By Kibuule Franco
As a fish maniac, I can’t be more grateful to Lt. Col. James Nuwagaba and his team for the work well-done in preserving our beloved species. The work that this team has done shouldn’t only be celebrated by us the Fish Manias but all citizens.
It was in May 2015 when the then Fisheries Minister Zerubabel Nyiira, announced that the government was in advanced stages of forming a combined force that would monitor the country’s water bodies to plug the rapidly dwindling fish stocks. In November 2015, President Museveni ordered for the disband of the fisheries enforcement body and thus the birth of the Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU). Back then, 13 of the 23 fish processing plants had closed due to lack of enough fish supply to justify their existence. Uganda was at the time earning $150m in fish exports annually, a big fall from the $400m we used to earn when all factories were operational. We are talking about a sub-sector that contributes 3% to the National GDP and 26% to the agriculture sector GDP but had figures of 2.5% and 12% respectively at the time.
Government had planned to increase fish production to 600,000 MT per year by 2016 from 460,000 MT per year in 2011 but the annual productions still stood slightly below 460,000 MT. Time and again, the media had written stories of how fish processing companies had failed to survive in the business and are forced to close. These companies were employing over 5 million Ugandans either directly or indirectly along the value chain.
Fishing is a lucrative sector in Uganda that has over time attracted various people to the water bodies to cash in on a trade whose prodigious market stretches to Europe, Middle East and South East Asia in addition to never satisfied regional and local market. It is this sweet market that promoted illegal fishing because fishermen instead resorted to catching immature fish to maintain their supply. We had a supply deficit of 300,000 tonnes annually. We had an enforcement force that had failed to maintain order. They were deployed to enforce but instead indulged in criminalities and this forced the President to put a stop to their operation and come up with a better way of enforcing law in the fisheries sector. Cases of FPU officers indulging in criminalities are sounding but as we all know, it is easier to discipline the army than civilians so we should be rest assured that with time, such cases will be part of our history.
The previous enforcement used to run after traders of illegal fish but FPU goes to the source where the fish is got. FPU is also charged with ensuring that no fishing is carried out on the lakes once the closed seasons start so as to allow the stocks to replenish. Lt. Col. James Nuwagaba famously said; “Where civilians have failed we shall handle the areas, people like Lwakataka, Asiimwe and Umaru, we know them we will deal with them.” He vowed to clear Kalangala District of illegal fishing activities by April 30 2016. This was a vow of a determined man not one who had come to just give it a try!
We have since seen arrests of a number of illegalities and as a result 4 factories – Gomba (in Jinja), Iftra (in Kampala), Marine and Agro (in Jinja) and Ngenge (Kampala) have opened. Two factories are to re-open soon, these include Tampa (in Entebbe) and Igloo (in Busia). The established capacity of all factories is 330 metric tonnes per day and the operational capacity has since increased from 9l Mt per day in 2Ol7 to 150 Mt per day in 2018, a 39.3% increase. The reopening of fish factories has also seen an increase in employment of women and youth in the fishery value chain. The increased enforcement is leading to a shift to aquaculture which is now growing at a rate of 5.6 per annum. Aquaculture production has increased from 1,00O MT in 2O15 to currently 120,360 MT annually with the upcoming fish cage production system.
Also, the country has started realizing an increase in the Nile Perch fish stock in Lake Victoria by 3O% from 0.7 million tons in 2016 to 1.1m tons in 2017. Uganda’s fish exports for the very first time crossed the $200m mark in 2018, the 38,889 tonnes of fish and fish products exported yielded $210m, a 15% growth from $179m recorded in 2017. If we maintain this level of professionalism, our capacity can easily exceed 100,000 tonnes as it was the case in the 60s and 70s.
Government is planning to construct model communal aquaculture parks in Kalangala and in Apac, this will commence in the FY 2O19/20. These are pilot model parks which if successful will be rolled on into other parts of the country, targeting women and youths.
We have the cheapest industrial land to set up processing facilities in the region, we have sufficient and affordable electricity for production, we have cheap labour and highly trained professionals in Fisheries, we have reliable water bodies and climate for fish farming, our fish is delicious, organic and can be branded for premium prices but, if we (citizens) don’t support FPU and other government efforts, the investors will share shy away and before we know it, we’ll be back to the pre-2016 situation.
To quote Daniel Karibwije’s words, “If the UPDF had not intervened in time, Lake Victoria would soon become a swimming pool with no fish to talk about and a water tank for collecting water.”
The writer works with the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance.