A fish-farming project set up in Uganda under WFP's Food for Assets programme has provided poor communities with a source of income - as well as fish. This article by Peter Nyanzi was taken from the website of The Monitor newspaper.
Ponzio Anguzobo speaks excitedly about a new project WFP has launched in his rural village of Olieko, Aroyi sub-county in Arua district.
Like scores of his village mates who are so eager to tell anyone willing to listen about it, Anguzobo is all smiles about the Meya fishpond project.
Since December 2004, Anguzobo has been leading a group of about 100 locals who came together to spearhead the Meya fish-farming project. And he speaks about fish farming as if he is an expert in the field.
"It is so easy to do fish farming. If we had known about it earlier, we would be rich men by now," he says, pointing at a basin full of Tilapia from a fishpond built with support from WFP.
According to Pius Kwesiga, WFP's Aquaculture consultant, Meya is one of several groups that WFP started supporting in the West Nile region since November last year under the Food for Assets programme (FFA).
FFA is a creative initiative whereby food is given as an incentive to residents to work together to create community and household assets, explains WFP country director, Ken Davies.
Simply stated, it is food for work done and food for attaining skills - basically community-based initiatives that utilise food incentives to create physical and human assets.
Incentives to dig
According to Kwesiga, WFP gave out foodstuffs such as beans and maize as incentives for the local population to dig the ponds in lieu of cash.
The rate is calculated on the basis of the daily wage a casual worker is paid for work done. For the purposes of WFP, the worker is paid 80 percent of that as an equivalent in foodstuffs.
"The reason for this is to make the people appreciate the fact that they are not working for WFP but that it is indeed their own project and they need to have a sense of ownership of it," Kwesiga explains.
To date, the hugely successful and popular programme that started only about a year ago, boasts at least 88 ponds scattered in the districts of Yumbe, Arua and Koboko, and the number is growing daily.
Each group must have a minimum of four ponds, each pond measuring about 40 by 25 metres and 1 metre deep.
Meya has nine of them. There was excitement when the group had its first harvest of fish last week.
Needs assessment exercise
According to Davies, identification of the FFAs programmes was done through a community-based needs assessment exercise in which the beneficiaries got actively involved.
"FFAs are all about putting in place community-owned assets, as well as building skills and improved understanding to improve food security at the household and community levels.
"This programme seeks to do this by using food aid to support projects that will reduce people's vulnerability to food insecurity in the future," he says.
For the fish-farming project, 452 metric tons of food was distributed to about 2,000 participants as FFA. The objective of the fish-farming project was to enhance the rural community household income generation as well as improving diet as a post-conflict recovery intervention in the region.
With the assistance of sub-county officials, WFP community facilitators and elders in the 10 sub-counties, 2,058 participants were mobilised, registered and sensitised about the project purpose.
WFP thereafter analysed the feasible sites proposed by the participants and facilitated training in integrated fish farming in terms of modern pond construction, pond management and maintenance, management of funds and book keeping, fishnet sewing, charcoal smoker construction and utilisation and tree planting.
To date, Meya is one of 55 ponds already stocked with over 180,000 metric tons of fingerlings (young fish seed). Thirty-three more ponds will be stocked by the end of the year.
"The fish seed has to be procured from NARO centre at Kajjansi on Entebbe Rd due to lack of Tilapia fingerlings/fish seed production capacity in the region," Kwesiga says.
At least 180,000 fingerlings were procured at a cost of $4,500 (about 8 million Ugandan shillings) and transported in drums by road from Kajjansi to the sites.
When the first harvest takes place, about 34 metric tons of fish harvests worth 34 million shillings are expected annually.
Each beneficiary would get at least 160,000 shillings from the project every after 8 months. This is in addition to fish that each family gets to supplement their diet.
Enough for everyone
Saibu Ayile is the chairman of Wece Fish farming project in Terego county, Koboko district. He says the group has four ponds stocked with over 11,000 fingerlings. The first harvest is due shortly before the Christmas season when the demand would be highest.
