Aquaculture for all

Fish Farmers Associations In Uganda


This article, written by John Walakira and Gertrude Atukunda, from Aquaculture Research and Development Centre in Uganda, Nelly Isyagi, Maurice Ssebusubi, Aquaculture Management Consultancy, Uganda and William Leschen, University of Stirling, UK, explores the role of fish farmers' associations in aquaculture development in Uganda.

Aquaculture development in Uganda

Fish farming in Uganda began to develop in 1953 with the objective of reducing incidences of kwashiorkor among children in the central region.

Rural households accessed cheap protein through subsistence fish farming, which also increased the availability of fresh fish to communities that lived a distance from the country’s natural water bodies. In the 1970s some farmers began earning income from fish farming, and, from the 1990s, following the government privatization and liberalization policy, the fisheries sector contribution to GDP had leveled at six per cent in 1999, increased to eight per cent in 2001, and has since remained steady at seven to eight per cent (Isyagi et al., 2009).

Through more recent public-private partnership initiatives, fish farmers are being reorganized into viable groups that are focusing on filling gaps, especially in the market chain. So far the formation and operation of certain fish farmers’ groups in Uganda has directly increased economic and social benefits, especially in rural communities.

Walimi Fish Farmers’ Cooperative Society

Walimi Fish Farmers’ Cooperative Society (WAFICOS) is a legally registered fish farmers’ co-operative under the Uganda Co-operative Alliance (UCA). ‘Walimi’ is a Swahili word that means ‘farmers’.

It was set up on 28th October 2004 by a group of 34 fish farmers who had the vision of making aquaculture a competitive, profitable enterprise. Accessing quality support services and inputs was a major challenge for fish farmers in Uganda that had significantly limited the success of fish farming enterprises. Therefore, there was urgent need to form a fish farmer’s forum that could access essential services and inputs while addressing marketing and value addition. The key people initially involved were fish seed producers, growout fish farmers and fish processors, mainly from the central, western and eastern parts of Uganda.

In its start 2004-2008, WAFICOS did not greatly increase its membership, mainly due to lack of markets, low fish prices, unreliable information and inadequate capital investment to improve their production. With the inception of the F.I.S.H (USAID) project (see, in 2008 and the project’s advice to the co-operative that it should start to provide beneficial services to their members, membership grew from 34 to 216 members in one year. In July 2010 membership was 315 members from all regions of Uganda. Interestingly there are more female members than male.

To date, WAFICOS is composed of growout fish farmers, fish seed producers and breeders, trainers, fish feed manufacturers, processors, input suppliers and researchers. WAFICOS tries to provide its membership with essential services such as technical advisory services, input supply, equipment rental for pond construction, fish harvesting and transport, collective marketing, information dissemination and value addition of farmed fish products (see Appendix 1).

Organizational structure of WAFICOS

The organization is run by an Executive Committee (EC), which is headed by a chairperson. The EC has nine members; the Chairperson, Treasurer, Secretary and six other members. Members of the EC are elected every two years during the Annual General Meeting (AGM), which is held in Kampala.

Criteria for selecting EC members include membership of at least two years, with shares in the association. At least half of the EC is composed of women. A set of by-laws were formulated to guide the EC in implementing its duties. The EC sits once every three months in Kampala but can sit more than once where the needs arise. The first meeting was held on the 29 October 2004. The EC was set up to oversee the activities of the association, such as strengthening private-public linkages within the organization to assist aquaculture development, and supervision of administration staff.

The administrative staff comprises of a Technical Advisor/Coordinator, Ben Kiddu, a former Makere University graduate, and main Administrative Assistant, Ms Lovien Kobusingye. The office now has email access (cost 80,000 U Sh per month), which is used regularly by the Office Administrator to contact members (mostly outside Kampala) and send invoices and up-to-date market information. Lovien estimated that as of July 2010, 40 per cent of the members now had email addresses and regularly used the internet.

The team is responsible for daily activities of the association. The head office of WAFICOS is located centrally in Kampala at Buganda Road, Wandegeya, the annual room rental for which is provided by the Ugandan Fisheries Department. It is manned daily by WAFICOS administrative staff, who are paid a salary.

The Chairman and Executive members are regular visitors to the office to coordinate the association’s activities. Fish farmers come in on a daily basis for the various services offered such as to buy commercial feed, to sell their market sized fish (live or frozen), to arrange to buy or sell fingerlings, and a number of other activities. The annual subscription for 2010 is 30,000 U Sh (US$ 13.0) per person. The income generated from subscription fees, shares and other services is used to pay for office utilities, salaries and towards the annual Fish Farmers’ Symposium.

