Uganda produces up to 15 000 tonnes of fish from aquaculture, including production from small-scale fish farmers, emerging commercial fish farmers and stocked community water reservoirs and minor lakes. There are an estimated 20 000 ponds throughout the country with an average surface area of 500 m² per pond. Production ranges between 1 500 kg per hectare per year for subsistence farmers to 15 000 kg per hectare per year for emerging commercial fish farmers. With improved market prices for fish, government intervention for increased production and stagnating supply from capture fisheries, aquaculture has begun to attract entrepreneurial farmers seeking to exploit the business opportunity provided by the prevailing demand for fish. This recent expansion in aquaculture has also resulted in the transformation of 20 percent to 30 percent of the smallholder subsistence ponds into profitable small-scale production units through developments in management as well as scale of production. It is estimated that there are 2 000 such farmers who own nearly 5 000 ponds, with an average pond size of 1 500 m² per pond.
The new entrants, mostly from the middle and working class as well as a few businessmen, target specific and established markets. They have adopted improved production systems including inputs from technical experts for better planning and management. Pond surface is in the range of 5 000 m² to 50 000 m² numbering 500, an estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of which are active. This category includes commercial hatchery operators and a number of grow-out farmers who are already exporting to markets in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Rwanda. Industrial and more intensified fish culture is only beginning to be established, largely through foreign direct investment or as joint ventures between local firms and foreign companies. Most farms/companies at this level are only in the process of putting their infrastructure in place or are at the initial stages of the production process. The majority of such companies is targeting production at the regional markets and plans to enter international markets by activating the currently non-utilized fish processing capacity in the country.
Aquaculture in Uganda is recorded to have started in 1941 after carp was imported into the country. Fish farming was officially proposed by the colonial authorities and the Kajjansi Fish Experimental Station established in 1947. However, the introduction of carp, was embroiled in controversies due to differences among the lead scientists on the possible adverse impact of common carp on the indigenous aquatic environment in case they escaped from the confines of the fishponds. Because of this, it was decided to use tilapia for stocking purposes. A vigorous fish farming extension programme resulted in the construction of 1 500 ponds by 1956; these were concentrated in the central region (Buganda) and the most southwestern part of the country (Kigezi). In 1959-1960 an FAO- supported comparative evaluation of carp and tilapia endorsed the use of carp and resulted in further expansion of aquaculture in Uganda. Aquaculture was further promoted under the drive for rural development, and by late 1968 the Department of Fisheries recorded up to 11 000 ponds mostly producing fish for subsistence. However, subsistence farming was largely based on the supply of seed from farmer to farmer and/or from the government station, which hampered the expansion of the aquaculture sub-sector. Changing policies under successive governments also led to uneven support and many farmers abandoned ponds due to lack of stocking materials, limited technical guidance and excessive government regulatory regimes. The Fisheries Master Plan study of 1999 established that Uganda had only 4 500 functioning ponds with only a portion stocked, producing 285 tonnes of fish annually.
With the government's strategic intervention and support from development partners such as FAO, aquaculture has picked up once again reaching 15 000 tonnes of fish currently (2005) produced from 20 000 ponds of an average size of 500 m². Due to the limited availability of fish seed, carp has fallen out of favour, and North African catfish, along with Nile tilapia, has taken its place. Although fish farming in Uganda has so far been pond- and subsistence-based, the growing interest in commercial aquaculture is providing an impetus towards cage-culture based aquaculture.
There are currently an estimated 12 000 farmers involved in aquaculture, with about 150 service providers or extension workers employed by local governments. In 50 of the 56 districts there is an officer employed by the local government in charge of technical guidance and management of the aquaculture sub-sector. Another estimated 100 technical persons with basic training in fisheries and aquaculture work as private service providers under the privatised, demand driven and farmer managed extension and advisory system. At the Ministry headquarters (Department of Fisheries Resources) there is an Aquaculture Unit headed by a Principal Fisheries Officer who is in charge of 5 Senior Fisheries Officers and 4 support staff. The Aquaculture Unit reports to the Assistant Commissioner for Fisheries. There are 100 managers for the upcoming commercial fish farms, some of whom have received formal training in fisheries and aquaculture. Under each of these farm managers there is an average of 3 labourers who support the manager on the farm. In addition, around 20 000 specialized manual labourers, who are mostly part-time, undertake tasks such as construction of ponds and water and diversion channels, site clearance, stocking and seining at harvesting. There are also some specialized groups of youth who undertake pond construction on a contract basis.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries has identified 31 districts as suitable for fisheries and aquaculture development based on both natural and socio-economic factors. These districts are: Mayuge, Jinja, Bugiri, Busia, Mukono, Mpigi, Wakiso, Masaka, Rakai, Mbarara, Bushenyi, Ntungamo, Kasese, Hoima, Masindi, Nebbi, Gulu, Adjumani, Arua, Kamuli, Soroti, Lira, Iganga, Tororo, Pallisa, Mbale, Apac, Kabiramaido, Kabarole, Kamwenge and Kyenjojo. They are located around the country's major water systems including Lake Victoria Crescent, Lake Kyoga basin, River Nile catchment, Edward-George complex and the Koki lakes.
