My name is Georwell Emanu, a full-time fish farmer based in Tororo and Busia districts. Last December, my business proposal won the Shs50m grand prize in the Kickstart Youth Entreprenuership competition, which was organised by Nile Breweries in partnership with NTV and Enterprise Uganda.
I have five years of experience in fish farming now. I have been at it since 2010. However, the story goes back to 2007 when I came back from Egypt, where I acquired a Bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Aquaculture from Cairo University. I was searching on how I could go about putting into practice what I had studied.
What I found was a disheartening picture. I found that fish farmers did not have sufficient knowledge and that the cost of doing fish farming was very high.
Getting fingerlings (stock of tiny young fish) as well as fish feed was very hard. Only the fisheries research institute in Kajjansi had fingerlings and feed on the market, and it imported both, which made the cost very high.
At the time, I wanted to start fish farming but I did not have the funds. Having seen how relying on imported fingerlings and feed was expensive, I resolved to only buy the initial stock and use it to produce my own fingerlings thereafter. This is unlike other farmers who bought a new stock of fingerlings every season.
I also resolved that I would make my own feed. That is how I decided to start by offering consultancy services to those already in the business. I had the knowledge because I had studied the field, unlike most of the ones in the business then. A number of them began consulting me on things like feeding of their fish, treating them, hatching them and the like.
I was now earning from consultancy services. But at that time, I enrolled for a degree in medicine at Makerere University, which meant I had less time to continue with the consultancy.
It was in 2010 when I finally started fish farming on my own. I acquired good quality breed stock from Dominion International [located in Kisumu, Kenya]. It is one of the world’s best companies in all things related to fish farming.
While looking for a place to set up a hatchery, I had realised that the public swimming pool of Tororo Town Council lay abandoned. I approached the authorities and presented them my plan to turn it into a hatchery and to use the nearby ponds to rear my fish. They agreed to hire me the place at Shs15,000 per year.
It has been a long learning curve, but now I am getting to a level where I will considerably benefit from the venture. In the first years, I did not realise much from it because there was a lot I was learning. Also, I would reinvest the proceeds in the business. This was until the last two years when I have realised considerable profits; part of which I have used put to meet personal needs like building a home.
Now, I believe I have entered a phase of seeing our business grow, especially with this Kickstart competition prize money, which is going to help me operate on a scale I could hardly afford on my own.
Like I have said, I began with ponds next to the defunct swimming pool. From the hatchery I would transfer the young fish to ponds to grow. But as time passed I saw why I needed to shift to lake-based cages.
Two years ago, in late 2012, I shifted totally to cages, which I established at Majanji Landing site in Busia District. I use the ponds only as an intermediary for young fish that have left the hatchery and on their way to the cages.
I settled for lake-based cages as the system I would use because it requires less labour, takes less money and the technology is easily replicable and adaptable.
On the financial side, I will give you an example of what Shs5m used on a cage can do compared to putting the same amount into ponds or tanks.
You can raise a cage of 1,025 cubic metres, which will accommodate 5,000 fish, yielding 105,050 kilos (5,000 is putting it on the lower side). Using the same Shs5m for a pond, it will give you a pond of 600 cubic metres, which will hold about 1,800 fish. If you devote the Shs5m to tanks, it will give you three tanks of the type that can hold 900 fish each, giving you a total of 2,700 fish.
Besides enabling you to rear comparatively more fish, the quality of yield from the lake-based cages is also better. The fish are heavier, they grow healthier and faster in cages, among other things. This is because the fresh water of the lake is a natural habitat for the fish, providing good quality abundant water all the time.
To further minimise costs, you also have to learn to make your own cages. A cage that would be Shs5m when already made costs me Shs2m-Shs3m to make because I have figured out how to minimise costs by making my own cages.
I can comfortably make cages from bamboo, eucalyptus poles and even metal. Currently, I use both bamboo and metal.
Value of partnership
From the beginning I resolved that I would hatch the fish myself because buying fingerlings every season is costly.
Today, by hatching my own fingerlings, I save Shs1.5m for every 10,000 that goes into a 5x5 cage. One of the reasons the business has proved difficult for farmers is that fingerlings cost alot. And, sometimes they fail to get the right quality, but you guard against all that if you do it yourself.
Besides, the hatchery housed in the former swimming pool, I have opened another hatchery in Kapangala, which is near Tororo Town.
This one is a year old now, and I use it to hatch only the males because they grow faster and at maturity they are bigger than the females. Since the males do not reproduce, they dedicate all their energies to growth.
From the start I did not do it alone, because I believe that partnering can help raise funds, share ideas and knowledge, share the responsibilities of monitoring and supervising, among other things.
I started with one partner, Proscovia Nakawuka, who was with me at medical school. She studied pharmacy. A little over a year ago, she sold her 25 per cent stake in the business to Robert Ochieng, who is my current partner.
