points. But this sort of operation was witnessed during the time of Crutchfield's study too, and is thus not a new development. Furthermore, the same shortcomings noticed then continue to be seen today: bulking arrangements could be greatly expanded to cover wider areas at both the assembly and distribution ends of the marketing chain, and further specialisation of warehousing, transport, and lot-sale functions could be effected. At Nakivubo (“Shauri Yako”) Market in Kampala, for example, the major market for processed fish in the city, there are no delivery/re-sale depots for traders to use. A person with a lorry-load of smoked fish will thus stand in the market until the consignment is sold off on a piecemeal basis to other “wholesale” dealers or to those who want supplies for direct sale to consumers in other markets around town.

As far as fresh fish marketing is concerned, if anything the distinction between wholesaling and retailing roles has become even more blurred since the late 1950s. This is the result of a surge in new entrants to petty trading in fish from the mid-1980s that developed in conjuction with the increased catches from Lake Victoria, greater demand for fish to compensate for curtailed meat supplies from areas affected by civil strife, and the presence of large numbers of people, displaced and jobless from the years of internal conflict, seeking an easily accessible form of livelihood. Urban markets are now clogged with petty traders all seeking supplies of fish at advantageous prices. In places like Kampala, Jinja, and Masaka, where landings are within a few hours' journey, it is common practice for these small traders to buy up basket-lots of fish directly from the canoes. The “wholesalers”, those who usually buy in larger lots and who have obtained “Specific Licenses” to trade in fish from the UFD (having first obtained an Income Tax Clearance Certificate) thus find themselves competing for supplies with those to whom they would normally expect to sell at the municipal markets.

The only move made of late towards establishing a fresh fish wholesale-retail domestic marketing system in any real sense has come as part of the UFEL operation in Jinja. The idea of the collection and distribution centres is to assemble consignments under proper keeping conditions at certain landings and to move them, still in a chilled state, through the holding facilities at the marketing points for supply to retail outlets. Whilst it is reported that the system has been meeting with good response from traders and consumers thus far, there have been some problems. Fish supplies have not been consistent in all cases, meaning that retailers cannot be sure of getting their supplies on a regular basis. Also, the collection centre at Majanji has in fact been closed down due to the absence of fresh product. According to UFEL officials, this arose because most fresh fish was being smuggled across the water to kenya. According to local fishers, people got discouraged with the Majanji facility because prices were low and there were times when not all the fish offered was purchased, allegedly because of lack of enough storage space. More worrisome in the long term is the financial viability of the collection-distribution operation. The plant involved is quite elaborate and costly and will be expensive to maintain once UFEL emerges from the financial shelter of its start-up grants and has to begin functioning as a self-supporting entity.

In terms of geographical allocation, the marketing systems again operates in a fairly efficient fashion given the generally difficult circumstances brought on by events in the recent past. In fact the system seems to be performing well despite the rather hostile physical and economic environment. It is true that there are places in the northern and southwestern regions where fish is in very short supply despite strong consumer demand. But this situation has arisen more as a result of years of conflict and insecurity and/or a deterioration in road links than any failure on the part of the marketing system.

Crutchfield (1959) makes the point that a commercial marketing system will not automatically produce equal geographical allocation because commodities will tend to move to places where traders can realise the highest returns. In Uganda the overwhelming proportion of fish is marketed in the Lake Victoria Crescent area, where supplies are in greatest abundance, population most concentrated, and incomes highest. Short of underwriting some sort of supply subsidy scheme, there is little that Government can do to ensure better provision of fish deficit areas other than: (a) continue its programme of steady rehabilitation and upgrading of transportation infrastructure; and (b) begin to promote the development of a specialised wholesaling sector within the existing fish marketing system. These two measures in combination would do much to overcome present imbalances in the availability of fresh and processed fish between different geographical areas.


