When Agricultural Business Initiative (aBi) implemented the UPSIDE programme 2019-2020 focusing at boosting farmers’ yields, farmers in several regions of the country benefited and have registered a tremendous change in the livelihood as well as the agricultural industry.
This was done through different implementing partners (IPs) such as financial institutions. In northern Uganda, Christine Apio, a fish farmer from Oyam District is one of the beneficiaries of the project’s packages.
Having been brought up with a farming background, Apio did not find it hard getting fully involved in farming. Not just farming for subsistence but commercial purpose. Despite having graduated as a professional lawyer, Apio did not feel it was her calling because she did not even put the acquired knowledge into practice.
“My father was an agronomist who majored in citrus farming and poultry keeping. I realised a lot could be got from agriculture and that’s how I got inspired despite my professionalism in law,” she says.
Unlike poultry which she grew up engaging in, Apio had to make research and consultations from the district fisheries officer who took her through feeding, behavioural changes, spotting trouble and how to handle sick fish.
In 2014, the 39 year-old mother of four decided to venture into upland fish farming with Shs3m (a loan from the Alutkot Sacco).
She started with 1000 fingerlings (cat fish) at Shs500 per fingerling. She used pump water from underground with the help of a generator using Shs10,000 daily. However, although she had anticipated some good money from that business, the projection did not match her calculations given the kind of costs and losses registered, especially during the dry spell.
“I lost a lot of fish given the high evaporation rate during the dry spell yet fish needs fresh cool water. The pumped water during that season was very hot which was not favourable to the fish, this led to a high level of mortality,” she explains, adding, “The cost of fuel was also high given the fact that I would pump water on a daily basis.”
Persevering all through the challenges, Apio managed to raise the fish to eight months and sold off the stock earning Shs7.2m, which money she topped up with a loan of Shs7m from Alutkot Sacco. She used the money to expand her project.
In 2018, the prospective fish farmer started off with the excavation of the fish pounds which she did in phases.
Given where she is, Apio says she employed 11 people from Kole District to do the excavation because she could not access the excavators.
The process of excavating the first pond that measured 15x30 metres, took a week at a cost of Shs1.5m. Another bigger one of 30x60 metres was later dug, and this took a period of two weeks, costing Shs1.8m.
The third pond of 15x25 metres, the forth pound of 30x30, and the fifth pound of 20x30 metres cost Shs1.5m each and took her a period of one week each.
Despite the different diameters, all pounds are seven feet deep at the in-let point ant 10 fit deep at the out-let point. Other costs included plumbing at Shs300,000 per pond and dyke setting at Shs150,000 per pond. Apio says the system helps to trap the water from underground into and out of the pounds.
With help of another Shs5m loan from the Sacco, Apio brought in the first stock of cat fish of 1,600 fingerings from Serere Kikwoota fish farm in May last year with each fingering costing Shs500. She spent about Shs900,000. The second stock of tilapia cost her Shs1.2m.
Both the cat fish and the tilapia are eight months old. After gaining enough experience on how to handle the different types of fish, she decided to bring in another stock in June filling the other three remaining pounds.
Apio feeds the fish thrice a day. The feeding schedules include 10am, 1pm and 4pm, every fish pond gets three kilogrammes of feed per day. She initially fed the fish on fish crumble that she bought from UgaChick at Shs4,500 a kilogramme but failed to maintain the type of feed because it was too expensive. Apio later embraced advice from a district fisheries
officer to make her own fish feed.
She says that in most cases predator shooters tend to injure the small ones whenever they fail to grab them and because of this, she fished then out and always treated the wounded ones with table salt. She at times drops the salt in the water which heals the wounds automatically.
Apio cannot go without mentioning the issue of intrusion were people recently stole her fish and by the time she graded, she had lost more than 600 fish.
She, however, managed to arrest the thieves and they are in police custody. She talks about the high costs of feeding as another challenge.
At nine months, the fish will be weighing 300 grams and above for tilapia and 500 grams plus for cat fish. At that time, Apio expects to take the fish to the market. She intends to market the fish through social media, friends and local market.
She expects to sell the tilapia at Shs10,000 (farm price). Those who intend to buy brooding stock, Apio will sell at relatively higher price. She expects to earn about Shs90m if she gets good market and a net of Shs50m.
Apio is now planning construction of a hatchery in the near future and a worker’s house at the farm.
She says having someone on site will help prevent the problem of human intrusion as opposed to now where the worker only monitors during the day yet the thieves come at night.
She is also planning to fence off the land to prevent animals from accessing the premises.