About the competition
Kickstart Youth Entrepreneurship is a competition/ mentorship programme established last year by Nile Breweries (in conjunction with Enterprise Uganda and NTV) for the purpose of extending grants and mentorship to youthful entrepreneurs with great business ideas.
The programme/competition, which is meant to be annual, was open to young entrepreneurs who are between the ages of 18 and 35.
They submitted their business proposals and a total of twelve finalists was chosen for training and competition for the grand prize.
It was open to both those who had already started implementing their business ideas as well as those who were yet to start.
Full-time training was offered to the finalists, after which they were asked to draw up new plans incorporating what they had been taught.
Georwell Emanu was announced winner at the grand finale, which was attended by the Minister of Trade and Industry, Amelia Kyambadde.
Making fish feed and hatching fingerlings on farm has helped me boost the business
“By making my own feed I save Shs1,800 per kilogramme of feed. If you multiply that by the total number of kilogrammes consumed throughout a season by the stock in a cage of 10,000 fish, I will have saved about Shs5m on feed.
I make the feed using a variety of locally available materials such as maize jam, rice bran, sunflower cake, silverfish, snail shells, water hyacinth.
Address fish shortage
I have been using only six cages. With the Kickstart Challenge’s prize money, I will establish 12 more cages, which will enable me produce 48,000 kilos of fish every year.
My long-term target is to have 52 cages, producing a total of 208,000 kilos of fish a year. That means I am still looking for a way to get 40 more cages to make the total of 52.
If we can get to this point, we will not be benefitting only ourselves but we will also be benefitting many others by providing them with employment, especially the people who sell fish locally
We look to employ at least 100 people daily as vendors once we have this in place.
I am also looking to training fishermen in cage farming, so they can have more fish and in turn that will give the lake a breathing space.
Ray of hope
In fact, I am already training the local youth and women at Majanji landing site on how they can use cages to successfully rear fish. A number of them are picking it up.
The cages I set up in Majanji are proving to be a big ray of hope. A few years ago, government constructed a modern fish plant at the landing site (worth Shs3.9b), complete with icing and other means of fish preservation.
But the facility has been lying idle for two or three years due to a scarcity of fish.
Our cages are providing a new hope for the re-operationalisation of the facility.
There is also a factory nearby, which also closed down about two years ago due to scarcity of fish.
However, this can also begin to operate again if we can reach the target of 52 cages and others can also adopt the cages system instead of relying on nature, which has disappointed them.”
From Daily Monitor
Local government authorities in Ssemuto Sub county, Nakaseke District have passed by-laws to guide and regulate farmers and traders on meeting the maize standards for better access to markets.
The by-laws are a result of consecutive consultative meetings on the East African Community maize standards, which were organised by Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (Seatini) Uganda.
It is under its project, "Upgrading quality standards in agriculture for Uganda maize and sesame" that is supported by Trademark East Africa.
The by-laws emphasise proper drying of maize once it has matured, confiscation of immature produce, burning of fields that have been sprayed with harmful chemicals, and fields where immature maize has been slashed to dry on the ground and punishment of farmers who do not have granaries.
Henry Nswemu, LC chairman, Ssemuto Sub county, confirmed that by-laws had been forwarded to the district council for approval and passing for implementation. These by-laws will follow submissions of similar regulations by Kapeeka, Nakaseke and Kansangombe Sub counties.
Nakaseke is a leading producer of maize, according to figures from Uganda Bureau of Statistics.
In general, maize producers in the country have not fully reaped from existing opportunities such as the EAC Common Market due to poor quality production, which does not meet the standards. This limits Uganda's competitiveness in the regional agro-markets.
Jane Nalunga, Seatini country director, notes that despite high agricultural production potential, exports are still very low.
She attributes this to failure to adhere to market requirements especially standards, which result in rejection of Ugandan maize by other EAC countries. For instance, in 2013, Tanzania rejected over 1,000 tonnes of maize from Uganda.
Target value chain
She observed that with the 18-month project in place, Seatini will focus on improving quality of maize and sesame for access to the wider EAC market. This will be by creating awareness on standards, capacity building and policy advocacy. Through this, actors in the value chain will be able to engage in applicability of the maize standard and on developing a standard for sesame.
The project targets the value chains as well as policy makers at local, national and regional levels. Ms Nalunga stressed that the project will help farmers to utilise opportunities in the market and improve their incomes.
Fred Nayebare, Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Nakaseke, pledged to back the process of passing by-laws on maize standards at the local councils. He asked farmers to form cooperatives to enable them sell their produce at favourable prices. Also, the farmers were urged to strive to add value as well.
From Daily Monitor
Like other crops facing the challenge of pests and diseases, maize, Africa's second most consumed cereal after rice is no exemption. Farmers in eastern Uganda have been battling the notorious Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease, also known simply as MLND, which causes low yields to total crop failure.