Supplying feeds

The Cooperative has a large metal container located outside its office in which it stores commercial feed from the nearby Ugachick feedmill to sell to members. The feed sold is available in extruded (floating) and sinking forms, as 2-, 3-, 5-mm pellets at 35, 30 and 25 per cent protein levels in 30- or 50-kg bags.

The farmer members prefer the 30-kg bags and those buying feed normally buy between 1 and 10 bags per visit, depending on whether they have their own transport or not. Members are charged cost price for the feed whilst non-members have to pay a higher price. In July 2010 the office was selling an average of 5 tonnes of feed per week.

Market development and sales of farmed fish

One of the major challenges of aquaculture development in Uganda is the lack of market development, mainly market availability and maintaining production to sustain it. Most fish farmers do not produce sufficient quantities of fish frequently enough throughout the year to sustain a steady market for themselves as individuals.

However, a number of fish farmers together can sustain a market if they are well coordinated, and begin to stagger their production to produce market sized fish throughout 12 months of the year.

The Association has tried to encourage and arrange their members into year-round production and have created markets for farmed fish for members and non-members, thereby stimulating production and employment directly and indirectly.

The main office was originally used as a focal point in Kampala for selling live fish in aerated tanks located outside on the verandah of the building. Farmers used to transport their fish in live from farm to the office, renting out the Association’s pick-up vehicle, which had an aerated tank to transport them.

However, sadly, in 2009, the vehicle was involved and written off in an accident where the driver was killed. Since this time the Association has really being acting as a broker between its members and fish traders, arranging sales of fish to either processors or to associated markets in the main centres of population; Kampala and Jinja. After leaving the processors, many of these fish are sold in retail markets and in supermarkets in Kampala and Jinja (such as Shoprite, Nokmat).

Presently there are two main processors who will normally only accept minimum volumes of 2 tonnes of fish per delivery. The Association also arranges fish sales (between 100-500 kg every week) to a German company who make fish sausages, which are also sold in Kampala supermarkets, and to several traders, who add value by smoking fish. The traders take between 100-500 kg per week.

Sales prices in July 2010 are shown below:

  • Catfish (1 kg) live or fresh wholesale/retail 4000 U Sh per kg US $1.7
  • Tilapia (300-500 g) live or fresh wholesale/retail 6000 U Sh per kg US $2.6
  • Fish sausages (sold in supermarkets) 10,000 U Sh per kg

The association has identified ‘market hubs’ within and around major cities and information is disseminated to members using mobile phones (specifically through SMS) and increasingly now over the Internet. Fish farmers with market-sized fish available respond by either selling farmed products directly to these markets or through WAFICOS.

As well as being a tragic loss of human life, the loss of the pick-up truck has meant that the Association can no longer collect fish from fish farmers to send to market or to transport between farms at an acceptable fee. The truck had also been used to transport live fingerlings and feed for members and was booked almost every day for these activities.

Between June 2008 and October 2009, WAFICOS fish farmers sold 25,350 kg of African catfish (Clarias gariepinus) and Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) worth 48,227,200 U Sh. It is interesting that over 80 per cent of the sales were catfish, worth 39,000,000 U Sh and the remainder, Nile tilapia. Ugandan consumers presently prefer catfish because of its size (usually more than 1 kg). Nile tilapia is thought of as tasty, but relatively expensive. At this time a kilogram of catfish is sold on average for 2700 U Sh (US $1.41) and Nile tilapia for 4000 U Sh (US$ 2.08) – fish prices have increased between 2008 -2010.

Fish prices also vary according to markets, fish sizes and seasons; however WAFICOS, due to their position and relatively regular supply of farmed fish, have been able, to some significant extent, to bargain and negotiate on price with the processors and traders on better terms compared with individual fish farmers. The ability of WAFICOS to act as a broker in selling fish for its members is a great incentive for other fish farmers to join. Non-members who sell through WAFICOS are levied (around 10 per cent ) on prices offered; without severely affecting farmers’ profits. Products sold through the Association are mainly live/fresh (about 50 per cent ), frozen (31 per cent ) and smoked fish (9 per cent ). Farmers who sell live/fresh fish earn a higher profit than those selling smoked fish products.

Nevertheless, there is a need to develop marketing strategies for aquaculture development in Uganda as the industry is continuously faced with following challenges:

  • Low yields or productivity that results in inconsistent or unsustainable supply of farmed fish products to market outlets.
  • Availability of reliable information and simple communication from and between markets and fish farmers is lacking.
  • Value-addition and market strategies when targeting premium markets have not been fully addressed.
  • Cost of accessing lucrative markets (ie transport and roads infrastructure) can be prohibitive for rural fish farmers, especially when dealing with live, farmed fish.
Other services offered

The Administrator also acts as a broker in arranging fingerling sales by informing and linking member fingerling suppliers and on-growing farmers.

