The Regional Communications Officer spoke to 24-year old Esther Nambuya, 25- year old Julius Wamundu and Michael Walugada about fish farming in Uganda. Esther and Julius are youth from the community engaged with the project while Michael is an Aquaculture Technical Advisor at Masese Cage Fish Farmers’ Cooperative Society. This is their story.
I first heard it on the radio. The presenter announced that the Swisscontact U-Learn project was looking for unemployed youth aged between 18 and 25 years. They were offering us a chance to change our future. At first, I thought they were here to offer us jobs and was ecstatic that I could be considered for the same.
I was confused after our meeting because the project representative mentioned hospitality, agribusiness and aquaculture as trades of interest for our area. No one from my group was interested in hospitality. We chose poultry rearing but faced the challenge of acquiring land to keep the poultry. Swisscontact was willing to invest and link us with facilitators to teach us the trade, but we needed to find land for the activities. All Kilembe Youth Development Group members could not access land for this purpose and we unanimously decided that fish farming was a better choice.
If you would have told me a few years ago that I would learn as much as I have today, I would think you were bluffing. I have learnt so much including entrepreneurship, financial management, communication, marketing, safety, swimming and technical approaches in fish farming.
My group has not yet had its first harvest but we have been enriched with so much knowledge that we are now able to have meaningful discussions about our future. We have many plans and believe that if we apply all that we have been taught, we will be the next billionaires. My husband and I plan to open our own fish farming company in future.
As a mother of two, I understand the financial strains associated with raising a family. I believe proper financial management is critical in cushioning you from future unforeseen problems. I put away CHF 1.3 to CHF 2.7 every week with my mavuno. This is something I never used to do prior to the training.
I’ve interacted with many of my peers who feel that they cannot abscond their family responsibilities to be at sea all day. Others feel that it is labour-intensive because we do not have an engine boat so we row to and from the sea, while others simply fear the deep waters. I have tried to change these perceptions and often invite my fellow women to show them practically that is not an impossible task.
I heard about the project through our youth leader who was going around the community trying to mobilise the youth in large numbers.
We met the project representative and he took us through the various skills Swisscontact was willing to invest in the youth. It was a pre-requisite that we work in groups and so we formed Masese Youth Fish Farmers Group and selected fish farming as our trade of choice since it was familiar to us as we had all been raised by the shores of Lake Victoria. Today, I’m the treasurer of the group.
It’s been great. We have gone through several training sessions spread over 12 months and have learnt a lot; not only about fish farming but social and life skills. Initially, I was not fully invested in the project as I did not want to put all my eggs in one basket. I continued rearing my poultry on some land my father had given me. I needed to continue paying my younger brothers school fees and since fish farming takes time and patience, I could not stop the one thing that was making me some money. Besides, I didn’t even know how to swim. Through the project facilitation, Red Cross came and taught all of us how to swim. Each group member is a certified swimmer now.
I can ascertain that it has. My group collectively garnered 6 tonnes from two harvests and made CHF 8,595 from the market provided by Masese Cooperative. From that, I have made CHF 107 which I have re-invested into the fish farming and poultry business and saved both as an individual and with my group. We have plans to register our group as a company soon and to buy a feed processing machine to make fish food for not only our use but also for sale to the other groups. Because our records were in order, we realised that we spend almost 70% of our savings on fish feeds which shouldn’t be the case if we want to grow. We figured why not reduce this cost? It will be an expensive venture at the onset, but it will help us save costs and earn extra income in future.
I never used to save because I didn’t think my pennies would amount to anything but now, I think differently. I realise that every penny counts and I can start from nothing. I now save as much as I can as an individual and between CHF 1.3 and CHF 2.7 with my group every two weeks. I’ve realised that without savings, I cannot do much. I save not only for business but for those rainy days too.
Frankly, at the onset, many of us felt entitled and thought that Swisscontact should buy everything for us. We were shocked to find out that the only cost they were going to fully bare was for the training sessions. All others were on us. They did help us buy some items as Michael has mentioned but we were expected to payback for them in full. We needed to show our commitment by using our own money to buy life jackets which we use as protective gear when we go to sea. When I look back, I think the approach is genius. You see, as youth, when you give us things for free, we may become reckless because we do not understand their value but when we contribute to them, we are more careful because we understand how much was invested and feel some form of ownership.
I first heard of Swisscontact in 2017 through the Chairman of the Masese Cage Fish Farmers’ Cooperative Society. The project coordinator had approached him showing interest in forming a mutual solid partnership among the locals and the cooperative.
We held several discussions around some of the challenges we faced in the fish sector and together, brainstormed on how best to convert these challenges into feasible opportunities for not only the cooperative but the local youth as well. We drafted and signed an MoU to solidify our partnership with the Swisscontact, U-Learn project.
Our partnership has been one where each party respects the other. We have guidelines in the MoU which spell out each parties’ responsibilities and how to go about conflicts. The U-Learn project monitors the cooperative closely checking our collaboration with the youth. Generally, we are responsible for imparting technical skills, regularly monitoring and mentoring them as well as looking for a market for their harvest. Swisscontact, on the other hand, facilitates the training sessions on soft skills, entrepreneurship among other important topics.
The demand for fish is high and we have never had a surplus. Previously, I noticed many youths were idle. Now many want to learn the skill so they can improve their destinies. It also helps that the community is now more aware of good fishing practices and this has seen an improvement in the volumes of fish harvested. Previously, hazardous methods were being applied which drastically affected the trade.
It’s excellent. The youth are not given everything free of charge. They benefit from the training sessions where Swisscontact brings in experts to empower them with different skills but that’s it really. They have helped many of them with certain items that are categorised as the bare minimum in any fish farming activities. For example, the small fish which we refer to as fry, fish feeds, nets, cages, a boat and even a storage room. As per the MoU, the youth are required to refund the initial investment.
U-Learn is implemented in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation and seeks to raise 15,000 young people out of poverty in Uganda and Tanzania by increasing their competitiveness in the job market and improving their self-employment opportunities.