A pilot fish-farming project launched by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in northwestern Uganda is helping poor communities in the region to increase their incomes and improve their diets, according to locals.
The project, launched by WFP in October 2004 and specifically targeted at food-insecure communities in the districts of Arua and Yumbe, saw its first yield on 2 December, when enthusiastic villagers harvested some 600 kg of fish.
Brian Achikule of Wece village near Koboko town said the fact that he no longer had to travel 50 km to buy fish was "a dream come true."
"Fish is very marketable in Koboko. We usually get it from Obongo from the River Nile, over 50 km away, or from Panymuri in Nebbi, over 100 km away," he said. "Now we can get fish from our own ponds and sell it in Koboko. The people here like fish a great deal.
"A fish the size of my palm costs 500 Uganda shillings [US $0.275], but now that we are harvesting ours, we shall sell at a lower price and make it more affordable," he added.
Under the project, 2,000 participants were trained and directly engaged in integrated fish farming, including pond construction, management and maintenance as well as financial-management techniques. WFP estimated that up to 50 tonnes of fish would be harvested every eight months, earning poor families in 10 sub-counties about 50 million shillings ($27,500) per harvest.
"We know this fish pond is going to help us - we will get money to pay our children's school fees," Achikule said.
Laponzio Angozobo agreed: "This fish we will sell in the market, plus we can take it home to eat."
Eighty-eight fish ponds - each averaging 850 square metres - have been constructed. Fifty-five of them were stocked with 180,000 Tilapia fingerlings (young), and the remainder are due to be stocked by the end of the year.
Half the WFP-supported ponds are also serving as fish-seed-production facilities or hatcheries, to ensure subsequent pond restocking after harvest and to get away from the strenuous practice of acquiring fingerlings from Kajjansi town, over 600 km away in the southeast.
"This is another source of income, because the excess seeds can be sold to generate income," said Ken Davies, WFP's country director in Uganda.
Elvis Odeke, who works with WFP's Food for Assets department, said the major challenge in the programme was finding suitable locations for the ponds and sourcing the fingerlings.
WFP is also distributing food that is unfit for human and animal consumption but fit for fish feeding to its supported farmers, to reduce the amounts they spend on supplementary fish feed.
Fish farming has caught on in the community, with many other locals copying the practice by starting up their own ponds. Relief agencies are contemplating replicating the project in other areas to help them recover from the economic devastation of the country's two-decade-long civil war.
Various rebel groups operating in northwestern Uganda, including the Lord's Resistance Army and the Uganda National Rescue Front, have caused massive displacement of civilians. In addition, the region is home to some 150,000 Sudanese refugees.