If it can be called a golden era, then 2005 was that time for Uganda’s fishing industry. In that year, Uganda’s fish exports hit an all-time peak of 36,000 tonnes, which earned the country $150 million (about 552.5 billion Uganda Shillings) in foreign exchange.
At the time, according to William Tibyasa Mwesigye, the Deputy CEO of the Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association (UFPEA), the organization had a vibrant network of 21 fish processors and exporters as members.
However, within 5-10 years, the fortunes of Uganda’s fishing industry turned into misfortunes. A drastic reduction in fish stocks due to over-fishing and increasing competition in the main export markets of the European Union and USA saw fish exports decline to $131 million in 2010.
“The industry experienced a downward trend and by 2010, the factories had reduced greatly; some of them had closed down as a result of the declining fisheries resources and even those that were operating were doing so at way below capacity,” said Mwesigye.
With the fish stocks declining, many jobs were lost due to the reduction of fishing activity on the lake and the closure of the factories. In turn, it affected the businesses that provided supplies such as fuel, beverages, transporters, as well as restaurant and accommodation facilities at the landing sites.
“As a result, the fishing industry [players] saw a need to revamp its resources,” Mwesigye continued.
Consequently, in a bid to revamp the dwindling stocks of fish on Uganda’s lakes, especially Nile Perch and tilapia, which are the dominant fish on Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake, the government reached out to several international partners for help. One of those partners was the German government who commissioned GIZ under its special initiative “One World, No Hunger” to implement a programme on sustainable fisheries.
Adolf Gerstl, the project leader of GIZ, the German agency for technical cooperation that oversees the implementation of the project, said in an interview that the German government received Uganda’s request at a time when the two governments were beginning to work together to address the East African country’s food security challenges.
“There was a request from the government of Uganda to look into aspects of rural development,” he said. “By that time, there was this problem that the fish stocks had gone down dramatically and people were complaining. That’s when we said, ‘look, let’s work together with the actors in the fisheries sector and see if we can help them revamp the fisheries [sector] to make sure that people engage in sustainable fishing’.”
Eventually, the Uganda and German governments initiated the “sustainable fisheries” project, whose objective was to ensure that the lake provides Ugandans with more fish products and higher incomes from sustainable and resource-friendly Nile perch fishing.
The German government injected €8 million (about Shs32.4 billion) into the project, which started in October 2016 and is set to continue until August 2021, through GIZ, its international development and cooperation agency. The project targets workers in small and medium-sized businesses whose livelihoods depend on the Nile Perch value chain.
“We are contributing to existing actors in the fisheries sector who are having plans and ideas and want to do something, but they might be short of resources, expertise, equipment and even cash to pay for some activities. That’s where we come in,” explained Gerstl.
The lead executing agency for the project is the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO), while implementing partners include the Directorate of Fisheries Resources (DiFR), Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association (UFPEA), Association of Fish and Lake Users of Uganda (AFALU), Federation of Fisheries Organizations in Uganda (FFOU), Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT) and the Uganda Women Processors and Traders’ Network.
Each of the organizations is participating in implementing different aspects of the responsible fisheries business chain project, whose key objectives include the improvement of business management & entrepreneurship in the fisheries value chain, the expansion of the fisheries self-monitoring effort, reviewing the regulatory and institutional framework of the fisheries sector, and devising mechanisms of financing the fisheries sector.
According to Gerstl, the support from GIZ intends to reach fishing communities in the 19 districts in Uganda that are either directly bordering Lake Victoria or have activities that feed off the fishing activities on the lake.
“We are involved in the training of fishers on better handling because if a fisher does not handle the Nile Perch properly when it comes to the factory, it’s rejected. So by training all the actors along the value chain, we ensure that the fisher knows quality handling and the transporter knows quality transporting so their income is higher because the factory does not reject their fish,” he said.
