Rwanda has set a target to produce 112,000 tonnes of fish per year, almost six fold the current production, which stands at 25,500 tonnes.
To achieve this, different experts have called for substantial investment in priority areas, investment that can go up to $20m (Rwf16.8bn) over the next five years.
Some of the areas that need investment include aquaculture research, skills development, infrastructure development and production skills, according to fisheries experts.
According to Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), such investments in the fishing sector, could unlock Rwanda’s fisheries potential and help generate more than $2.5 billion (about Rw2 trillion) in five years.
Alfred Niyonzima, the owner of Kirambo fish farm in Nyamasheke District, has 12 fish cages, with 1,000 fish each.
In an exclusive interview last week, he told The New Times that he plans to invest in 20 more cages each with capacity to accommodate 3,000 fish.
The agri-preneur said that he has been attracted by the potential and opportunities that fish farming presents both in Rwanda and across the region.
He said that a cage with 3,000 fish will cost a farmer about Rw2.4 million, but can earn him/her not less than Rwf6 million in seven months.
He said a kilogramme of fish in Rwanda is about $3.5 (about Rwf3,000), and he expects to harvest at least 700 kilogrammes from one cage.
Highlighting market opportunities in the region, he said that fish costs much more across in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Niyonzima, however, expressed concern over lack of skills and needed inputs for fish farming.
“We have Lake Kivu, and other lakes in the country; we even have people willing to venture into this kind of farming but the sector is still inhibited by low numbers of people with the requisite skills in fish farming, and insufficient fish seeds and feed,” he said.
Dr Wilson Rutaganira, from the aquaculture and fisheries programme at RAB, said that means should be devised to help farmers access seeds and feed at subsidized prices.
According to him, farmers themselves are able to produce the needed fish if facilitated, citing Egypt which managed to achieve fish production targets in less than five years, even with smaller water volumes compared to Rwanda.
Rwanda has 24 lakes and water covers about 8 per cent of Rwanda’s total surface area, an endowment Rutaganira believes should be exploited by actively investing in the fishing industry.
“If there was a way government can invest between $15 million and 20 million in this sector in a period of five years, I am very sure, in the fifth year we would have achieved this target of 112,000 tonnes [of fish],” he said.
Currently, he said, government invests in the sector about Rwf800 million (almost $1 million) per year, which is very low.
The country produces less fish than it consumes, as it imports more than 15,000 tonnes per year, according to statistics from RAB.
Rutaganira noted that investors in Rwanda’s fishing sector have better opportunity to access export markets like DR Congo which is importing over three times what Rwanda consumes.
The priority areas
In an interview, Otto Vianney Muhinda, the assistant Country Representative for Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), outlined the priority areas that needed to be addressed for the fish targets to be realised.
“Production and availability of fish fingerings (young fish), production and distribution of quality fish feeds and enhancing capacity building for fish farmers,” he said.
Fisheries and aquaculture sectors provide about 200,000 jobs (direct and downstream jobs), according to RAB.
Bart Gasana, the managing director of Aquahort Exports Ltd, the firm that owns the factory that started producing fish feed in Rwanda this year, told The New Times that they plan to reduce the cost of the feed from about Rwf800 to Rwf400 on a kilogramme so as to make it more affordable.
But, for this to be achieved, he said, raw materials and electricity needed to produce the feed should also be subsidised.
Availability of good quality seed is also considered key to development of aquaculture industry.
Though the Kigembe National Aquaculture Station has been rehabilitated and equipped to produce at least 5 million fingerlings every year, RAB says that considering the high demand of seed with the fast upcoming cage culture investments this station will not be enough.
More seed production sites need to be established, the experts say.
The main fish species in Rwanda lakes include Isambaza, Nile Tilapia, Inkube or African catfish and Haplochromis sp.
There is also an emerging fishery of Indagara (Rastrineobolaargentea).