Uganda's population is composed of more than 30 ethnic groups, distinguishable to a greater or lesser degree in terms of linguistic and other socio-cultural diacritica, including food consumption habits. As is evident from earlier discussion (Section 1.4), dietary patterns are strongly associated with factors of climate and geographical location. Broadly speaking, traditions of fish eating are strongest in those areas that lie in the proximity of major water bodies and weakest in areas that are remote from them. But such a statement requires several qualifications. For instance, there are places with no strong tradition of fish eating even though supplies are fairly easy to obtain. On the other hand, there are places where fish is quite popular as a dish but rather difficult to obtain. Furthermore, within strong fish-eating areas certain kinds of fish are avoided by some segments of the population as a matter of cultural proscription. Amongst the highly mixed population of the country, therefore, fish consumption habits vary both in terms of broad ethnic and geographical groupings and narrow, more localised ones. In all cases, however, as will be discussed, income level must be considered as a strong conditioning factor to fish consumption habits.

3.1 The “Typical/Frequent” Fish Consumer

It is impossible to characterise a “typical” or “frequent” fish consumer in Uganda except in terms of some very general categories. The point has already been made that fish is often consumed by those who live around the Lake Victoria Crescent and the West Nile region, along with those who dwell on the immediate fringes of any major water body. But the “typical” fish consumer living at a landing site will be quite different as regards frequency of consumption from the “typical” urban consumer, and so on.

Those living in or adjacent to fishing communities on major lakes tend to take fish with their meals on a daily basis. Whether the starchy component of the meal is matooke, cassava, millet, or maize, fish is likely to be the main sauce ingredient. Other foods like legumes and especially meat or poultry will be taken only very occasionally, as for example on a special religious or public holiday.

In the rural areas at some remove from landing sites and major markets consumers may depend on bicycle hawkers or traders using hired transport to bring fish to their local market on a weekly or even fortnightly basis. In all areas of the central and eastern regions of the country where fish supplies in any form are available on a fairly regular basis, consumption levels have risen very substantially in the last ten years or thereabouts as a result of the relative low price of fish in relation to other animal protein products and the comparative scarcity of the latter.

Urban dwellers typically have access to a more consistent supply and wider variety of fish products than those in rural areas away from major landings and markets. In places like Kampala, Entebbe, Jinja, Busia, Tororo, Mbale, and Masaka, fish is available in quantity on a daily basis. Assuming taste preferences are not a constraint, a person can buy as much fish as his or her purchasing ability allows. Fish may thus form the basis of household meals as frequently as two or three times a week.

Mention should again be made of the importance of fish as a “fast” food in large urban areas like Kampala and Jinja. Sabulenya, or fried pieces of Nile perch, has become an extremely common and popular item in both official municipal markets and the innumerable sidewalk evening markets that have developed so extensively in the last few years with the re-establishment of political stability in the country. It is a favorite snack food for those who patronise establishments selling locally distilled spirits. In this way sabulenya has replaced roasted chicken or meat as an affordable indulgence. It is also used as a kind of convenience food by city bachelors and others who want a quick meal or a pre-cooked ingredient for the evening meal's sauce.

3.2 Characteristics of Non-Fish Consumers

Despite the presence of a number of highly productive lakes in western Uganda, there are some areas where the indigenous people have no tradition as fish-eaters. The legacy of fish avoidance is still quite noticeable amongst the Banyankole of Mbarara and Bushenyi Districts, Batoro of Kabarole District, and the Banyoro of Hoima and Masindi Districts. All these people practised a traditional form of ecological adaptation based on cattle- and smallstock-keeping. This tradition remains quite strong today, although in some localities cultivation has largely supplanted livestock as the principal source of food. The pastoral Karimojong who inhabit Kotido and Moroto Districts of northeast Uganda are also not known as fish-eaters. Unlike the western Uganda districts, however, Karamoja is remote from any major fishery.

There is a strong association between traditions of pastoralism and fish avoidance throughout East Africa (Fig. 11), and the hypothesis has been put forward that it actually originated with pastoral people. Simoons (1974) has observed that:

Where fish avoidance occurs… it is poor individuals and groups who are most likely to consume fish, an act that confirms their lowly status.... it is a reasonable hypothesis that African fish avoidance (avoidance of fish in general rather than of particular species) had its origin in the scorn pastoralists commonly display for farmers and their ways [102].

In other places in Uganda non-fish consumers are those who claim specific allergies to fish or an aversion to the food for idiosyncratic reasons. In many cases people will avoid eating particular kinds of fish only and not fish in general. Such cases will be reviewed in more detail below.