This system and process also brings about some form of quality control of fingerling supplies as poor feedback from customers about fingerlings (primarily on growth rate) from a particular supplier can lead to less sales for them in the future. The association floats shares to its members of between 100,000 U Sh (US $ 50) and 300,000 U Sh (US $ 150).

Money received from shares is used to buy aquaculture inputs like fish nets, transport tanks, water testing kits, oxygen cylinders and refrigerators which are used for the benefit of members. Also, shareholders can presently access certain free aquaculture services and inputs in the organization, however this benefit is likely to be under review since it is unlikely to be sustainable without some sort of lesser payment charges. Otherwise, an annual subscription fee of 30,000 U Sh (US $13) is charged to new and existing members, with an opportunity of accessing services at a subsidized price. WAFICOS has two bank accounts where financial transactions are implemented, and receive interest on these accounts.

Until the time of writing, the Association has never received any loans but individual members have accessed soft loans directly from banks. However, WAFICOS has accessed grants from developing agents like USAID and DANIDA through competitive grant proposals. Grants received have helped WAFICOS provide services to farmers, which in turn have helped members to improve productivity and profitability of their fish farms.

The organization is also planning to provide credit services to its members only when its capacity is fully strengthened. In 2009, also through collaboration with the USAID Fish project and Dr Nelly Isyagi, the Association was involved in producing the first ever Ugandan Commercial Fish Farmers’ Equipment and Inputs Suppliers Guide, which is freely available to all members. This comprehensive, illustrated guide provides contact information for a wide range of aquaculture equipment and input suppliers including nets, feeds, chemicals, hapas, cages, pumps, graders, water test kits, tanks, aeration, hatchery equipment and much more.

The Association has continued to monitor and update the Guide and will, for example, following adverse feedback from fish farming members, remove any particular companies or suppliers who are providing a poor service or product.

The Association also offers technical support to its members through Ben Kiddu the Technical Advisor, for example: in writing business plans, technical advice on feeds and feeding, pond and hatchery management, live fish transport, and also pond construction. Regarding the latter, the Association has contacts with several fish pond construction teams and through supervision from the Technical Advisor members can get a 500-m² pond constructed in 2 to 3 weeks for between 1.5-2.5 million U Sh (US $650-850).

WAFICOS and Annual Fish Farmers’ Symposium

The First Fish Farmers’ Symposium was held in 2007 as part of the USAID FISH project (see Its initial objective was to report the results from the demonstration farms that were under the FISH project; however, it has developed into something much bigger.

It is difficult to find an inexpensive conference venue in Kampala because most of the past conferences held by international donors were fully funded in very expensive hotels or conference centres and participation (+ their transport costs) of farmers were often paid by the donors. The FISH project could not afford to get into this type of situation because it would be impossible to transfer over the organization of the Symposium in future years to a fish farmers’ association to run on an economically viable basis.

In terms of sustainability and economic viability, this is a good example for other fish farm associations and, in fact, more generally, for the way in which fish farmers’, researchers’ and government meetings can be arranged and hosted across many African countries. They do not need to be in expensive hotel venues and the cost effectiveness of using such venues for conferences and meetings in sub-Saharan Africa should always be questioned.

Therefore the Uganda Manufacturers Association Hall at the UMA showgrounds in Kampala was hired and was perfectly adequate and suitable for hosting a Fish Farmers’ Symposium. The Symposium was advertized and participants had to register in advance to assure themselves a place. As the calls for registration were being collected, a frequent question was, “do we have to pay entry?”, and the standard reply was, “not this time”. However, the participants had to pay for their own lunch. A service was hired to offer a lunch at a modest cost (about $3). The project paid for drinks refreshments for the day.

215 participants from all over Uganda and other countries, such as USA, registered, and, an estimated 60 individuals attended part of the Symposium without registering. As a means of keeping the registered participants present until the very end of the programme, there was a raffle competition for prizes. This turned out to be a highlight and very entertaining part of the programme.

Winners were asked to go to the podium to claim their prize and introduce themselves; giving their name and a few sentences on how they were involved in fish farming in Uganda. Winners of prizes that are difficult to carry such as fingerlings or fish feed were presented with vouchers. This practice has been repeated in each of the following years’ symposia and it remains a popular event. Furthermore, in the first year, the Symposium was attended by exhibitors like Balton, Uganda Fishnet Manufacturers and Ugachick, who each displayed their products in a special side area outside the Hall where other participants could stroll through, view their products and discuss details and prices with the companies’ staff.

