Kayongo finally settled for fish farming

Tuesday January 15 2019

Joyce Kayongo shows the writer around her fish

Joyce Kayongo shows the writer around her fish business. She heads a collection of more than 100 fish farming business. Photo by Eronie Kamukama  

By Eronie Kamukama

If you have done any business and abandoned it, Joyce Kayongo could teach you something or two about passion.
As a newlywed woman, she ran a string of businesses with her husband’s support, Charles Kayongo.
Poultry farming was the first but the experience of running it on a small piece of land became stressful.
She then began importing and selling bicycles but the high taxes left her without reasonable profits.

Next, was a welding workshop and she earned good money but many of the workers her workers would start their businesses after a little time.
She also tried her hands at trading in solar equipment, manufacturing inverters, power stabilisers and battery chargers, among others.
Therefore, she has been there and seen it.
As a young woman, Kayongo could barely tame her appetite for fish. However, market prices made them an impossible reach.
Certain that there were people who shared the same experience, she decided to venture into fish farming.

As early as 2000, her husband was operating a recreation business at a beach in Kigo, so she started with three fish ponds there.
The plan was to tap into the market provided by merrymakers at the beach. However, it came with some challenges.
“We were living in Rubaga and could only visit the fish farm on Saturdays. The workers gave us the impression that the fish were doing well yet they were selling them in our absence,” she says.
Not only did they have to move the business home, they were hit by major losses.

“The whole project closed. We had a beach, two boats, a raft and a discotheque. So, the ponds were a small component of the entire business. We lost a lot of money, more than Shs200m due to poor management,” she says.
It takes a certain kind of persistence to get back into business but in 2012, Kayongo re-invested into fish farming at home given that there had been a lot of demand in the market.
Today, she is the director of African Aquaponics Community Fish Farmers Cooperative Society.

The Buddo-based company runs a catfish hatchery that is worth Shs100m. Alongside her husband and 100 cooperative members in terms of finances and knowledge, she hatches up to 100,000 fry (young fish) and sells it to nurseries.
This time, no ponds but in tanks with a system that recirculates clean water perpetually.
Here, she rears catfish given that they are easy to handle, tasty, easy to reproduce and grow fast.

“The ponds hold less stocks than tanks. We are using technology and no insurance company will give you a policy when your fish is in the wilderness,” Kayongo says,
Kayongo was recently recognized among the 10 Rising Women in a campaign organised by Monitor Publications Limited and dfcu Bank.
“Business is good, whatever fish hatches, is taken immediately. In a good month, I can make Shs5m to Shs7m in sales on average. However, I am operating below the market demand because I have limited working space,” she says.

Electricity pumps the water and supplies oxygen to the fish so power cuts bite the business sometimes.
Quality fish feeds are very expensive. Limited funds and equipment are still a challenge and would be the game changer for her business.
“We need to hatch 1.5m fish every month. We are using the aquaponics kind of technology, and we make this ourselves but there is better equipment out there,” she says.

Managing commercial fish farming
The difference between commercial and subsistent fish farming is the pressure from market. Kayongo says it is very important to have proper stocks according to your market or you lose out to competition.
Commercial fish farming requires lots of cash and involving banks is a common aspect of the business.

“If we do not operate properly, we cannot pay the loan and the banks will be on our necks. Even if it is your money though, treat it as business cash.”
She advises against doing commercial fish farming remotely. “As a part time fish farmer, you will suffer to find out whether the fish has eaten, is sick or has been sold.”

Failure of fish farming
Lack of information is one of the biggest issues as to why commercial fish farming fails in Uganda.
Kayongo earns income from agritourism or training other farmers in fish farming and the same farmers provide market to the hatchery.

“We charge Shs20,000 per hour per tourist for a minimum of two hours. We have also trained 67 people. These farmers farm in ponds but they want us to sell good fish seed to them, demand we cannot meet,” she says.
The company could grow bigger with setting up similar systems for other fish farmers. “We have designed 22 systems for them with tanks. We sell each fish fry at Shs150.
This system of Shs15m can stock 30,000 fingerlings which they can sell at Shs350 each and realise good income every month. We are looking at a profit margin of 50 per cent and this in the industry is very high,” Kayongo says.

The company now targets production of biogas and fertilisers from the waste generated by the fish system. Commercial aquaponics is fairly new.
Kayongo would want banks which have for long not regarded agriculture bankable to support such enterprises with credit.