Uganda: Shs113b Fish Handling Project Fast Turning Into White Elephant


The wear and tear is evident, but the road has since been reduced to a bushy footpath laden with black jack and a combination of thorny grasses.

Had it not been for the gate and buildings in the distance, it would have been difficult to imagine that this road leads up to the Shs2.8 billion fish handling facility at Bugoto Fish Landing Site in Mayuge District. President Museveni laid the foundation stone for the facility in 2008.

The landing site lies abandoned. Hundreds of bats are startled into flight as we approach the buildings.

Locals say the bats have been the bonafide occupants of the premises since 2012 when the contractors handed over the centre to the then Minister of State for Fisheries, Ms Ruth Nankabirwa.

The fish handling facility has, however, been lying idle because the fishing communities which were supposed to use it rejected it, accusing the contractors of having deviated from the initial architectural designs.

The chairman of the Beach Management Unit in Bugoto, Mr Benson Kiiza, accuses the contractors and officials of the Ministry of Agriculture of colluding to alter the initial designs.

Mr Kiiza will not say whether he has seen copies of the “original” designs nor the altered ones. He also will not reveal his sources of information, but insists that the facility was meant to have a fish store, boat building structures, a filling station, an ice plant and a one kilometre tarmac road. But all, he says, were never put in place.


Dissatisfied with what they perceived as a raw deal, in June 2013, the community petitioned both the Inspectorate of Government (IGG) and the Office of the President to investigate the matter.

“We are filing a complaint about the nonfunctioning fish handling facility at Bugoto Landing Site. Work was done in a shoddy way and major equipment, which would enable the facility function, were lacking,” read a June 6, 2013 letter that the fishermen wrote to the IGG.

Fifty-one months after they filed the petitions, the two offices are yet to respond, but the situation is not peculiar to Bugoto. It has been replicated in almost all other facilities that were constructed under the $31.46 million African Development Bank (AfDB)-funded Fisheries Development Project (FDP).

The Nakasongola facility has been the subject of a dispute between the district officials and those of the ministry of Agriculture.

While officials attached to the Fisheries department in the ministry of Agriculture claim that an ice block plant, which was meant to provide ice blocks to help with the preservation of fish at five landing sites had been fully installed, district officials insist that it was defective.

“When we tried to use the ice plant in 2016, it broke down in less than a year. The contractor informed us that the time for the liability period had expired before government handed over the plant to the district. We got stranded,” Nakasongola District Fisheries Officer David Nsamba recently told the media.

Like the ones in Nakasongola and Mayuge, the facility at Majanji in Busia is also lying idle despite having been commissioned in 2012 by the then Fisheries minister Nankiabirwa.

What could have gone wrong? Was it a wrong diagnosis or timing?

The AfDB funded project was mooted at a time when fish had not only emerged as the world’s most highly traded food commodity, but also when the fear of the possibility of registering an all-time decline in fish production had become a clear and present danger.

Demand for fish had been on the rise since the late 1990s and Uganda, which on account of availability of a cheap labour force and highly prized varieties, Tilapia and Nile Perch, was cashing in on the comparative advantage it had over other fresh water fish producing countries.

In 1991, government banned export of unprocessed fish.

This led to growth of the establishment of fish processing units in Jinja, Kampala and Entebbe.

The industry was once again boosted in 1998 when the European Union (EU) listed Uganda among 12 least developed countries (LDCs), including among others Senegal, Tanzania and Yemen, that could export fish products to the EU.

A 2010 World Bank report indicates that besides helping in the fight against unemployment and poverty, as well as directly and indirectly contributing to food security, capture fish contributed 3 per cent to Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Post-harvest saw the contribution rise to 12 per cent.

Data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicates that income from fish exports grew from about $1million in 1990 to within the region of $100 million in 2000.

Production oscillated between 200,000 and 250,000 tonnes between 1990 and the mid-2000s.

Though Uganda has an array of water bodies which contribute to the national fisheries sector, fish production data from other water bodies and swamps is largely unavailable. What is available pertains to production in the bigger water bodies like Lakes Victoria, Albert, Edward, Kyoga and River Nile.