In 2013, several districts in the east were hit by MLND. Bulambuli, as a case in point, suffered a 30 per cent yield loss. When farmers spotted a "strange" disease, it was immediately reported to the Ministry of Agriculture and National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro). Scientists at Naro took action by training farmers on preliminary methods to curb further spread.
Complied with measures
Farmers were asked to purchase maize seed from certified companies, burn plants with signs of MLND, planting seed saved from other farmers' fields were discouraged, and about half a tonne of fake seed was impounded from input dealers. Most of the infected seed had been purchased from Kenya, so a ban was placed on maize seed from there.
Farmers were also advised to spray their plants with the recommended pesticides.
The farmers complied with the advice and suggested measures. The 2014 bumper maize harvest in all the affected districts is attributed to this. In Bulambuli District, up to 60,000 tonnes of maize were harvested in the first planting season. By the second season, few farmers reported the disease in their farms.
Alfred Tseketi, district agricultural officer, Bulambuli, explains what the farmers achieved was due to a concerted effort to curb the disease. As a result of the dry spell, the disease prevalence has reduced.
Peter Zerogoi, a farmer from Simu village, who owns more than 100 acres of land in Bwikonge Sub-county, is one of those who have had experiences with MLND. He planted maize on 60 acres and harvested 200 bags. To him, this is a loss because he is in position to obtain more than 800 bags.
"I usually get 15 bags per acre but in the last season, I harvested six bags per acre. I consulted Mr Tseketi, who advised me to burn the maize [stover] before ploughing and planting for the next season," he said. However, Zerogoi complained about the low price of maize grain. A kilo in most markets in eastern Uganda is Shs400.
Beyond using the rudimentary preventive measures on farms, at the research level, there are efforts by scientists in East Africa to develop MLND-resistant varieties.
Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, with support from International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has set up a breeding facility in Naivasha and Bomet to screen varieties. A trial of selected CIMMYT inbred lines showed several are highly resistant to the virus.
In Uganda, National Crops Resources Research Institute Namulonge is testing varieties acquired from Kenya and elsewhere at a number of trial sites. Dr Geoffrey Asea, head of the cereals programme, explains that with the outbreak of MNLD, scientists in East Africa started a collaborative regional research effort.
From this, the Namulonge team began breeding maize varieties for resistance and testing them for adaptation to various geographical conditions in multi-locational field trials. This is in collaboration with CIMMYT and Ohio State University.
According to Dr Asea, his team is in discussions with other scientists in the region with regard to using biotechnology to silence the virus. But this may take time to get to the farmers.
The scientists at Kenya Agricultural Research Organisation (KALRO) are of the view that, in the long run, deployment of varieties resistant to both Maize Chlorotic Mottle Virus (MCMV) and Sugarcane Mosaic Virus (SCMV) is the best means of managing MLND.
Through breeding, both conventional and transgenic maize seeds, resistance to MCMV can be incorporated into the susceptible varieties within a four-year period.
Dr Anne Wangai, chief research officer and MLND expert at KALRO, points out that the disease is spread by insects such beetles and thrips. "Upon feeding on infected plants, they pick the [virus] and transmit it to other crops they fly to or where the wind blows them."
From Daily Monitor
Karoli Ssemogerere, a lawyer, ventured into farming by taking a bet on growing coffee in Kalangala Islands. Today, he is one of the largest coffee farmers in the district with 25 acres of coffee and 30 more yet to be cultivated.
Ssemogerere says he has been involved in "recreational agriculture" since his student days at Makerere University. He was doing this at different locations on the family estate. "Today, our family mostly grows our own food in Busiro County especially for the last 18 years," he says.
Coffee is a recent addition. He began cultivating it after helping start a certification programme for organic coffee that is cultivated in Uganda.
"We now have a modest but growing acreage in Kalangala district," he says, "Coffee is and remains a backbone of our economy. It has good economics, it is good for our health and an engine for stability in the rural economy."
The plunge into coffee cultivation was not as simple as it seems. "In 2009, I threw my life's savings in what I anticipated could be an 100-acre coffee estate in Kawanga forest located in Mugoye Sub-county. I quickly realised that this was way beyond my capacity," Ssemogerere recalls adding that he settled on a smaller acreage, which could be managed.
According to him, Kalangala soils are unforgiving. They are highly acidic, lateritic and the archipelago's unique eco-system is unforgiving producing a combination of weeds, pests and soils deficient in nitrogen.
Amidst all challenges, the Kalangala Robusta coffee berry is durable; has a decent screen size and very high caffeine content. "It cups well. Our recent cupping results are pointing us to the specialty market. My effort in Kalangala though began as a community intervention. I helped set up the first private coffee nursery that is still operational."