3.3 Competing Animal Protein Products

The main forms of animal protein with which fish competes are beef, pork, mutton, goat meat, milk, poultry, and eggs. Based on available data (MAIF 1989; MPED 1990a), national per capita consumption of major animal protein products is as listed below. With a per capita annual consumption rate of 12 kg., fish leads the other solid products by a wide margin.

ProductPer capita consumption (kgs/yr)
Beef  3.77
Pork, mutton, & goat  2.65
Poultry & Eggs  1.02

Although meat and poultry products are probably on the whole more sought-after by Uganda consumers, they are also far more expensive. The comparatively low price of fish is undoubtedly the main reason that it is eaten in much greater quantities than the other forms of animal protein. For this reason fish is often referred to as the cheapest and most important source of animal protein in Uganda. Indicative Kampala area prices (Fourth Quarter, 1990) are given for all forms of animal protein in Table 17. Groundnuts, beans, and peas, all regularly used as alternative protein-rich non-meat ingredients of the sauces served as accompanients to starchy foods, are included in the list for comparison. A protein cost index is also included in the table. Both Nile perch and tilapia perform extremely well in terms of these measures, with the former proving especially attractive in terms of consumer cost considerations.

3.4 Consumer Attitudes and Preferences: Fish Consumption Habits

It has already been stressed that consumer attitudes and preferences towards food and specifically fish in Uganda are conditioned by factors in the physical and cultural environments of different ethnic communities. These factors affect both levels of consumption and tastes for various products. It has further been emphasised that in many areas fresh fish is preferred to traditionally processed products, even though it cannot be obtained on a regular basis because of the bottlenecks in the distribution system (cf. Nyholm and Whiting 1975; TDRI 1983; Marriot et al. 1988). Fresh fish is eagerly and frequently consumed by those residing in districts bordering Lakes Victoria and Kyoga, and also by those living in the immediate vacinity of Lakes Edward, George, and Albert. It can also generally be said that people residing within very close distances of landings tend to be more discriminating about the quality of fresh supplies than those living further away. Residents of districts with no major water bodies, if they consume fish at all, normally eat smoked, sundried, or salted products. Long familiarity with such products seems to have created strong preference for them in some cases, as indicated for example by the great demand for salted Lake Albert Alestes spp. in northern and northwestern Uganda.

Tilapia and Nile perch are the most widely available fish in Uganda; fresh or processed, they are almost universally accepted and appreciated within the country's fish-eating population. Although it is probably the tilapia or ngege that is most liked of the two, Nile perch has proven to be highly popular with consumers. There is no substance whatever to allegations made in some scientific literature and many popular press accounts that this fish is not liked by local people (see, e.g. Barel et al. 1985).

Whilst accounting for a relatively small proportion of the national harvest, Bagrus docmac and Clarias mossambicus are commercially important components of the catch in certain places and seasons. They are extremely popular in the central and parts of the eastern regions of the country.

Although virtually all species caught in Ugandan waters are edible, some are emphatically avoided on certain occasions or by certain categories of people even in strong fish-eating localities. In the central part of the country formerly known as Buganda, fish is proscribed during times of wedding preparations and during the actual ceremony. The mamba or lungfish (Protopterus), a creature of ambiguous appearance and habits (part fish, part snake; partly of the water, partly not), seems to have powerful symbolic significance amongst the Baganda people as well as the Bagisu, who live in eastern Uganda around Mt. Elgon. Bagisu have been known to insist that Protopterus be handled separately and kept apart from other fish at markets so as not to “contaminate” the latter. Mamba is the eponymous totem of one the largest of the Buganda clans, and is for this reason rarely eaten in the central region. Furthermore, Baganda women are supposed to avoid mamba completely, reputedly because it has associations with femininity and motherhood suggested by the somewhat breastlike appearance of the pectoral and pelvic fins.

On the other hand, Protopterus is a prized delicacy amongst the Ateso of Eastern Uganda, and the Bakonjo of the Rwenzori region in the west. In Teso it is served at wedding ceremonies and on other big occasions when guests should be treated to special and distinctive gestures of welcome and generosity.

