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Uganda: Farmer supports family with fresh fish

Peter Odongo hopes to be a large-scale fish farmer. Every morning, the 69-year-old starts the day by checking his ponds to see if the fish are safe, and then feeding them.

Mr. Odongo started fish farming in 2000 in Ngetta sub-county, a few kilometres north of Lira town in northern Uganda. He recalls, “I started a fish pond with 10 fingerlings which I collected from other farmers in my community.” The abundance of water in the area meant that he had a good chance of succeeding with his new venture.

But getting started was difficult. Many locals regard fish farming as time-consuming, expensive and less profitable than land-based farming. Mr. Odongo set out to prove his doubters wrong. He spent about 9,000 Ugandan shillings [$3.20 U.S.] to build a pond and stock it with 10 tilapia and catfish fingerlings. Fifteen years later, his two ponds teem with 3,500 fish.

Mr. Odongo says there is a high demand for fish in his area. He adds, “Many of my clients no longer go to the market, but come to my home to buy fresh fish.” He makes good money selling his fish locally. Even small tilapia sell for $1 U.S. in the market.

Uganda is richly endowed with the natural resources required for fish farming. The country is full of lakes and rivers. More than one million Ugandans earn an income from fish farming, which provides a major source of dietary protein.

But Ugandan fish farmers face challenges. Local suppliers don’t often provide fish feed, and feed is expensive when it is available. Mr. Odongo pays nearly $1 U.S. per kilo for processed feeds. He says this is the main reason why many Ugandan farmers cannot afford to start fish farms of their own.

Dr. Mwabaza Ndawula is a Senior Research Officer at the National Fisheries Resource Institute in Jinja, 60 kilometres east of Kampala. He says the key problem facing small-scale fish farmers is lack of capital. He says, “Financing would help these farmers acquire new technology that will improve … their fishing and income.”

Dr. Ndawula says overfishing is responsible for the rising price of fish in Ugandan markets. Fewer fish on the market mean higher prices. But, he says, “If we can increase production, people will enjoy fish at [an] affordable price.”

Mr. Odongo’s earnings from fish farming have helped him buy land, pay school fees for his children and expand his farm. In addition to raising fish, he keeps poultry and goats, and grows rice.

Mr. Odongo says that his family life was miserable before he started his fish farm. He says, “It was difficult to meet the family needs. Now I am happy because I earn an average of [$350 U.S.] every month from the sale of fish.”

Photo:  Peter Odongo. Photo Credit: Denis Ongeng