The most common production systems at all these locations are extensive and semi-intensive pond based aquaculture systems.
With its good quality growth characteristics, easy production of fish seed and good taste across the country, Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus ) was until recently the most farmed species. Nile tilapia was transplanted from Lake Albert to restock Lakes Victoria and Kyoga and several of their surrounding minor lakes and adjoining river systems. Through restocking programmes and aquaculture, it has been planted in virtually all Uganda waters including shared/transboundary water bodies. The only drawback is its prolific reproduction and the seemingly resultant stuntedness.
North African catfish (Clarias gariepinus ) has recently overtaken Nile tilapia as the most popular species for aquaculture in Uganda. Rural farmers have grown fond of it, and there is a growing regional market for this species. Its main characteristics are its fast growth and ability to literally feed on anything organic available at household level. This species is found in all waters of Uganda, especially those linked to swamps, and it has traditionally been a primary target for a good segment of the fishing community. North African catfish currently contributes an estimated 60 percent of aquaculture production in Uganda. The most limiting aspect of the culture of the catfish in Uganda is the availability of good quality and sufficient fish seed as when required by the grow-out farmers. This has been largely overcome with support from FAO. Fish seed for North African catfish can easily be produced in quantities demanded by grow-out farmers.
The third most frequent species is the common carp (Cyprinus carpio ) which was first introduced from Israel in 1941 with the aim of stocking the fingerlings in the relatively colder waters of Lake Bunyonyi in southwestern Uganda. However, propagation of this species was only successful in the late 1940s and was first tried out with farmers in the early 1950s in the Buganda region in central Uganda followed by Kigezi in southwestern Uganda. The common carp did much better than tilapia and was preferred by farmers, but inability to produce sufficient quantity of fish seed, poor extension and change of focus of the post-independence governments did not favour the expansion of carp aquaculture in Uganda. It is currently abundant in some parts of the country, but only as a minor component.
Tilapia zilli and Oreochromis leucostictus were transplanted from Lake Albert along with Nile tilapia and Nile perch from the 1940s in an attempt to augment the fisheries of Lakes Kyoga and Victoria. Although the two species were successfully propagated and distributed, they have not been as successful as Nile tilapia in either natural waters or in fishponds. The other species used in aquaculture but introduced from outside the country are Tilapia rendalli , black bass and trout. These three were initially very successful, but only Tilapia rendalli can still be found in the natural waters as it easily reproduces in the wild while black bass and trout need artificial propagation for recruitment.
Other species that have been introduced and cultured in Uganda waters have been the giant river prawn (Macrobrochium rosenbergii ) and the red swamp crawfish (Procambarus clarkii ). The former is only maintained in the country by regular importation of larvae for culture, while the latter has established reasonable populations in Lake Bunyonyi and at Kajjansi Aquaculture Research and Development Center. However, the red swamp crawfish at Kajjansi has become a menace as it bores through the earthen ponds causing leakage and cross-pond fish mixing.
According to the Department of Fisheries there are two key species cultured in Uganda contributing over 90 percent of the total aquaculture production in the country. North African catfish has overtaken Nile tilapia and is now the most common culture species in the country, with production in 2004 at 3 859.2 tonnes. However, with the government setting up conditions for export to premium markets and the investors' interest in tapping this market, Nile tilapia, currently at 1 632.5 tonnes, will overtake North African catfish in a few years, given its international market position.