After the success of this first Symposium, the second annual symposium was held over 2 days between 6 and 7 May, 2008, at the same venue. FISH asked WAFICOS to help with the Symposium and organize the registration and lunch. This time, entry was charged at 10,000 U Sh (about $5) per day. A lunch and refreshments were provided, which was covered by the fee. A total of 172 paying participants were recorded. The presentations were organized to provide relevant and useful information to participants.

Two groups of farmers became very vocal during the conference; new fish farmers and existing fish farmers who had been trying to grow fish but were failing. They remarked that the knowledge base of the FISH project trainees was much more advanced than their own and it was difficult for them to understand some of the concepts that were frequently coming up in the presentations such as terms like “carrying capacity” and “feed conversion ratios”, etc.

A sign-up sheet was provided for a training day in which these farmers could ask more basic questions. The training was named by one of the participants, for struggling farmers. Once again there was a large area set aside for a Trade Fair for commercial suppliers, but this time a large tent was hired and entry was free of charge. Trade fair participants were encouraged to provide the door prizes in return for free display space. In addition to the suppliers from the previous year, several Ugandan fish farms had displays of their products and pamphlets for distribution. FISH funded a small catfish processor to cook samples of fried catfish for free trials as part of a catfish promotion. (Many Ugandans say they will never eat Clarias but after tasting it, many quickly changed their minds!).

All of the presentations from the first two Symposia can be found for download on the website at Auburn University, ( and are also available on CD from WAFICOS and from Aquaculture Management Consultants.

At the close of the FISH project in 2009, there was great desire to continue the Fish Farmers’ Symposia and when a small portion of the required funds was provided via Aquafish CRSP, this gave enough assurance for at least the rental of the venue. However, the funds were not in place early enough to allow for a 2009 conference; so the next was held in January 2010.

There was not enough money for newspaper advertisements this time so the announcement was done through the Internet, and by mass mobile phone text messaging to WAFICOS members. This time a fee for display at the Trade Fair was also initiated so as to cover the cost of the tent rental. This reduced Trade Fair participation but it is believed that earlier promotional advertising and an incremental Trade Fair fee so that small businesses can afford a small stand will help increase participation in the Trade Fair for the following year.

The next Symposium for 2011 has some funds already identified and WAFICOS has, since September 2010, started advertising it via the Sustainable Aquaculture Research Networks in sub-Saharan Africa (SARNISSA) project websites and email forum. In addition, an article about the Symposium was published in the international Fish Farmer Magazine publication (

Annual Symposia and Trade Fairs are among the key mechanisms through which WAFICOS disseminates information to its members on various subjects and exposes them to new developments. Members can access information (leaflets, brochures, posters, manuals and publications) for free. In addition, they provide a forum through which farmers and key stakeholders in the sector, notably suppliers of inputs, fish processors and other key markets, government personnel, researchers and trainers can interact and make useful contacts as well as networks. This provides a meeting place where producers, those providing goods and services to the aquaculture sector, and marketing people from throughout the value chain from all over the country can get together once a year to discuss issues affecting them, make beneficial business collaborations as well as work out practical solutions to overcome challenges.

Specifically, the aims of the Symposium and Trade Fair are:

  • To share farmers’ experiences in overcoming constraints in fish farming practice in the transition from subsistence to viable market-oriented, commercial enterprises.
  • To share the experiences of industry and other service providers of investing in and meeting the needs of a new emerging sector.
  • To exchange information on status and local innovations to overcome challenges faced by farmers and those involved in the aquaculture value chain.
  • To promote collaboration among stakeholders in the aquaculture sector to enhance sustainable development.

The Third Annual Fish Farmers' Symposium and Aquaculture Trade Fair at UMA show ground from 13th-15th January 2010.

Objectives of the Symposium

The theme of the ‘Third Annual Fish Farmers’ Symposium and Trade Fair 2010’ was “Dealing with the Challenges of Building an Aquaculture Industry” in the following key areas:

  • Key production factors affecting the viability of fish farming enterprises.
  • Challenges faced in accessing inputs the consequent implications on returns to investment and quality of service delivery.
  • Markets, marketing and market information.
  • Current support services to the aquaculture private-sector and factors affecting their accessibility.

An optional one-day field tour to various aquaculture-related establishments was organized with the major objective to expose farmers to successful aquaculture establishments, facilitate contacts and to help them source quality inputs/services.


