FAO roots for commercial fish farming
interview. The fishing industry remains one of the key contributors of foreign exchange in Uganda. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Country Representative, Alhaji M. Jallow, spoke to Daily Monitor’s Brian Ssenoga about FAO’s new interventions in the fisheries sector.
Give an overview of the Food and Agriculture Organization support to the fishing industry in Uganda?
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a specialized agency for agricultural issues and food security, including fisheries. In Uganda, the major source of fish is Lake Victoria and so the fisheries sector in the country is important. FAO jointly works with the government of Uganda in conserving fish stocks in the water resources.
The government set up the beach management units to regulate the fishing industry. However, the units have not been as successful as we envisaged in managing the resources and sharing the lake with other regional countries made the protection of resources more difficult. With time, we realized a shortfall in fish stocks, especially in Lake Victoria. Fishermen who caught 200kgs per day are now getting 20kg or less.
What we are addressing currently with the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries is the aspect of fish farming (aquaculture) to complement catches from the different lakes in the country. We are involving the youth and fish farmers through a $500,000 (more than Shs1.3b) FAO funded project. It is not a lot of money, but we plan to use it effectively.
We recently evaluated the hatchery and pond construction challenges in the country. Fish feed availability is currently being assessed for improvement, especially at the farm level. In order to complement the aquaculture project, the Ministry of Finance has endorsed a $1 million (more than Shs2.6 billion) FAO funded project for the facilitation of youth employment through fish farming.
What is your assessment of the opportunities available in the fishing industry?
As I mentioned earlier, commercial fish farming will be viable in Uganda if we consider the abundant water availability and topography of potential fish farming areas. This will be necessary for the construction of ponds that can hold water and support proper growth of the fish for commercial purposes. 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 lakes and rivers. There are an estimated 20,000 ponds throughout the country with an average surface area of 500 square metres per pond. With improved market prices for fish, government intervention to increase production and stagnant supply from capture fisheries, aquaculture has begun to attract entrepreneurial farmers seeking to exploit the business opportunity provided by the prevailing high demand for farmed fish.
This expansion in aquaculture has also resulted in the transformation of 20-30 per cent of the smallholder subsistence ponds into profitable small-scale production units through developments in management and production scale. However, fish farming as a business must be done from a professional point of view. There are some fish farmers, but most of them are doing it more for subsistence. Farmed fish has a huge market here and outside the country. Ugandans consume fish in large quantities but production has always been limited.
In terms of large scale investment for export, compared to the neigbouring countries, Uganda is strategically positioned and blessed with all the resources to support the fish industry. There is a huge market for Uganda’s fish and fish products in those countries. Fish exports generate substantial revenue averaging nearly $124 million in the last five years, representing 7-15 per cent of all agricultural exports. What is now lacking is money and commitment to heavily invest in the industry, including in fish farming. The fish value chain must be promoted with deliberate intentions to create jobs and industrialize the sector to effectively contribute to the development of the country.
What do you think are Uganda’s chances of having fish as a major source of nutrition and income?
Many people tend to look at food security as only the availability of food in the house, but, technically, food security involves food for consumption and at the same time to generate income to buy other things to fulfil human needs. It is known that fish is not only nutritious but has medicinal components as well. Yes, the lake volumes are dwindling but the fish farming option is here and we are ready to support it as a source of food and income. We are planning to get involved and work with fishing communities on protecting the resources in the lake and sustaining the livelihhoods of fisher folk in the country.
The World Food Day is in October, what is the theme for this year and how is it linked to fisheries?
Now that the World Food Day is near (October 16), we want Ugandans to know that this year’s theme is; “Family Farming: feeding the world and caring for the earth.” The UN General Assembly has declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming and this is to reposition family farming at the centre of agriculture and general policies in the national agenda to promote a shift towards a more equal and balanced development.
This is to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farmers.
In Uganda, for example, there are 3.9 million agricultural households and these significantly contribute to food availability and eradicating hunger, promoting food security, nutrition, environmental protection and natural resources management. We can widen that to include the fish farmers and the fisherfolk in the fishing communities.