Aquaculture production projections for 2005 are based on fish seed production capacity, stocking record, size of stocked water bodies and number and size of farmer ponds. The Department of Fisheries Resources has projected an annual production of 15 000 tonnes for 2005. This includes production expected from stocked community dams and reservoirs projected at 9 500 tonnes; 2 500 tonnes expected from the 11 000 subsistence farmers' ponds which currently stand at 17 000; and another 3 000 tonnes by an estimated 200 emerging commercial farmers whose production is targeted at the regional market. The total pond surface area is estimated at about 6.5 km² (650 hectares) with North African catfish comprising over 80 percent of the farmed fish production.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Uganda according to FAO statistics:
When they decide to sell, most rural farmers sell their fish at the pond site. A few have established stalls by the roadside or within the nearest trading centre where they sell their 'catch' from the pond on a regular basis. In a number of districts farmers have formed associations through which they have arranged for synchronized harvesting and collective marketing. In some instances the fish is processed by sun drying, salting or smoking and is transported in bulk to more lucrative markets such as urban centres or border points for regional trade. At the regional level the main importing countries are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Rwanda in diminishing order of importance.
Fish is also being processed for shipping to the border market points by individual farmers and by traders who are not directly involved in fish production. The two major species traded are North African catfish projected at about 70 percent for the regional market and Nile tilapia, most of which is traded locally with some also processed for export. The only known international export of farmed fish from Africa consists of 1.5 tonnes per week of cold-smoked catfish which comes from a firm in Entebbe.
All fish sold by the ponds is fresh, while that sold to markets further away is processed as described above. There are size limits to aquaculture products, but to differentiate between farmed and capture fish a fish movement permit is required indicating origin and destination of the fish. The authority responsible for issuing movement permits is the Department of Fisheries Resources or designated officers in the local governments. Another item now being traded regionally is the fish seed of both North African catfish and Nile tilapia which is being transported live to Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo for grow-out production, and to Kenya and Tanzania as bait for the Nile perch fishery on Lake Victoria.
There are three types of aquaculture practiced in Uganda and they differ according to the market and type of farmer and their contribution to overall fish production. The first category is that of rural aquaculture which is practiced basically for subsistence. It is a low or no input system largely dependent on the public sector and friendly farmers for fish seed and advice. From this segment has emerged the small-scale aquaculture. This category is carried out by what the Department terms as small-scale progressive fish farmers. Their aim is to produce fish for income generation and some for household animal protein requirements. The third category is that of 'emerging commercial fish farmers' who, though not operating fully as commercial modern production enterprises, are aspiring to turn their farms into business ventures through production and trade in farmed fish. Their motive is solely profit through marketing of aquaculture products to high paying markets. The Department, through the support of DFID (Department for International Development, UK) established that rural aquaculture is vital in the provision of animal protein to the rural communities, but makes a limited contribution to overall fish production and the national economy. The second category of progressive small-scale fish farmers, driven by the quest for income and profit, has a more significant bearing on fish production, and contributes directly to the rural economy through trade in farmed fish. The farmed fish from the third category, the emerging commercial fish farmers, makes a very significant and visible contribution to fish production and the national economy.
The Minister of State for Fisheries is directly responsible for the aquaculture sub-sector within the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. At the next level, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries supervises administration and accounting for the Department of Fisheries Resources, as well as the other departments in the Ministry. The Directors of Crop and of Animal Resources form the next level, and actual administrative control is vested by law in the Commissioner for Fisheries, legally known as the Chief Fisheries Officer, who heads the Department of Fisheries Resources, and works directly under the Director, Animal Resources. In addition, an independent Procurement Unit is responsible for all procurements and disposable public assets within the Ministry.
The Fish Act (1964), which is currently under review, is the principal Act from which regulations for aquaculture have been developed. Existing aquaculture regulations include Fish (Aquaculture) Rules 2003, which regulate aquaculture practices, especially at the commercial level.
The National Agriculture Research System Act (2005) regulates fisheries and aquaculture research among other agriculture research areas. This Act breaks the monopoly of public agriculture research by public institutions and opens it up to other interested competent agencies and individuals through competitive research grants. In essence, it allows, in the case of aquaculture, other key players from academic institutions, private researchers or research agencies and other public agencies without a formal mandate to engage in aquaculture research using public funding.
The Land Act (1995) spells out the tenure system for land ownership and legal rights of what can be done in and on one's land. The Act also defines ownership of wetlands, swamps and other shallow waters within one's confine or land.