"Soon, the people will not have to go as far as Panyimur on Lake Albert over 40km away to get fresh fish. There will be enough from these ponds for everyone," he says.
As a policy, all the WFP-supported fish farmers have half of the established ponds serving as fish seed production facilities (hatcheries) to ensure subsequent pond restocking after harvests and sustainability. The excess seed can then be sold to generate income.
Fingerling harvest is conducted on a monthly basis to harvest fish seed as well as check the fish population in the ponds. The recommended 1,000 square metre pond is intended to promote profitmaking through economies of scale that reduce the cost of producing each fish.
According to Kwesiga, WFP recommends fish stocking densities of three fish per cubic metre, where in a 1,000 square metre pond, a minimum of 3,000 fish are stocked and a target weight of 300 grams per fish after 6-8 months, with proper pond management is the target harvest.
Pond management involves regular fish feeding, pond compost changing, pond algae control, fish predator control and routine site monitoring and predator control. WFP assists the fish farmers with food that is not fit for human or animal consumption but fit for fish feeding.
Despite Uganda's fertile soil, favourable weather and growing economy, over half the population do not have sufficient access to food and are living in abject poverty.
WFP is probably better known as a food relief organisation. But according to Davies, FFA arose out of a need to cover both the immediate needs of the hungry poor, in order to save their lives and then to allow them to take advantage of opportunities to improve their livelihoods.
WFP believes that food is a form of assistance that meets one of the basic needs of poor families, specifically targeting regions assessed as Uganda's poorest and most food insecure; namely the North and North East.
In addition to enhancing emergency preparedness and response by targeting aid to chronically food deficit areas, WFP activities also provide the rural poor with assets and building their resilience to cope with recurrent calamities.
WFP believes that there is a clear link between poverty, underdevelopment and hunger and that food aid must be effectively targeted and programmed to achieve maximum development benefits.
Promoting food security
According to Hassan Abdelrazig, a Programme Officer at WFP (Uganda), FFA programmes such as the fish ponds in the West Nile region are a measure to facilitate investment in marginal areas and to protect or promote household food security while simultaneously contributing to a region's long-term development and individual capacity building.
Elvis Odeke, the FFA focal point officer adds that in addition to fishponds, other programmes include skills training and creating or improving public assets such as rural feeder roads, school and health structures.
"WFP is integrating food aid into a wider national recovery and development strategy that directly contributes to supporting adequate household food consumption in distress periods, assuring livelihoods and achieving a sustainable food security," Davies adds.
WFP supports school feeding programmes, which encourage school enrolment and attendance on top of providing nutritious food to the children.
However, WFP has found out that food incentives alone are not enough to encourage children to attend school.
At Ipa Primary School in Arua, WFP's FFA programme has enabled the construction of 10 teachers' houses. With teachers not having to walk long distances to come to school, academic standards have improved dramatically, says Lawrence Anzeti, one of the beneficiary teachers.
According to Davies, the long-term improvement in workforce productivity expected from a better-educated population is one of the obvious impacts of the programme.
He adds that WFP, in conjunction with other development partner organisations, is currently integrating deworming, HIV/AIDS prevention, nutrition and health education, water and sanitation, school vegetable gardens, re-forestation and capacity building activities into its school feeding programmes.
Davies says FFA programmes have long been used by WFP in countries such as India to build human capacity and as safeguards against drought, unemployment, famine and other similar conditions.
He says WFP has three ways of intervention into poor and food insecure communities.
It comes in with relief food during times of emergency, then it comes in to assist in times of recovery from conflict and finally gets involved in community development activities to build long term capacity to enhance food security.
Food security issue
"This is a food security issue," Davies says referring to the fish farming projects.
"We are not doing it and then walking away. The district authorities and communities have to keep it going. We are hopeful it will grow and expand to the other regions."
Anguzobo and the other beneficiaries are equally hopeful and rightfully so. His people were familiar with the benefits of fish but it was too far away to realise its dietary benefits.
Now, fish is not only accessible to as many people as need it but it is also a ready source of income to the impoverished communities in West Nile.