By 2014, the fishing community around Lake Sake in Ngoma District was facing an uncertain future after fish stocks were wiped out thanks to years of uncontrolled fishing and destruction of the lake shores. Fishermen say that farming activities had caused heavy soil erosion into the lake, leading to reduction of the lake’s water levels and hence destruction of the fisheries resources.
Fulgence Mbazukobari, the president of Jarama Fish Cooperative in Ngoma, told Business Times that the water levels dropped from eight meters deep to just four meters, which led to death of a number of fish species in the lake.
“One would spend the whole day in lake, but catch no fish. We were jobless,” he said. The destruction had happened for years, between 2000 and 2014.
Ray of hope
However, all this was to change with the intervention of the recently-concluded $15 million (over Rwf12 billion) project financed by Lake Victoria Environmental Management Programme (LVEMP).
Under the project, the fishing community was shifted from the buffer zone to protect the lake and supported to venture into cage fish farming in the lake. Jarama is one of the community cooperatives that benefited from the project. The 49-member group received a grant of Rwf21 million to undertake a cage fish farming project in Lake Sake.
Mbazukobari said they used the funds to construct an office block, as well as buy fish fingerlings and 20 cages that they installed in the lake. He said they bought 40,000 fish fingerlings in 2015 and, later, introduced 20,000 more fingerlings. They have already started harvesting some fish from the venture.
Mbazukobari explained that the programme, which was implemented by Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) mainly aimed at helping to protect endangered water reservoirs and the environment through sustainable farming practices like cage fish farming. The programme has since help increase fish production through cage fish farming in the Eastern Province.
“After the interventions, the water levels improved and native tree species sprung up. Today we are able to do cage fish farming and earn a decent living,” Mbazukobari.
The Jarama fishing community leader said in a cage, where they introduced 1,500 fingerlings, they harvested 300 kilogrammes of fish worth Rwf600,000. One kilogramme of fish costs Rwf2,000. This means that from the coop’s 20 cages, they harvest Rwf12 million worth of fish after every six months. The group invests Rwf3.5 million to buy feeds and fingerlings, among others.
Ngoma’s Jarama Fish Cooperative is one of the 54 community cooperatives in 12 districts that benefitted from Rwf780 million worth of grants under the Lake Victoria Environmental Management Programme.
The 2,340 beneficiaries were the extremely poor and were supported to engage in income-generating activities, like sustainable fish farming, apiculture, floriculture, modern and sustainable agriculture, as well as animal husbandry, according to a REMA report. Part of the Rwf12 billion project funding was spent on activities geared at protecting rivers, lakes and wetlands, as well as reducing pollution from industries, REMA indicates.
In Bugesera District, the water weed (water hyacinth) had invaded Lake Rweru and affected water flow and aeration, leading to significant decrease of the fishery reserves.
However, LVEMP helped to rehabilitate the lake and remove the dangerous weed. Theoneste Musare, from Rweru Fishermen Cooperative (COPERWE), said the removal of the aquatic weed has boosted fish produce that has since doubled.
He explained that the weed harbours insects that damage fish eyes leading to death, and hence low fish output. “I used to catch about 15kg of fish, but this increased to over 40kg of fish after the water weed was removed,” he said.
Case for fish farming
Dr Wilson Rutaganira, the aquaculture and fisheries programme coordinator at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), said protecting lakes is an opportunity for cage fish farming, which is a “modern investment in fish farming to increase production to satisfy both local demand and boost fish exports”.
Rutaganira said Rwanda imports about 15,000 tonnes of fresh fish annually. The country also brings in another 10,000 tonnes of smoked or dried fish per year. The official said local production was 26,592 tonnes of fish last financial year.
“Of this, 1,579 tonnes of fish were from fish farming, while 25,013 tonnes was from capture fishing, and 75 per cent of which were sardines from Lake Kivu,” he said.
The targeted fish production for 2017/18 is 30,000 tonnes, with 25,500 tonnes expected to come from capture fishing and 4,500 from fish farming, he added. He said fish farming with ponds consists of 80 per cent, and cages 20 per cent.
Figures from NAEB indicate that fish exports were 8.62 million kilogrammes worth $16.16 million (about Rwf13.8 billion) revenue last financial year, an increase from 6.72 million kilos sold abroad in 2015/2016 worth over $14.95 million (Rwf12.8 billion).
Rutaganira said government is facilitating investors involved in cage fish farming. The ventures require lakes that are at least 10 metres deep. “We urge more investors to inject funds into this sector. We are happy that some districts, like Karongi and Rutsiro, have started assisting youth cooperatives by giving them start-up capital as a way of employment creation,” he said.
He said the fisheries sector was allocated only Rwf800 million this financial year. Rutaganira, however, said a feasibility study carried out in 2015 showed that government needs to invest at least Rwf1.5 billion every year for five years to produce 130,000 tonnes of fish. He noted that there is need for more budget allocation and investments into the sector to ensure increased fish production.
“If we invested enough funds into the sector, Lake Kivu alone has capacity of providing 85,000 tonnes of fish annually. This could grow to production capacity of 200,000 tonnes if we utilised all our lakes as per the fisheries and fish farming master plan that was approved by Cabinet in 2012,” he said.
Rwanda’s per capita fish consumption is presently at 2.3 kilogrammes per person per year, the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa.
However the 2011 national master plan for fisheries and fish farming indicates that if Rwanda’s population growth continues as projected by Vision 2020, the country will require 112,000 tonnes to attain the average sub-Sahara per capita consumption of 6.6 kilogrammes per person per annum, and 265,600 metric tonnes to reach the global average of 16.6 kilos.
Rutaganira said there is a problem of fish feeds in the country, which forces some farmers to import feeds. He said there are three fish feeds factories - one in Rwamagana, with production capacity of one tonne per day; the one in the Kigali Special Economic Zone produces four tonnes per day, and the Huye-based one can produce four tonnes per year.
“This is inadequate, a reason why sector players have resorted to imports, which pushes up cost of business.” He said one farmer in Rusizi imports nearly 26 tonnes every week, while another one in Karongi imports 26 tonnes per month. But this will increase as the fish grow. Presently, we require 400 tonnes per day for cage fish farmers,” he said.