The National Environment Management Authority Statute deals with protection of the environment and regulates all activities that may impinge on the quality of the environment.
The Water Law spells out the use, access, responsibility of user, conflict resolution in water resource use and access for all users including aquaculture practitioners.
Research priorities are developed and agreed upon by all stakeholders every three years under the medium term framework. The process of identifying and setting the research agenda is participatory and requires the consent of all key stakeholders through a process dealt with by the Secretariat of the National Agriculture Research Organization. Until recently state-sanctioned research was the remit of the Fisheries Resources Research Institute under the Kajjansi Aquaculture Research and Development Center. As described in the preceding section, the National Agriculture Research System Act has resulted in aquaculture research being opened up to other public or private institutions and individuals such as universities, consultancies and training institutions with the capability to carry out the required research. The Kajjansi Aquaculture Research and Development Center remains, however, the core institute for strategic research in the country. On-farm trials and 'farmer participatory research' have been the norm. Aquaculture research has been funded by other organizations and individuals including non-government agencies, universities and students, farmers interested in understanding and solving issues of commercial aquaculture, donor agencies and local governments.
The most significant aquaculture research institution in the country is the Kajjansi Aquaculture Research and Development Center at Kajjansi in Entebbe. Research and postgraduate work, degrees, diplomas and certificate training are offered by the Zoology Department at the Faculty of Science and the Department of Wildlife at the Veterinary Faculty in Makerere University of Kampala. The Fisheries Training Institute in Entebbe offers opportunities for research and diplomas and certificate training.
Until recently, most fish farmers in Uganda were poor people in villages who practiced aquaculture for subsistence with ponds of usually less than 500 m² constructed using family labour. These are low or no input production systems, with little or no need for routine management. Those who have had some training in the management of ponds usually fertilize their ponds with either chicken droppings or cow dung and any other organic house waste. Production is usually in the range of 5 kg to 10 kg/100 m² (i.e. 500 kg to 1 000 kg per hectare) per annum. The number of ponds at this level is estimated at 11 000 to 15 000 ponds with nearly 80 percent currently active. These 11 000 to 15 000 ponds are of an average size of 200 m² and are owned by an estimated 8 000 farmers.
However, with rising market prices for fish, government intervention, the quest for profitable production, and stagnating supply from capture fisheries, farmers are beginning to build more and larger ponds of 1 000 m² or more, and using higher stocking densities especially for North African catfish. These developments are driven by commercial interests of farmers with access to land and reasonably large families which provide labour or who have the ability to harness labour. With a growing trend towards planned production utilizing technical assistance from private service providers, this new brand of fish farmers is willing to pay for quality fish seed from the specialized private commercial hatcheries.
Current estimates are that 20 percent to 30 percent of the smallholder subsistence ponds have been transformed into profitable small-scale production units. Marketing of farmed fish is also better organized at this level, and fish is either sold away from ponds or processed (salted and sun dried) for better paying markets in the neighbourhood. A number of people in the civil service and in private businesses who own land with ample water supply have taken to fish farming for profit as an extra activity on their farms. It is estimated that there are nearly 3 000 to 5 000 ponds owned by nearly 2 000 farmers operating at this level.
In addition, a few of these farmers have improved their aquaculture holdings and management to the level referred to by the Department as 'emerging commercial' aquaculture. These farmers operate purely for profit and are driving the growth in aquaculture-associated infrastructure such as production of quality fish seed in quantities demanded and when needed. Farmers at this level have adopted the use of formulated feed and can be categorized as having semi-intensive production systems. Throughout the country these farmers number about 200 and contribute nearly 20 percent to 30 percent of active pond surface. This category of farmers has only emerged in the last 2 to 3 years with support from the government's strategic interventions for the promotion of fish exports. Indeed, several have already started exporting their fish in the form of both 'quality' fish seed and table fish to regional markets such as those in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Rwanda.
Industrial and/or more intensified fish culture in Uganda is only just beginning to be established. Most farms and companies at this level are either at the stage of putting infrastructure in place or at the beginning of the production process. This level is extremely capital intensive and requires technical expertise from highly experienced personnel, including those from other countries. Fish feed production at commercial level is being lined up and trial runs for production and marketing by at least a couple of companies are underway. There are plans to adopt an outgrower system by providing small commercial fish farms with basic inputs including seed and feed in return for purchase of the fish produced at agreed rates.
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