A total of 158 paid-in participants (at $5 each) attended the symposium. Of these, 69 were WAFICOS members. In general, 64 per cent of the participants were fish farmers, 22 per cent students/trainers, 10 per cent other service providers (feed manufacturers such as Ugachick and input suppliers such as Uganda Fishnet Manufacturers Ltd, Crest Tank Ltd) and 4 per cent policy makers. Females constituted 29 per cent of the total attendance.

The symposium was opened by the Minister of State for Fisheries, Mr. Fred Mukisa and closed by the Presidential Advisor on Agriculture, Prof JJ Otim.

Symposium attendance decreased slightly from the year before, possibly because of fee increases, but a number of members of the Association felt that the quality of participation had increased: “the participants are much more vocal and engaged”. This is no doubt because asking for a charge to attend meant that only the more serious people would be likely to spend their own money to attend, even if it was a relatively small entry charge. This made the quality of the sessions and discussions much better than previous years.

Activities undertaken

The Symposium comprised of three key activities

  • Presentation of papers on the key themes listed above.
  • Trade Fair running concurrently with the presentations
  • A field trip
Paper presentations

The paper presentations focused on farmers’ experiences in various areas and were given by commercial fish farmers, researchers, international experts, fish processors, banking institutes, NGOs, community based organizations and policy makers. Six presentations were from farmers who presented their experiences in dealing with challenges and the implication of these challenges on their production.

In addition, there were technical presentations given by professionals in specific areas where farmers found problems. These papers were advisory in nature and provided information to farmers aimed at enabling them overcome specific challenges as well as advise on best management practices. A number of issues were discussed, including recommendations for infrastructure development, production techniques, financing and marketing issues.

Trade Fair

The participation in the exhibition was small. The key exhibitors at the Trade Fair were commercial fish feed producers, net producers, technical advisors, input suppliers and farmed fish processors.

The field trip

A field trip was organized to Tende Innovation Fish Farm and Training Center, a catfish hatchery that also operates as a farmer sponsored-and-run farmer field school, also to Greenfields (U) Limited, fish processing plant that processes farmed fish for local consumption and regional export, and Uganda Fish Net Manufacturers Limited; manufacturer of netting, pond seines and cages. There were 59 paid-in participants to the study tour. The tour enabled participants to articulate their findings from the conference, highlighting lessons that are relevant to principles of profitable, commercial aquaculture.


The WAFICOS co-operative has developed considerably since its inception in 2004, particularly in terms of its offering and providing specific services and benefits to its members. Although it has benefitted since 2007 from the support and advice of the USAID FISH project, this finished in 2009, and it is now up to the Cooperative and its staff and members to year by year raise enough income from memberships, shares and other activities in order to remain financially viable.

Its particular strengths and successes have been the infrastructure and network it has created to market considerable volumes of Clarias and tilapia produced all over Uganda, whilst also being a communication hub for arranging sales of fingerlings and commercial feed for its members. The increasing use of mobile phones and, more latterly, access to the Internet for fish farmers has certainly helped the Cooperative to operate more effectively, whilst the experience and expertise of the two salaried office staff and executive has greatly improved the relationship between the Cooperation management and its members.

The Fish Farmers’ Symposium and associated Trade Fair has developed over the last three years to, hopefully, pay for itself in January 2011, when the next one is being held. Also, the provision of the contacts and information for fish farmers through the Commercial Aquaculture Suppliers Guide, enabling them to buy key equipment such as pumps, nets, feeders, tanks, etc., has been of great importance. This access to equipment has allowed a significant number of the farmers to be able to intensify and, to some extent, mechanize their production systems, making them more profitable as well as producing more fish.

However, it has not all been plain sailing and there have been, and still are a number of challenges. These have included the unfortunate loss of the Cooperative’s pick-up truck and driver, which has reduced the effectiveness of the services provided. It is not known whether the Cooperative will be able to replace the vehicle with another one. Also, many of the fish farmer members still find it too expensive to purchase commercial feed from the office even at cost price, a situation which the Cooperative cannot really improve.

There have been many different examples of fish farmers’ associations set up all over sub- Saharan Africa in the past 30-40 years. From this long list, for a variety of reasons, there are very few examples where associations have actually survived and been successful for longer than 5 years. It is from this history that the WAFICOS cooperative has evolved and has endeavoured to develop its infrastructure, learning from the lessons, successes and failures from previous associations.

In the end it will survive and be successful if it maintains a strong membership base, provides the sorts of services its members are willing to pay their subscriptions for, whilst also, through this and other activities, being able to generate enough income to remain financially viable. The ability of the organization, its executive and salaried staff to be inventive and flexible in reaction to changes within the Ugandan aquaculture and market sectors will also be crucially important in years to come.

April 2011