Small-scale aquaculture: an emerging sector in East Africa

Demand for fish is growing in East Africa, but average yields from capture fisheries are dwindling. Aquaculture can close the gap, according to Wairimu Kagondu, Senior Industry Manager at Msingi East Africa. Msingi is an East African industry development organisation that aims to support the growth of competitive industries in the region. In cooperation with Wageningen University & Research, Msingi identified constraints to overcome so the aquaculture sector can grow.

"We see significant growth potential for the aquaculture sector in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, but there are some major challenges too," Kagondu says. "We commissioned a study to better understand the smallholder landscape in East Africa. The study was carried out by Wageningen University & Research who worked with other partner organisations to better understand the constraints to growing the smallholder sector."

The report found that the four main challenges are a shortage of good quality and affordable fish feed and fingerlings; inadequate knowledge of fish farm management; a shortage of skills among small-scale fish farmers and limited access to markets. We are developing an action plan based on the findings from this study."  

Understanding the constraints

Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation carried out the study in collaboration with Wageningen Marine Research, Wageningen Economic Research, Deltares, Farm Africa and local aquaculture experts. They focused on small-scale fish farmers, because these make up the majority of the sector. Nile tilapia and African catfish are the most commonly farmed species.

Fish feed and fingerlings

The biggest problem by far is the lack of good quality and affordable fish feed. Eugene Rurangwa, a researcher with Wageningen Marine Research, says: "Good quality feed is expensive because it's often imported from overseas. There's also competition for raw materials between those producing fish feed versus food for human consumption. To keep production costs low, fish farmers prefer to buy cheaper, low-quality feed, or they make it themselves using low-quality ingredients." One approach to addressing this challenge is to work towards having more local fish feed production companies providing better quality feed at an affordable price."

Knowledge gaps

A lack of knowledge among small-scale fish farmers and access to the right technologies is another important issue. Peter van der Heijden, a researcher with Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, says: "In many places within this region aquaculture has existed no more than a few decades, so there aren't generations of experience to draw on. Small-scale fish farmers are familiar with fish as a food, but often don't know how to farm it. Support from government extension workers is also limited because they don't have enough resources for the vast areas that they are trying to serve."

Business skills

Wairimu also emphasises the importance of business skills, and of knowing how to run a successful fish producing business. "As a programme, we will be looking for the best ways and the best people to share knowledge. This will include appropriate training partners, but we also need to think about who can best reach the fish farmers. We're also working on an aquaculture platform for sharing knowledge."

Credit programmes

Credit programmes can also help fish farmers be more efficient and profitable. High interest rates mean that commercial loans are often unaffordable for farmers. It's also difficult to secure a loan in the first place, because banks and other lenders are unfamiliar with the sector and don't see such loans as a safe investment for them.

Growth programme  

Of the study, Wairimu says, "The results from the study have helped us better understand the sector. Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation has played an important role in coordinating this project. They put in a lot of work and contributed in-depth technical knowledge."