There is always light at the end of the tunnel, goes an old adage. For the fishing community around Lake Kivu in the Western Province that had for decades wallowed in poverty, this couldn’t be more true.
Their fortunes started changing for the better when cage fish farming was introduced. The programme, which started in 2006, had helped many fishing families increase their incomes and enhance their livelihoods by the time it wrapped up business last year. The Inland Lake Integrated Development and Management Support project (PAIGELAC) pumped in $16.8m (about Rwf11.1b), which was shared among 265 co-operatives dealing in cage fish farming and inlake farming.
Being and ordinary fishing community, their main fishing gear was old nets and locally-made boats before PAIGELAC intervened. Although the fishermen braved harsh weather and ‘angry’ waters, there was nothing much to show for the suffering.
“A community of many dozens of fishermen was using only three boats to fish and earn a living. With the boats, they were only able to catch silver fish as their boats would not go far to the deep waters. Despite the risks, a fisherman could earn about Rwf30,000 per month…how can six families survive on that? They need medication, school fees and other necessities,” points out PAIGELAC project co-ordinator Dr. Wilson Rutaganira.
He says cage fish farming was introduced in Rwanda to avoid competition from other farmers who grow rice and maize in the region.
“Since Rwanda is a small country, there is a lot of competition for land...cage fish farming does not require land because the cages are ‘set up’ in the waters without encroaching on land,” Rutaganira expalins.
He notes that cage farming enables farmers to monitor the fish and harvest at the right time, earning handsomely.
PAIGELAC supports 265 co-operatives engaged in cage fish farming, which include Isugi Co-operative Society near Lake Burera.
We formed the co-operative after PAIGELAC’s encouragement...they gave us the cages, supplied the fingerlings, medicines and fish feeds at the beginning of the project,” says Pauline Uwambajimana, the chairperson of Isugi Co-operative Society, which is located in Ntaruka cell, Kinoni sector, Burera district.
For their efforts, they earned Rwf60m from the initial harvest. “We were able to earn this much because we hadn’t invested any money in the project. We were excited and deceided to re-invest the money into the project because the business was profitable,” she adds.
The group made a Rwf3m profit from the second harvest’s sales after deducting operational costs and taxes.
Uwambajimana says though they were facing challenges like scarcity of fingerlings, changes of temperature that affect the fish and fungal infections, the group has persisted. This perseverance was influenced by the gains they had made, she adds. She notes that the co-operative also started a project to breed and multiply fish fries, which has been hugely successful.
“We not only benefit from selling fish, but we also sell fish feed and fingerings to other farmers,” explains the president of the co-operative.
Cage fish farming is a relatively new concept in Rwanda, but farmers around water bodies have embraced it.
A kilogramme of fish costs about Rwf2,300 today. Rwanda produces 19,400 tonnes of fish every year, an increase from 7,000 tonnes in 2006.