He established the fish farm as a family business

Ssekyewa takes visitors on a tour around his farm, who were sponsored by Seeds of Gold. They came to get a first-hand experience of fish farming

My name is Paul Ssekyewa. I am a fish seed producer and a grow-out farmer. Actually I should speak in the first person plural and say "We are fish seed producers and grow-out farmers,” because I am just the managing director in our family business known as Ssenya Fish Farm located at Ssenya Village, five miles from Masaka along the Masaka-Kiwangala Road.

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It is run and owned by all of us under Nalubowa Lusembo and Co. Estates. My wife, Rita, is the deputy managing director. Nalubowa, a vet and an accountant, is our first daughter and Lusembo, a Catholic priest, is our first son. Our other children are also part of the business including Pauline Nakyewa, a fisheries scientist.

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As a young man, I trained as an accountant and I worked with Masaka Co-operative Union for close to 13 years before venturing into self employment in 1987.

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Started young
\r\n My interest in farming started while I was young, having been born in a farming family. My father kept cows and grew coffee in Kyebe Sub-county near Lake Victoria. So I grew up eating fish.

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In 1980 we acquired about 100 acres of land in Kajjansembe River Valley near Masaka Town. We began with crop production but in 1982-1983, we introduced livestock and poultry.

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In 1985, we started animal and poultry feeds production on our farm. Poultry was quite paying and at one time we had about 6,000 layers and we would collect about 150 trays per day.

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Later, in 1988, we were beneficiaries of a European Union loan granted through the then Uganda Commercial Bank, under the Development Finance Division, that further boosted our poultry farming and enabled us to put up more buildings.

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However poultry keeping became complicated when through the Barter Trade system, the government allowed the importation of chicks from southern Africa. Due diligence had not been applied to their importation because they were not accompanied with the medications and vaccination drugs to fortify them against diseases from their areas of origin.

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Most of the farmers lost their stocks to the new disease known as Gumboro. We opted to suspend poultry on the farm as a result.

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Tap opportunity
\r\n We went into fish farming in 1998 through advice from a visiting friend to make use of a water logged spot on our farm. With the help of the District Fisheries officer, the late Okello, we were able to make our first fish pond and to stock it with tilapia and the cat fish in 1999/2000 with a view to have fish for our family consumption and to sell the surplus.

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However around 2002, the government came up with a programme to stock farmers’ fish ponds and minor water bodies and we thought we could tap into the opportunity by becoming fish seed producers.

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But we did not have the technology and the infrastructure and so we had to bring in scientists from Kenya to teach my wife, our two children, and myself about fish hatchery management and practices.

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We supplemented the training with reading books on aquaculture and we begun producing fish fingerings.

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Our daughter, Pauline, went ahead to study aquaculture at Makerere University. Some of my children and I have sought hands-on exposure by visiting other fish farming units in the USA, Norway, the Netherlands, Ghana, Kenya, Israel, Egypt, Thailand, and China.

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Today we have about 40 fish ponds and we have the capacity to produce 500,000 catfish fingerings and 250,000 tilapia fingerlings per month. Catfish fingerlings cost between Shs160 and Shs400 depending on size and volume.

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Tilapia fingerlings cost between Shs90 and Shs250, again depending on size and volume. We produce both mono-sexed and mixed-sex tilapia fingerings.

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Other activities
\r\n Seeing that the demand for fish seed was seasonal most of the time, we decided to direct our main effort to grow-out, that is, growing fish for consumption. As we talk now, we have 40,000 tilapia growers (150 grams and above) for table consumption. We are soon to stock 50,000 more tilapia in a month from now. We also practice pond cage fish farming. We sell fish to both the neighbouring villages and buyers from DR Congo and Rwanda at an average of Shs7,000 per kilogramme.

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We also carry out trainings of farm mangers, helping those that want to set up fish farms with site planning and pond construction, supplying brood stock to fish seed farmers, selling fish handling and harvesting equipment, supplying larvae feed for catfish and tilapia as well as sinking pellets for juveniles and mature fish. We collaborate with the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) in the propagation, domestication and conservation of local fish species, Uganda Carp (kisinja) and Victoria Carp (ningu) We also work with Makerere University in relation to on-farm based research and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (Jica) on the integrated rice-fish production.

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Abundant resources
\r\n Fish farming unfortunately has not yet been given the attention it deserves in Uganda. The global trend is that 40 per cent of the fish is farmed. Out of this, Africa farms only between one and three per cent. Most of this is produced by Egypt, which alone grows more fish than all the fish caught in Uganda’s lakes. Yet that country rears all its fish with the water supplied by the Nile which comes from Uganda.

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Our appeal to the government and fellow farmers is to invest more in fish farming, considering the abundant water resources we have.

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Fish farming is sustainable, it reduces pressure on capture fisheries, and it is also a source of income and high protein food to the farmers and the rest of the population.

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Schools and other learning insitutions, right from the primary level, should include fish farming in their activities. Otherwise, it is laughable that we should have schools located near water bodies, which only teach crop agriculture in school gardens.

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