Approximately 18% of Uganda’s land surface of 236,040 km2 is covered by water. The country has 165 lakes with internal surface water resources estimated at 39 km3 yr-1, while groundwater is believed to be around 29 km3 y-1.
Surface water bodies contain an array of fish species that are harvested for both human consumption and for production of animal feeds. Uganda has a wide variety of fish species that can be cultured in aquaculture situations, and are a delicacy throughout most of Africa, and in many other areas in the world. These include a variety of tilapia species, catfishes, carps, and perches, and freshwater prawns. The country is native to the Nile tilapia that is widely cultured and considered as the aquatic chicken. This and other species with well established local, regional and international markets can be reared throughout the year in Uganda. In the country’s vast lakes and rivers live a variety of freshwater fish species that display beautiful colour shades and thus a potential resource base for development of the ornamental fish industry.
There are 17 modern fish processing plants in Uganda with the level of investment in the fish processing and exporting industry current estimated at US $116 million. Fish processed in these factories is exported to the EU, Israel, Japan, to a number of Arab countries, USA, and to a number of other African countries including DRC, South Africa, and Egypt. However, with scramble for the finite fisheries resources between these factories and among regional traders, six factories have closed while the rest are operating at less than 50% installed processing capacity. New investment in fish production would therefore easily find an opportunity to feed into the existing fish processing capacity.
The location of Uganda in the centre of Sub-Saharan Africa, astride the Equator, gives the country favorable climatic regime for aquaculture production. This climate can support the production of most fish species that grow in the tropics. In a few corners of the country, such as down the slopes of Mountain Moroto in Northeast, Mt Elgon in East and Mt Rwenzori in the Southwest there are farmers already growing trout in the cold water streams from the mountains. Most important for aquaculture though with the good climate regime is that all the major ingredients for fish feed production can be locally produced at a comparatively low cost. Currently aquaculture fish production stands at over 50,000 tonnes due to buy-in by more progressive and profit oriented fish farmers. The sub sector supports up to 21,000 farmers and an estimated 200,000 livelihoods. If constraints in aquaculture production systems are addressed the production is projected to reach up to 150,000 tonnes over the next three years. There is need for public private partnership in fish feeds and aquaculture inputs manufacture and supply.
Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors directly employ 400,000 people, and contribute to the livelihoods of nearly 1.5 million people in the country. The majority of the jobs are however overwhelmingly unskilled and untrained fishermen and artisan fish traders. Nearly 30% of the unskilled direct jobs are women involved in support to the fishing activities such as fish processing, local and regional fish trading, ownership and trade in fishing gears and vessels, and other related services in the fish markets and fish landing sites.
The increased demand for fish in local, regional, and international markets on the backdrop of stagnated and or collapsed natural fish stocks clearly provides Uganda with an opportunity for investment in aquaculture. With the market for fish, good natural resource base, and positive macroeconomic environment in Uganda, the region has a real opportunity to develop and take advantage of the existing natural resources. Experience from elsewhere indicate that successful aquaculture industries are usually preceded by successful fishing industries which establish fishery products, markets, and infrastructure for processing and distribution. The opportunity for aquaculture is usually best when fishery production begins to decline and prices for fish products rise. The decline in catch and fish supply from capture fisheries in Uganda thus creates a classic opportunity for investments in the sub sector.