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How fish farming keeps Uganda’s food baskets full

On November 21, 2020, Uganda joined the rest of the world to mark the World Fisheries day in Bugiri district where the speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, commissioned a feed store for the UN Women cage project at Wakawaka.

Globally, about 97 per cent of the people directly involved in fisheries work in the developing world and they catch about half the total world catch. In Uganda, it is estimated that some 1.2 million people are involved in fisheries-related employment. Generally, the fisheries subsector contributes to the food security and development of millions of Ugandans, providing an important component in the third National Development Plan (NDPIII) 2020/21 – 2024/25.

Over the past three years, the fisheries subsector recovered from a slump of -2.1 per cent in 2017/18 to grow at 11.3 per cent in 2018/19.

This turn-around is majorly attributed to strict enforcement of fishing regulations as well as the promotion of aquaculture, among other interventions. Before that, fish production was mostly affected by overreliance on capture fisheries with limited investment in technology and innovation.

The deteriorating quality of water sources resulting from aquatic pollution coupled with weak enforcement of regulations had also resulted in decline in fish stocks, particularly the Nile perch.

Accordingly, fish processing capacity in Uganda is in primary processing, with fish processing plants processing only fish fillets, minced fish, and salted and dried/smoked fish. Due to high capital requirements, there is no plant undertaking secondary processing of fish into fish soluble, fish silage, fish meal, fish oils and cutlery fish products.

Fisheries waste, from which isinglass and pharmaceuticals could be manufactured, is also wasted. This has in turn prompted the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) to embark on a reexamination of the fisheries sector, specifically addressing the causes of poverty in fishing communities.

The findings led to the increased promotion of aquaculture, empowerment of the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI) under NARO as well as the Fisheries Protection Force to strengthen enforcement fisheries policies, among others.

The results have been impressive and include; a 44.3 per cent increase in the value of fish exports from $123 million (Shs 458bn) in 2015 to $177.7 million (Shs 660bn) in 2019 and the reopening of six fish processing factories leading to the rise of the fisheries subsector contribution to the national GDP to a tangible three per cent.

When viewed from an assessment and management perspective, these attributes are boosted by increased research, streamlined collection of data and empowerment of fisheries institutions. It is worth noting that the provision of alternative livelihoods amongst fishing communities through imparting knowledge in activities like honey-packaging and candle-making, among others, has greatly improved fish stock by reducing high dependency on fishing that lures fishermen to engage in illegal fishing methods.

Recent successes in addressing these issues have had significant social consequences and have improved livelihoods, reduced vulnerability to poverty and meant more availability of fish protein per capita.

FISHERIES AND AQUACULTURE ACT

As you may be aware, the ministry’s development interventions for the fisheries sector seek to reduce poverty through accelerated economic growth, improvements in technology and infrastructure and market-led economic policy reform. It is for this reason that I urge our legislators to pass the soon-to-be tabled Fisheries and Aquaculture Act that will provide guidelines, regulations and standards to promote sustainably of fisheries resources while also promoting commercially environmentally-friendly aquaculture practices.

As the government targets to increase fish production to 1.7 million tonnes annually over the next five years, of which one million tonnes is expected from aquaculture, this can be best achieved with the recognition that establishing an appropriate governance law for fisheries management is central to maximizing the contribution of the subsector in poverty alleviation and food security in Uganda.

Sensitization approaches about acceptable standards in fishing communities, increased collaboration among stakeholders and technological advancements are essential for increased wealth generation from the fisheries subsector.

Therefore, in order for the fisheries subsector to fulfil its potential as an engine of social and economic change, we need an appropriate framework and approach to its management and governance. It is farfetched to promise sustainable fishing in Uganda without a strong legal framework.

The last five years or so have seen fisheries research and management broaden considerably in the search for better ways of doing things that need to emanate from the law. These developments have seen new approaches, concepts and methods, such as aquaculture, ecosystem approaches to management, participatory methods and co-management, adaptive management, and so forth.

The author is principal public relations manager, ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd