Ugandans have taken up fishing in a WFP food for assets project. WFP spokesperson, Lydia Wamala, looks at how participants increase their income while having a good supply of fish for their families' dinners.
We picked our way carefully – four journalists and I – through the marsh until we reached the hard ground where Brian Achikule stood.
Women were everywhere, washing clothes in the swampy water, crushing mud mounds for termites, plaiting each other’s hair, their babies strapped to their backs.
Collecting the fish
“There they are!” Achikule jumped as the fish started moving, forming ripples from underneath the grey water as the women tossed termites at them.
“They are clamouring for food. It is difficult to see them, but they are there and they are big!” he said, grinning.
Food for Assets
Achikule is a teacher and project advisor in the town of Koboko, in the West Nile region of Uganda.
The fish he is so enthusiastic about are part of a Food for Assets project through which WFP is poised to improve the lives of some of the poorest people in the world.
They are clamouring for food. It is difficult to see them, but they are there and they are big!
Instability has plagued the region in recent years. For four years, it was terrorised by the West Nile Bank Front, a rebel group which conducted violent raids, kidnappings and planted landmines until 1998.
Refugees who fled the conflict in the south of Sudan also added to instability in the area.
People have managed to eke out a living from farming, minor commerce, smuggling and other activities. But fishing was not part of these activities.
Achikule says that although fish was a popular staple in his town, it was only available at distant markets.
Deliveries arrived late in the evening and the fish were expensive. “But now we will have our own project where we can get food and something to sell to pay our children’s school fees,” he said. “We are happy.”
WFP estimates that each participant - who usually represents a family - will reap the equivalent of $55 worth of fish per harvest every 6-8 months.
WFP development strategy
“WFP is integrating food aid into a wider national recovery and development strategy,” former WFP Uganda Country Director Ken Davies said.
The fruit of their labour
The project developed a few years ago, when community leaders from the town of Plieko approached the WFP Arua sub-office to ask if WFP could help provide food for the locals.
WFP drew up a plan to provide take-home rations for workers, training, and Tilapia fingerlings*.
WFP and partners have since assisted poor communities to set up 90 ponds in Arua, Yumbe and Koboko districts, which help feed the families and provide a source of income.
Pius Kwesiga, WFP’s aquaculture consultant in Arua, says a one-acre pond could yield at least 3.6 tonnes of fish a year, generating a minimum of US$2,000.
We arrived six hours late for the first harvest at Plieko. But the villagers and their chairman had braved the scorching West Nile heat to wait patiently under a tree.
The pond’s water level was down, but the harvest had yielded about 100 kilogrammes of fish.
“To the communities,” Kwesiga said, “these ponds are like blue gold.”
*A type of small fish