Five miles from the main business area of Masaka town, off the Masaka-Kivangala road in the Kajjansembe valley, is Ssenya Fish Farms, the brainchild of Paul Ssekyewa and his wife.
How did it start?
It started humbly in 1980 with produce production and then in 1983 started beef and dairy production.
A year later, in 1984, he switched to poultry farming and started a feed mill in 1985 before moving into fish farming from 1998 to date. According to Ssekyewa, his first venture into fish production was aimed at getting fish for family consumption, but now Ssenya Fish Farms is one of the best and most reliable fish seed producers and private fish research stations in Uganda and the region.
“The farm is a family business under Nalubowa, Lusembo and Company Estates Limited,” says Ssekyewa. “Four of us are trained in fish seed production and fish rearing, and even when I’m away from the farm, there’s always someone to do the day-to-day management.”
Production of fish seeds
Originally a professional accountant, Ssekyewa, who worked for Masaka Cooperative Union for more than 10 years, has mastered the science of fish seed production and it is to Ssenya Fish Farms that farmers and farmer organizations go to buy tilapia seed, catfish and carp seed. . The farm also trains young people interested in fishing. “We offer hands-on training for practical exposure and research to fish farmers, fisheries managers and intern students from universities, tertiary institutions,” he said. Ssenya Fish Farms also manufactures catfish and tilapia larvae and starter feed and also supplies cage materials, apart from manufacturing fish cages, traps, nets, graders, water filters, scoop nets.
More activities on the farm involve conservation of endangered species. “In collaboration with other stakeholders, mainly international networks, some fish species have been identified as threatened and endangered,” he says.
“We are committed to taking them from their endangered habitats, protecting them, breeding them and, if necessary, possibly introducing them to safer water bodies,” says Ssekyewa. He explained that in most cases, fish species face the threat of extinction due to environmental degradation or predators.
Some fish feed on other fish species and can reduce or even destroy their populations. He gave the example of the Nile Perch, which feeds on small fish. “Endangered fish species can be transported to water bodies that do not have Nile Perch,” he said.
They also domesticate local fish from the wild to enter the fishing sector. They adapt and propagate fish species from China and other distant countries to produce seeds that will then be transferred to farmers. “Some of these fish species have been purchased by the government, they grow very large, taste good and can weigh up to twenty kilograms when well fed,” he said. They also plan and build fish farms for other farmers.
When Golden Seeds visited Ssenya Fish Farms, some university students were taking lessons from Mr. Ssekyewa, an intern, as he took them from one fishpond to another. He was mainly talking to them about a more economical way to feed the fish. In the farm, organic feed is partially used, which involves the formation of plankton by placing livestock waste in the fish ponds. They also use manufactured feed sold in farmers’ shops, apart from larval and starter feed, to feed farm cats and carp. The farm has a mill and mill for making fodder.
The size of the farm
Ssenya Fish Farms consists of more than 60 fish ponds. They have two fish hatcheries with an installed capacity of over 500,000 manats per month, 100,000 mirror carp per month and 200,000 seed tilapia per month.
“Selling tilapia seed, catfish fish, powder starter feeds and student training are some of our main economic activities,” says Ssekyewa. “However, we also sell quality table fish to local, regional and international markets.”
Types of fish
Their cultivated species include the African catfish (emmale). They support chicks and also provide seeds.
They provide Nile Tilapia-nilotica (duck) seed. “We produce mono- and mixed-sex seeds,” says Ssekyewa. “Other tilapia subspecies include tilapia-valiabilis, tilapia-esculenta and sinidia tilapia.”
The farm produces seeds for Carpio specularis, Mirror Carp (ekisinja). They also produce Barbus altianalis, Ugandan carp (ekisinja), for which they conduct domestication and breeding trials. They breed Labeo victorianus, Victoria Carp (eningu), for which they conduct domestication and breeding trials. They produce seeds for Chinese Carps, Ctenopharygodon idella (Grass Carp), Hypophthalmichthys molitrix (Silver Carp), Aristichthys nobilis (Big Head). For most of the above fish species, Ssenya Fisheries conducts adaptive trials in collaboration with the National Agricultural Research Organization (Naro).
Other fish species reared at Ssenya Fish Farms include Bagrus docmack, Mormyrus Kannume, Haplochromis, Schlibe Intermedius/fat cat and Synodontis Victoriae.
Ssekyewa wants politicians to consider fish as a renewable resource. “Government should make a deliberate effort to secure all water bodies,” he says. “Permanent fish demographic assessments should be conducted in all watersheds to determine whether there are sufficient fish stocks in each part of the watershed so that action can be taken to restore fish where stocks are declining.” He goes on to say that in some cases all that is needed to achieve this is to stop fishing in some areas to give the fish time to reproduce and grow.
He appreciated the government’s efforts to control the use of fishing gear. “When the wrong fishing nets are used, they can catch immature fish, which is wrong.” He also wants researchers to do more follow-up on how fish species from foreign countries perform under Ugandan conditions so that any problems that arise can be addressed. He further wants the government to do more research to make fish farming more profitable by coming up with sustainable feeding techniques such as fertilizing fish ponds and looking more at natural food for fish.
Ssenya Fish Farms has some challenges. Ssekyewa disclosed that they need more modern equipment for the intensive tilapia hatchery.
They need a modern water heating system suitable for the climate. They are also struggling to get some essential water quality testing equipment, high precision scales, live fish counters and modern fish graders among other equipment.
The farm provides employment to about twenty people, both casual and regular.