Fish farming is one of the most paying businesses but this is known to only very few people so far because for a long time in Uganda those who have engaged in the enterprise have not done the right things, according to Mr Dan Bukenya, a fish farmer and resident of Nkunyu Village, Lwengo Sub-county, Lwengo District.
He has been doing fish husbandry, as it is sometimes referred to, for the last 20 years.
Today Mr Bukenya, aged 60, is not only a fish farmer owning three ponds but he is also a fish husbandry instructor and a fish pond constructor regularly contracted by interested farmers to make fish ponds for them.
He is one of the instructors in the non-formal training programme that was recently branded Skilling Uganda with a view to give self-employment skills to the youth.
He is also the director of Nkunyu-Kyengeza Mixed Farm which also undertakes to train the youth in various farming skills. He recently diversified his economic activities and he is now into crop production and poultry keeping.
How he started
As a young man, fresh from secondary school, Bukenya engaged in a number of economic activities including local cattle keeping, coffee growing, and trading in produce until he landed a job in Norway where he worked on a fish farm for close to six years and obtained lots of interesting farming ideas.
"I learned so much as an employee on that farm and when I returned about 20 years ago I went into fish farming and it is what I have mainly been doing all this time," he told Seeds of Gold.
He believes that since Uganda is endowed with a lot of swamps and rivers it has a big potential for fish farming. "The only problem is that most people who invest in fish farming do not do things the right way," he says. "Lots of them, for example, spend too much money on feeds which reduces their profits. But who feeds all the fish in our lakes and rivers? There are four important factors to bear in mind for any farmer that wants to earn big money from fish farming and they are: right breed, pond construction, feeding the fish, and fish population in the pond." If all the four things are done right, according to him, a fish farmer with just one pond about an acre wide should expect a minimum of Shs100m from the first harvest which normally takes place after two years.
He further says the farmer can continue getting as much money every six months or even more depending on when the need for money arises.
He recommends tilapia (ngege) as the best fish to invest in for farmers that have swamps with sufficient water throughout the year.
"Tilapia is also by far the most marketable fish in Uganda and it is the fish that most farmers should cultivate," he says. He has extensive knowledge of the different tilapia breeds and where they are to be found in Lake Victoria.
He knows all the six of them by their Luganda names which he gives as kachera, mpongo, mbugga, kiregeya, kitomera, and kibaati. He singles out the last two as the best for farming because they grow fast and become very large.
As a government recognised fish pond constructor, he has been granted official permission by the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) to access any areas in Lake Victoria where the different fish breeds can be found and to obtain fingerlings (seed or young fish) to stock the ponds that he makes.
"I have to ensure that I stock the farmers' ponds with the right tilapia breed for them to come up with the highest yields."
He charges Shs20m for digging and constructing a pond, he charges another Shs20m for stocking the pond with fish, and Shs10m for feeding the fish for the initial two years.
"Besides obtaining the right tilapia breed the fish pond should be constructed the right way," he says. "For anyone that wants to earn good profits from fish farming the best pond size ought to be about 4,000 square metres (about an acre) and it should be rectangular."
He has the heavy machines (excavators) to do the construction in a fairly short time. One of the reasons the pond should be large and rectangular is for the wind to blow over a wide area and to bring more oxygen to the water for the fish to breathe. He also says there ought to be an inlet stream to channel fresh water into the pond all the time and an outlet opening to prevent over-flow.
The idea is that fresh water comes with oxygen into the pond for the fish to use and it is the reason new water should keep flowing into the pond. He further says the pond should have a shallow end (about two feet) and a deep end (up to seven feet.)
"The tilapia fish lays its eggs at the shallow end where the rays of the sun facilitate hatching," he says.
Stocking the ponds
He also believes in stocking much more fingerlings in a fish pond than what has conventionally been done in Uganda. "For most farmers so far in Uganda the practice has been to put 20 or even less fingerlings per square metre of water, which is too low," he says.
For every square metre the best practice is to stock at least 40 fingerlings or a total of 160,000 fingerlings in a pond of 4,000 square metres. Tilapia fish multiply quite fast and within just a few months there will be millions of them in a pond. With regard to fish feeding, Bukenya has interesting ideas. "Nobody takes responsibility for regularly throwing feeds into the lakes and rivers from which fishermen obtain fish on a daily basis," he says.
They mainly eat insects, worms, algae, and plants. They may also eat rotting dead animals in the rivers and lakes. However farmed fish can also eat most common human foodstuffs such as maize, rotting fruits and bread. They also can feed on livestock feeds such as cotton seed and brewers mash. But the basic thing to remember is that in their natural setting they mainly thrive on living organisms that are bred naturally under the water and flying insects that get attracted to the shining water waves and surfaces.
So the fish farmer can minimise production costs by encouraging the breeding of the natural organisms for the fish to feed on. One such practice is to put about a lorry of livestock manure such as chicken droppings into the fish pond every six months.
The manure facilitates the breeding of worms, and algae as well as some plants for the fish to eat without much need for extra feeds that are bought from farmers' shops.
He says farmers need not spend huge sums of money on factory made feeds because fish have plenty of other food preferences that are naturally available to them in the water.
"After two and half years some of the fish in the pond should be ready for harvesting," he says. "If the fencing and security of the pond goes well the first harvest should be at least 20,000 tilapia fish. Assuming that the farmer sells at the lowest price of Shs5,000 per fish he should get Shs100m. If he continues with the same kind of husbandry he can go on fishing every six months or whenever he has need for money." He insists that the farmer ought to regularly clear the bush around the fish pond to keep away snakes which prey on the fish. The bush around the ponds also prevents the wind from getting to the water surface and thus denies the fish oxygen.
Most traditional fish farms, especially pond farms, directly release their untreated wastewater into the environment surrounding their farms. This is a serious concern, not just for the natural environment, but also for surrounding communities which often use the water from public canals for drinking, bathing and washing utensils. people neighbouring fish farms are also threatened, as potential pathogens will spread swiftly and easily this way.
Many farmers use chemicals for pond preparation - eradicating predators and snails - and to maintain water-quality parameters. Veterinary drugs are sometimes used to keep fish healthy or to treat ailing batches. The reality is that most of these chemicals end up in the culture water. When farm effluents are released, these potentially deadly chemicals and veterinary drugs can end up in the natural environment surrounding the farm