According to Mwesigye, one of the major initiatives that GIZ supported was a fisheries resource self-monitoring exercise, particularly focusing on Nile Perch. Although the initiative was launched by UFPEA, GIZ came in to support its expansion starting October 2018.
“We agreed as members that no single member should process fish that is below the permitted legal size,” he said. “We have an inspection team that goes around to inspect all the fish factories.”
Gerstl added that the move to use peers to monitor the lake has helped to curb immature and illegal fishing, thereby allowing the fish resources to regenerate at a much faster rate than was previously happening. He further explained that it also enables fishing companies to match international standards, which has widened their markets.
“We are financing self-monitoring because through it, they can ensure that only legally caught fish at the right size is exported; that helps them with the marketing in Europe or China and creates more employment here because there is more fish processed in Uganda,” said Gerstl.
Lovin Kobusingye, the founder of Kati Farm Limited, a fish processing business, says the support by the German government towards sustainable fisheries on Lake Victoria, including the self-monitoring initiative, has boosted fish stocks on the lake.
“GIZ has done a lot by helping to do the monitoring and control of fishing and ensuring that there are no illegal activities on the lake. If they were not facilitating the process, there would be continuous loss of fish. But now the fish stocks on the lake have improved and it helps the sector grow,” explained Kobusingye, who has been in the fish processing business for nine years.
The support from the German government has also financed the purchase of number plates for boats operating on Lake Victoria, as well as registration of fishing businesses, done by DiFR. The Government of Uganda has embarked to register and license 30,000 boats on Lake Victoria, which helps the authorities to keep track of the extent of the fishing activity on the lake.
Besides, the support from Germany helps the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization to carry out a census of the fish in Lake Victoria across the East African region.
“Every year, LVFO with our support, does a hydro-acoustic survey in which we find out what is the fish stock in the lake at that moment, where is the stock, how big is it, plus a few other things,” explained Gerstl.
For Kobusingye, who is also the chairperson of the Uganda Women Processors and Traders’ Network, one of the greatest impacts of the support from the German government is the fact that it has mobilized 383 associations of women involved in the fisheries sector into one network.
“We heard women crying and we approached GIZ for support on how to support women to improve their welfare. We met with GIZ leaders and we agreed that this could only be achieved through the formation of a women association. We needed to have a harmonized way of work,” she said.
GIZ is also currently conducting ongoing training on business development, which targets 2,000 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) but with a special focus on providing skills to women.
“Women are priority because while the fishing is mostly done by men, the rest of the processes are done by women,” he said.
Another initiative that targets SMEs is ABAVUBI, a fisheries business management App, which is intended to give the enterprises in the fishing sector access to key information at all times, thereby easing the efforts of managers of SMEs in the fishing sector to make sound business decisions.
GIZ has also been involved in mobilizing the players in the fisheries sector to contribute to the proposed new legislation that will guide the activities in the industry.
“We brought all the stakeholders together to voice out what they needed in the bill and they made contributions that were included in the draft bill,” said Gerstl.
Although most of the initiatives have only been implemented for about two years, the results across the entire fishing sector spectrum are positive, according to Mwesigye. He says the most visible sign of the changing times is the fact that the number of fish processing factories in Uganda is once again going up – a far cry from the situation around 2010 when they were closing in large numbers.
“By the time we received this support, our factories had reduced to six but two were re-opening so we started the self-monitoring with support from GIZ with eight fish processing factories. Then as we progressed, two more opened and they became 10. Currently, we have 11,” said Mwesigye.
Owing to the positive results, Gerstl says the German government is considering extending the program by another two years to 2023 to address at least two more areas that are likely to play a key role in ensuring that the gains made so far are not lost.
“We are trying to extend the program for a couple of years because we have identified some areas [to work on], such as the establishment of protected zones in the lake and a co-management system for the lake,” he said. “Beach management units were abolished but everybody agrees we need a co-management structure.”
by Benon Herbert Oluka