According to figures from FAO, Nile Perch catches from Lake Victoria were way above the 100,000 tonnes per year mark during the period between 1980 and 1990. They had peaked at 130,000 tonnes in 1992, but dropped to between 80,000 and 90,000 tonnes between 1995 and 1997.

The drop in catches was attributed to among other things, over fishing and pollution of the water bodies, which had an adverse effect on exports.

The bans

At the same time, Uganda and the rest of the East African region were recovering from the effects of two bans that the EU had slapped on their fish exports.

The first ban was in 1997, which was imposed amid concerns over the safety of the products. At the time, parts of the country, especially fishing communities, had suffered an outbreak of cholera that claimed some lives.

The second ban, which cut across the East African region, was slapped in March 1999 after it emerged that some fishermen had resorted to the use of poison to boost their catches. Though the bans were lifted in the middle of 2000, the fishing industry had suffered losses that it has never recovered from.

The five-year Fisheries Development Project, which was meant to commence in July 2002, was therefore partially aimed at addressing both the issues of growth and sustainability of the industry and the quality and food safety issues that had precipitated the bans.

Designed for implementation in fishing communities in western, central and eastern regions, particularly around Lakes Victoria, Kyoga, Albert, Edward and George, the target of the project was meant to directly benefit about 20,000 artisanal fishermen in capture fisheries and another 2,200 people engaged in subsistence or commercial fish farming, and fish traders and processors.

The project had five different components, the first one being improvement of the quality of fish and reduction of post-harvest losses.

It was under this first component that the various facilities that are lying idle and are at the centre of disputes between officials from Fisheries department in the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, fall.

Others were in the area of aquaculture research and development, which aimed at enhancing capacity for research and development of aquaculture production systems; creation of a fisheries credit fund to provide credit to mostly female fish farmers and processors; capacity building in the form of upping the skills of staff and project participants; and the administration component, which was aimed at ensuring that the project was implemented in a timely manner.

The quality assurance component entailed the development of 30 fish handling centres, which were meant to be equipped with ice block making facilities. It also entailed the upgrading of 21 fish markets, establishment of fish quality laboratory and the improvement of mechanisms for surveillance on the goings-on in the industry.

The surveillance part was boosted with the procurement and subsequent deployment of eight patrol boats and 31 motorcycles.

The Aquaculture Research and Development component covers research into, among other things, production of quality feeds and fish fry, and establishment of a demonstration centre aimed at boosting production for especially fish farmers.

However, the project seems to have fallen short in so many aspects. The only bit of success that seems to have been registered was in the area of research.

According to the Director of the Jinja-based National Fisheries Resource Research Institute (Nafirri), Dr Anthony Tabu Munyaho, facilities for a research centre were established in Kajjansi, but they are not complete.

“A hostel to accommodate trainees and a laboratory were constructed and completed. They are in use, but the facility institute is not fully utilised because it was meant to have come along with a fish hatchery and fish pond, [which] were not completed. There were challenges with the contractors,” he told Daily Monitor.

Financial blow

The $2 million Fisheries Credit Fund, which had been planned to provide fishermen and others involved in the fisheries production and marketing processes with loans to acquire modern fishing gear to boost production and post-harvest management, was prematurely scrapped after local banks and micro finance institutions declined to finance it.

“Micro-finance institutions were reluctant to finance long-term loans, saying the risks were high,” the national coordinator of the project, Mr Edward Nsimbe Bulega, told the media at the time the scheme was scrapped.

The story of unrealised objectives, incomplete projects is, however, not confined to only fish handling projects under the AfDB funded Fisheries Development Project. It stretches to projects such as the Shs2 billion World Bank funded fish handling project at Kagwara Landing Site in Serere District. So what could have gone wrong?

The Director for Fisheries, Dr Edward Rumanyika, insists that the projects were completed well in time and to the required standards, but are only plagued by mismanagement.

“Those units were handed over to the local governments of each of the districts in which they are located and what we have there are management issues, which we are trying to help them to address. We are trying to design a system through which we can assist them so that they become fully operational,” he says.

It is not clear when such a system will be rolled out. What is clear is that Uganda is stuck with shells of what was meant to be fish handling facilities.