EDPRS: Walking the Talk: Fish farming takes shape in Rwanda

Giving fish farming a new meaning The delicate ecological set up of the aquatic life requires a thematic approach of well defined and refined working methods if it is to be rewardingly harvested from on a sustainable basis.  

Giving fish farming a new meaning

The delicate ecological set up of the aquatic life requires a thematic approach of well defined and refined working methods if it is to be rewardingly harvested from on a sustainable basis. Rwanda’s is one such. The government of Rwanda therefore started a project, PAIGELAC, to ensure that short-term economic gains do not erode the pliant time-honored environmental advantages reaped from the inland lakes. Eliminating malnutrition and conserving the environment are some of the EDPRS ideals which PAIGELAC addresses. THOMAS KAGERA talked to DR. WILSON RUTAGANIRA, the Project Coordinator, to have a deeper insight of the project.

The Inland Lakes Integrated Development and Management Support Project (PAIGELAC), was conceived in 2004 (but of which implementation started in 2006) after the government of Rwanda realised that inland water bodies were degenerating. The capture-fisheries were dwindling, the massive erosion was silting the lakes and overfishing had reached hazardous levels. 
The government therefore came up with a project to restore the ecosystems and stop indiscriminate fishing, with the ultimate goals of increasing fish production, improve nutrition, ensure food security and improve the incomes of the beneficiaries in a sustainable manner.

The project is funded by the Africa Development Bank to the tune of 13.76 UA (the equivalent of Rwf6.8 billion), constituting 82% of the total financing from the loan, the rest financed by  a grant, counterpart funding and beneficiaries.

The project, in its loop, does not cater for cross-border and lakes in the national parks. So, on the whole, PAIGELAC caters for a total of 17 lakes.

The project has three sub components; Institutional Capacity Building, Improvement of Production and Commercialization of the fishery products and the Project Management.

Institutional Capacity Building

Institutional Capacity Building has included the mobilization, sensitization and training of the fishermen to enable them understand the ecosystem that they harvest from. After giving them such knowledge, then PAIGELAC has to monitor and ensure that the implementation and guidelines are adhered to.
The project has therefore bought 25 motorized boats so that with the help of the National  police their Marine department, surveillance is done all the time.

Improvement of Production

As for the Improvement of Production, the project started with the restoration and protection of water-shades.  Tree planting, especially, has been given much emphasis to edge off silting and protect shores which are the major reproduction zones. Because of the upland nature of Rwanda’s topography, the overlying hills have, too, had to be protected. To this end therefore, 7,000 ha of both radical and progressive terraces have been secured. The project has also ensured the observation of the 50 meter band from the lake beyond which activities of any value can suffice.

Restocking the lakes has been high on the PAIGELAC agenda. This has been especially true with the tilapia of which breed had greatly degenerated because of in-breeding  (nanism) and therefore occasioned introduction of new genetic vigour from with out. The first round of restocking the lakes was completed in March 2011 and the second is due between May-June 2012. A total of 15 inland lakes with a surface area of 15,380 ha have been restocked with 381,113 of Tilapia  niloticus fingerlings.

Commercialization of Fisheries

The other component is the commercialization of the fishing industry. The first step here was to develop the infrastructures around the lakes with an eventual goal of reducing post-harvest losses. Fish being a perishable food item, PAIGELAC came up with ways of attending to this problem.

In the first place, sheltered places were built in the proximities of the 17 lakes where fishermen can keep their harvest, wash the fish and then preserve it using different methods. Isothermal containers with ice are also to be secured so that fishermen can transport and deliver fish to the consumers when it is still fresh.

Two Regional Fishery Products Promotion Centers have been established in Rwamagana and Musanze. These have got ice making machines and therefore fishermen will be able to buy ice from there and go with it on the lakes for fishing—meaning there will be no room for fish getting bad because of high unregulated temperatures.

Also an Urban Fishery Promotion Centre in the Kigali Economic Zone has been constructed. This is a big center with 75 cubic meters  of a cold room that can as well be used by exporters of other perishables, since it’s not even far from the airport.

Because one of the prime objective of PAIGELAC was to increase fish production from 7,000 to 25,000 metric tones, capture fisheries alone could not sustain the demand. This called for the introduction of aquaculture (fish farming) which has been implemented in the last two years.

The project has rehabilitated nearly 200 ha of fish ponds and in the process of stocking them which will be complete by the end of May 2012. A fish hatchery is being developed for fingerling production. The rehabilitation of Kigembe into a modern fish hatchery will translate into a capacity of producing at least 10 million fingerlings per year.

There is also a new technology of fish farming using cages in lakes. It’s an intensive fish farming technology where fish are fed from a caged place within the lake and usually harvested after six months. A total of 625 cages for Tilapia intensive farming on lakes Bulera, Ruhondo, Kivu and Muhazi have been secured.

Challenges and way forward

The mindset of fishermen is still rigid. Their appreciation of the ecosystems is rudimentary and continuous course of sensitising them is in place. Sometimes they even fish from the reproduction zones, thereby eliminating part of the next school regeneration. Surveillance and sensitization continue to be employed to stop this.

In the aquaculture, the fish feeds—for fish in ponds and cages—are quite expensive, all imported and delivered at a cost of $2/kg. Farmers have, however, been assisted in the acquisition of 8 sets of small fish feed making machines and are being given concentrated feeds manufactured from renown factories like RENNAN of Israel. This is to serve as a stimulant for both the farmers to use feeds and also the private sector members to begin availing these feeds through importation.

The cooperatives’ management is still fragile and not commercially oriented. This calls for more engagement of the local administrators in implementation and enforcement.

The future holds more

But all is not pale. As indicated above, giant strides have been taken. A few private investors are getting interested in the sector with the Lakeside Fish Farm in Bugesera being in the lead. Some Chinese companies are also being contacted.

The potential for fish farming in Lake Kivu is optimum with temperatures of 250C all the year round. The market, internal and regional, is there.

The MINECOFIN projects the fisheries to contribute 2.7% of the gross national income in 2016. If such a level is to be attained, then a fish feeds factory should be established in the country to support the intensification of aquaculture. It will also mean the fishing industry producing 25,000 metric tonnes in 2012 and 50,000 in 2013. This will have to grow to 87,000 in 2014, in 2015 to 125,000 and 150,00 metric tonnes in 2016, whose possibility entails  an investment of about $40 million.