His efforts have been fruitful as most of his coffee is processed and exported. The first harvest yielded 20 sacks.
"Our market is in cafes' in large cities around the world including London New York, Baltimore, Seoul and San Francisco," he says. "We are waiting for our scores on the robusta specialty test recognised by associations like African Finest Coffees."
Kawanga Forest Coffee will be sold in the future as a Robusta specialty coffee, which Ssemogerere expects to sell to the growing local café industry and high-end coffee operations in Europe, Asia and North America.
"Also, it is likely to carry the label of the Forest Stewardship Council with whom we are working closely to preserve forest cover in Kalangala," he adds.
The Council, of which he is a member, engages private forest owners in conserving forests in different parts of the world.
The passion for nature has enabled him conserve 30 acres of forest in his New Town Bweya home located along Kalangala-Bugoma road, in Bujumba Sub-county. "Every person should interest him or herself in forest and environmental conservation. It moves along with a healthy living," he remarks.
Besides coffee, Ssemogerere also owns a banana plantation and rears livestock. The latter comprises goats, cows, pigs as well as poultry.
Away from the farm and all matters agricultural, Ssemogerere is an advocate and a US trained attorney. He spent a significant time in non-legal education and work as a graduate of Government (Public Affairs).
Asked whether he would follow his father's (Dr Kawanga Ssemogerere) into politics sooner or later, he remarks: "I am a graduate of both Harvard Law School and Johns Hopkins University. My plate has mostly been full and politics not been in the present and now especially as my professional career has become even more specialised."
Again on Politics? "That time will come. I am considering it, but the right time again will come to decide. Not just yet. Let's keep drinking that coffee and tending to those trees in the forest."
From Daily Monitor
As effects of climate change continue to hit farmers growing cereal crops, especially maize, scientists in a number of African countries are trying to develop drought-resistant varieties to overcome this challenge.
Increasing incidences of drought in Africa are affecting maize production, a major staple crop, which resulted in frequent crop failures. However, the challenge in plant breeding is developing maize that is tolerant to drought.
So, a public-private partnership as the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) was formed in 2008 and has been engaging scientists to develop such varieties in four African countries for small holder farmers.
This effort has shown that maize can be made water efficient through modern methods of plant breeding. Under Wema, the breeding is being done through conventional means, marker-assisted selection and biotechnology.
African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), which is based in Nairobi, Kenya, is leading the partnership. It involves research institutes in five countries, namely Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa.
Scientists are currently field testing MONS87460, a maize variety developed by Monsanto.
Under conventional breeding, 40 varieties were submitted to national performance trials; from Kenya, there were 16, and from Uganda, there were 24.
Kenya and Uganda have gone ahead with their third and fourth trials, with Mozambique and Tanzania following. South Africa has completed its fourth trial.
Wema varieties developed through conventional means will be released to farmers in Kenya and Uganda early this year. But those developed using transgenic materials will be available to farmers depending on research results and regulatory approval in each country.
Scientists in Uganda have also realised there was also a challenge of the Stem Borer Pest. So, two years ago, the team began developing the Bt variety with resistance to both drought and the pest. There are six varieties that were released by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Dr Grace Abalo, Wema project deployment team leader, based at Namulonge research institute, said there are also varieties known as Tego hybrids. They are conventionally bred white maize hybrids that are drought tolerant and high yielding under optimal agronomical practices.
Reach many farmers
The two varieties namely We2101 and We2130 were released late last year. They have maturity periods of 140 and 146 days respectfully.
Other varieties available include We2104, We2106, We2114 and We2115. They mature between 138 to 150 days and all the varieties are tolerant to the Northern Corn leaf blight, grey leaf spot and maize streak virus.
The team intends to reach as many smallholder farmers as quickly as possible while ensuring the long term sustainability of the seed for the farmers.
Seed companies interested in commercialisation of the hybrids will then apply to an allocation committee, which will evaluate the applicants. Those companies, which qualify to multiply and supply the seeds, will enter into agreement with AATF to ensure that the seed they are supplying is of the right quality.
Foundation seed production is currently in progress in Namulonge and it will be rolled out to seed companies in May this year.
Dr Michael Otim, one of the scientists involved, explains that it is pertinent to develop maize varieties, which are resistant to drought and insect infestation, because these are challenges farmers are currently faced with.
Getting seed to farmers
The seeds will be multiplied and sold to farmers by seed companies who have already applied for licencing certificates of distribution to Wema. Wema team will be directly involved in the seed deployment management, product management of parent seed production and the companies will take over from seed multiplication and distribution.
How the seed will be allocated to companies is done through a committee that has representatives from AATF, Africa Seed Traders association (AFSTA), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CYMITT) and the national agricultural research institutions in the different countries.
There will be information sharing among Wema through placement of advertisements in the print and electronic media before the product is allocated to seed companies.
From Daily Monitor.