Business opportunities in fish farming and trade are too important to ignore and the government needs to move fast to establish a special unit to promote the sector, an expert with the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) has reiterated.
Dr. Wilson Rutaganira, who coordinates MINAGRI's PAIGELAC, the inland lakes integrated development and management support project, told The New Times in an interview this week that both the production level of fish and the produce's market were promising.
"This is a technologically-oriented business. It should be run by the private sector but it needs to get advisory services from the government," he said as he called for the government to create a special centre to take care of the sector. "Today we don't have a systematic way of managing it."
With the support of PAIGELAC, Rwanda's fish production moved from 7,000 tonnes in 2006 and reached 17,000 tonnes last year. The project which was founded to develop fisheries and aquaculture in Rwanda and partly funded by a $20 million loan from the African Development Bank (ADB)helped to improve Rwanda's fishing sector in many ways.
Among other activities, it trained fish farmers in sustainable fishing methods, conducted watershed protection activities around 17 inland lakes, assisted fish farmers in the rehabilitation and creation of fish ponds, rehabilitated Kigembe Fish hatchery, and restocked the country's lakes and ponds with Tilapia niloticus fish species.
Though PAIGELAC phased out its activities last year and Dr.Rutaganira stayed on as its coordinator to somehow help the ministry keep organising the fishing industry, he hopes the government will create a special and stronger unit to coordinate the efforts in the next fiscal year.
For a sector that targets to reach fish production levels of 25,000 tonnes in 2013 and 120,000 by the year 2020, a more organised centre to take care of it would be critical, Rutaganira said. He mentioned a current flaw in assessing fish trade where he decried the fact that Rwandan fish traders are selling a lot of their product to the Democratic Republic of Congo but there remains no figures to show the trade volume or at least keep details of the trade in order to improve it.
But the market for fish products is guaranteed for Rwandan fish traders and farmers because the product remains in high demand, the expert said, noting that one kilo of fish costs $3 locally while it fetches $7 in Congo.
And on the Rwandan market alone,prices of fish have been on the increase since the last twenty years and the trend is unlikely to reverse given the fast increasing demand, a market analysis found in the country's current fish farming master plan says.
"We need investors to come in," Rutaganira said.
The country has a master plan that gives detailed advice on how to improve the sector. The Fisheries and Fish Farming Master Plan in Rwanda for 2011 - 2020 has recommended a number of best practices in exploitation and management of fisheries resources in Rwanda.