Certain other fish command a stong local markets and are the object of specialised trade. The example of salted Alestes in the north and northwest has already been cited. Additional examples include that of smoked nzonzi (= Clarias alluaudi) for Masaka and Kampala area markets, and smoked kisinja (=Barbus altianalis) for all of the central region.

Haplochromis spp., though formerly abundant in the waters of Lake Victoria, have never constituted a significant fishery and have never been particularly popular. Nkejje, as they are commonly called, simply have a basic lack of appeal for most people. This largely accounts for the discouraging results of test marketing efforts undertaken in the early 1970s as part of a programme to develop a commercial trawl fishery for Haplochromis (Nyholm and Whiting 1975).

Despite the substantial decline in stocks nkejje are still available from a number of minor lakes fringing Lake Victoria and to some extent from the main lake itself. Skewered and dried on sticks, haplochromines are sold in small quantities in many local markets. Traditionally they were used in some parts of the country as medicine bundles hung within the house to combat measles. Belief in their medicinal and health promoting qualities apparently persists to some extent. Nkejje can be ground up into powder and mixed with cereal meals to feed infants and children, and at least one local company now packages such a product for sale in Kampala shops.

Yet haplochromines were and possibly to a certain degree still are regarded by some groups as having dangerous and polluting effects. A widely held traditional belief was that a woman must never bathe in water tainted by nkejje, lest her married life be compromised. The kasulubana (=Mormyrus kannume or elephant-snout fish) is a similarly fraught species, as it was traditionally thought to cause abortion and sterility in women (Crutchfield 1959; Nyholm and Whiting 1975).

A number of observers have remarked on a general consumer prejudice against chilled, frozen, and salted fish products in Uganda. With the exception of the north and northwest of the country, the market for salted fish has always been poor and this continues to be the case today. In relation to ice-chilled fresh fish and frozen fish, on the other hand, the situation seems to be undergoing some change. The development of fish processing plants for export production in Jinja and Entebbe/Kampala, and the attendant growing demand for fresh product in excellent condition, is having the effect of creating an appreciation for better quality control measures in handling catches both on the water and at landing sites. These measures include the use of ice. Furthermore, UFEL is reporting a very good level of consumer demand for the fresh chilled fish being sold through its network of distribution centres and retail kiosks. At the Kampala Ice Plant, when adequate supplies are received, no problems are encountered in finding sufficient customers to buy frozen tilapia and Nile perch. It is therefore possible that local consumer resistence to iced and frozen fish products, widely observed in previous years, is beginning to break down in some cases.

3.5 Fish Buying Habits

Fish buying habits obviously are determined to a great extent by how often and in which form products are available in local markets, and for what prices. Consumers living at or near landings can buy fresh fish as soon as canoes land in the morning. Mostly however people have to wait for fish to appear in markets by the afternoon or early evening. In urban areas people do much of their food shopping in the evenings and on Saturdays. In the rural areas apart from those served by bicycle hawkers, shopping is done on weekly or fortnightly market days.

The recently completed Uganda National Household Budget Survey (MPED 1991b) indicates that consumer expenditure on fish products varies in terms of rural-urban, regional, and income dimensions, as depicted in Tables 18 and 19. Table 18 shows that urban households tend to spend more money per month on fish than do rural households (UShs. 1776/- vs. 1037/- on average), although there is no difference between the two groups in terms of fish expenditure as a proportion of total household monthly expenditure (about 3% for both). The table also clearly demonstrates the low priority given to the purchase of fish by households in western Uganda as compared to those in the central, eastern, and northern parts of the country. This finding substantiates the remarks just made above about the consumption habits of Banyankole, Batoro, and Banyoro people who dwell in the western region.

In Table 19, a breakdown is given of amounts of money spent on fish per month by monthly expenditure groups within selected municipalities in Uganda. A strong positive correlation is suggested between level of income and expenditure on fish. In each case low income households with total consumption expenditure of UShs. 50,000/- or below spend much less on this item than do middle income households in the UShs. 50,000 to 100,000/- total monthly expenditure range; the latter in turn spend less on fish than the high income households falling into the UShs. 100,000/- and greater group. Also, almost without exception the households of the lower monthly expenditure categories devote a greater proportion of total expenditure on fish and fish products.

