Agricultural advisory services are crucial to the development of crops, livestock and fish farming.
Although fish farming was introduced more than 50 years ago through research and expansion, it has been slow to grow, particularly in northern Uganda.
There is consensus in the academic and policy literature about the potential benefits of fish farming, particularly nutrition and income generation.
As such, agronomists from the National Agricultural Research Organization (Naro) are currently conducting projects with farmers in northern Uganda on the introduction of various commodities, including aquaculture fish farming, as part of their Development Initiative for Northern Uganda (Dinu) project. The scientists are led by Dr. Alfred Komatech directed by Ngetta Zardi.
The program of diversifying food systems for food and nutrition security, poverty alleviation and inclusive development includes the adoption and production of various food crops and animal products, targeting dairy farming, fish farming, beekeeping and rabbit farming, among others. They also plan to introduce arable farming, particularly vegetable oil production.
dr Komakech and his team are currently taking stock of active fish farmers in the district and trying to identify the challenges they are facing in order to support them with technical advice and inputs to increase their production.
One of the farmers the team identified is James Ebuku, a promising young farmer who used his father’s village house in Oyam district to raise African catfish.
His current challenge is access to fish food. dr Komatech is optimistic they will help Ebuku install a processing plant that will give him and other farmers easy access to feed. The second farmer is Mercelino Onenchan, the owner of Kukure integrated fish farm in Obokoke Olot village in Amuru district, which produces both African catfish and tilapia.
About 10 kilometers from the town of Oyam is the village of Akaka Awelo Makweri. Like many other parts of the country, the village is arid, suffering the effects of prolonged drought and the rising cost of animal feed, with agriculture being the primary economic activity for most residents. Ebuku, a university graduate, runs the village. But as many farmers across the country feel the pinch of the dual challenges, Ebuku has cushioned itself.
A diesel powered corn mill welcomes the Seeds of Gold team to their farm. Next to the machine is a yellow sack and a sheet of plastic covered with animal manure. Ebuku uses the mill to grind other farmers’ corn for a fee.
Ebuku says he started fish farming in 2013 to increase his income. He had just completed an apprenticeship at the Aquaculture Research and Development Center in Kajjansi, a suburb of Kampala. After the training, he went home and decided to invest in fish farming with 2.5 million Shs. Before this company, Ebuku grew vegetable oils such as sunflower and soybean. He also grew maize and cassava on the piece of land inherited from his father. Ebuku has five ponds on his farm and he intends to double the number.
“It becomes easy when we start grinding our own feeds,” he says. The business has since grown and is now valued at Shs 600m by Ebuku.
Of the five ponds, Ebuku keeps two for breeding young fish. He sells to farmers at farm gate prices. A cub on Ebuku’s farm is currently sold for between 400 and 500 Shs depending on its size. According to Ebuku, processing juvenile fish isn’t rocket science, as it involves removing eggs from female fish, ensuring sperm are removed from male fish and sprinkled onto the eggs.
The eggs and sperm are collected in a common trough that ends in a bucket. Water is added to the eggs and sperm to initiate fertilization.
Excess sperm, ovarian fluid and blood are flushed away. The fertilized eggs are carefully poured into an incubator tray. Egg fertility samples are collected approximately 10 hours after fertilization. The time intervals vary depending on the temperature of the incubation water. The incubator rooms in each facility are designed to mimic a natural creek environment.
There is a constant buoyancy of fresh water to supply oxygen and wash away waste. Incubator trays are filled with small, saddle-shaped pieces of plastic that act as artificial gravel. The substrate also provides hiding places where hatched young seedlings can remain undisturbed until they have ingested their yolk material for body development.
His facility currently has the capacity to hatch and grow 20,000 seedlings, but his goal is to produce 100,000 seedlings by the end of this year. They take six weeks to grow into adult fish if well fed and he sells them for Shs 8,000 each farm gate price but on the open market people sell them for Shs 10,000.
He is optimistic of working with Naro scientists to gather further knowledge to build capacity to meet the current demand, which he says is immense. Ever since Ebuku started his fish farming initiative, he has never looked for a job. Fish diseases are not a big problem for him, because as soon as the fish are fed high-quality fish food, problems with diseases hardly arise, especially with good care of the ponds.
So what are his challenges? “The unpredictable weather forecasts confuse farmers. We’re told it’s going to rain, then we plant and it doesn’t. The cost of inputs is also high,” says Ebuku, adding that his wife, a retiree, helps him manage the farm. He is asking the government to develop policies that farm more land, plant more trees and use machines.