3.6 Consumer Education and Demand Promotion Activites

Educational activities seeking to encourage better dietary practices amongst the general populace are conducted to some extent in primary and secondary schools and by the Ministry of Health through ante-natal clinics, village dispensaries, and the public media. In some cases crushed and powdered Haplochromis and Rastrineobola mixed with soybean meal or maize flour have been used as in hospitals for the treatment of malnourished children.

The newly formed Uganda Consumers Association has the objectives of educating people on their rights as consumers, providing information on the composition and nutritive values of various food commodities, and preventing the sale of contaminated and poor quality products in the country. The Association's work has had little impact as yet but it may well gain momentum. Most local fish consumers in Uganda are not especially particular about fine points product presentation and quality (cf. Crutchfield 1959; Nyholm and Whiting 1975). Their main concern is access to a supply of fish products in reasonably fresh or, if cured, sound and edible condition. Yet people are by no means blind to poor handling and presentation practices. Customers occasionally complain in the newspapers or on the radio about rough methods of fish handling and keeping witnessed on transport vehicles or in the markets. In 1988, when the Fisheries Department prepared a series of public education programmes for broadcast over Radio Uganda, those relating to good handling and sanitation practices at landings and markets reportedly received a very positive response from the public.

But attempts through the mass media and other avenues to promote the wider buying of fish products and their greater use in local diets have been rather inconsistent and ineffective in Uganda over the years. Publicity and advertising campaigns mounted by large commercial concerns like the old TUFMAC operation and the new UFEL plant are by and large aimed at a select class of people in higher income brackets. Test marketing and promotion of Haplochromis on a mass basis at the village or community level was tried in 1970 with singularly poor results.

Considering the Uganda context as a whole, it is doubtful that campaigns of the “Eat More Fish” variety can, in and of themselves, be very effective in terms of the objectives they are supposed to achieve. Such campaigns are based on the premise that more people would eat more fish simply if they were better informed -- about the nutritional goodness of fish, its availability, how it can form the basis of delicious meals, and so on. This premise may be valid to some extent, especially with regard to the western and northeastern regions and for special use purposes like the inclusion of fish powders in weaning foods for very young children. But by and large Ugandans do not need to be persuaded to eat fish: they are already enthusiastic consumers.

The primary determinants of demand growth lie in other factors. It is instructive here to consider the earlier efforts to determine the feasibility of promoting wider utilisation of Haplochromis, noted just above. Test marketing showed that any attempt to encourage greater demand for nkejje would have been extremely ill-advised. Basic tenets of marketing strategy would have been violated. Here was a commodity that hardly anyone found appealing to begin with (a fish widely regarded as smelly, bony, and subject to rapid spoilage if not sun-dried) being presented on the market in ways that were unfamiliar and awkward to accomodate under local circumstances (fresh or ice-chilled) and at unattractively high prices (in places, asking any price at all for nkejje was already asking too much). In contrast stands the record for Nile perch. Mputa was never the subject of test marketing or promotional campaigning, yet the demand for it has grown phenomenally within a period of only a few years. Local consumers and the small-scale traders who serve them did not have to be told that the product was good, the presentation whether in fresh or smoked form acceptable, or the price right. Thus far the major constraints on this development of demand have not been associated with inadequate levels of publicity or consumer knowledge, but with the weaknesses in the national distribution system. The major constraints, in other words, lie with the supply side. The same observation applies to the marketing of small pelagic Rastrineobola, increasingly in demand as a cheap food especially amongst low income consumers and those living in the West Nile Region of the country. Given a system of more effective supply and distribution, i.e. improved infrastructural services, growth in demand for mukene would largely take care of itself. Promotional campaigns could play a complementary encouraging role, however, and should by no means be over looked. One additional comment in connection with fish product promotion activities should be made. The Uganda Government, through the Export Policy and Analysis Unit of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, is giving high priority to the overseas marketing of non-traditional export commodities, including Nile perch and tilapia products. Industrial investors are being encouraged to expand the processing sector and are being given incentives in the form of liberal profit repatriation arrangements and streamlined import and export procedures. Some of the implications of such a “push for perch” will be considered in the following section.

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