Mr Alfred Obedmoth has been Arua district’s leading fish farmer since 2008. His farm is an elaborate set up of ten large fish ponds and nine nursery ponds and holding tanks.
Named Eco-Mungusi fish farm, the farm has not only produced tons of fish yearly but also provided a reference point for those seeking to venture into aquaculture.
However in January 2017, the farm situated at Arijoku valley in Tiavu village, Ombokoro parish in Manibe Sub County came to near end as an extraordinary draught devastated the ponds. Only two ponds survived with little water left and few fish stock.
Since that disaster, Mr Obedmoth decided to leave grass to grow in the ponds as opposed to the previous practice of keeping the ponds clean.
He says the grass turns the ponds into natural breeding ground for the fish, holds water during dry season, provides food for the fish and shields them from predators such as birds.
This experimentation with natural breeding is also meant to cut down on the cost of commercial feeds that Mr Obedmoth says are most of the time fake.
He is planting maize and soybeans with the intention of making his own feeds.
He left the fish especially tilapia to regenerate naturally and restocked the catfish in two ponds most which have grown to more than half a kilo in size.
Mr Obedmoth has not sold fish since the draught and is not planning to sell fish for another one year but the ponds are already breeding thousands of tilapia, catfish and some mirror carps.
“I want them to grow bigger and gain at least one kilo or more of weight. If I sell 3,000 to 4,000 fish that weigh 1kg, I will be talking about earning sh30m to 40m because a kilo of fish is sold at sh10,000,” a relieved Mr Obedmoth said.
How he started
Mr Obedmoth, 52, voluntarily retired from civil service in 2005 after fifteen years of work as a sub accountant. He says he felt that the sh200,000 monthly salary he earned was not helping him to develop personally.
When his retirement benefits arrived three years later, he purchased three acres of land and began fish farming.
As the fish farm expanded in size it attracted farmers, researchers and school children who were eager to increase their stockpile of knowledge.
Eventually, he was identified as a model farmer under National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) program that swiftly supported him.
Mr Obedmoth received sh2m assistance inform of 10 bags of fish feeds, 400 mirror carp fish, 1,700 catfish, water pipes, wheel barrow, spades and lime for de-warming the ponds and barbed wire for fencing.
He enlisted the technical support of friends from National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) and Arua district fisheries department to help him in pond construction and water quality management.
He constructed ten big ponds averaging 20m x 30m in size. He also dug 11 nursery ponds of 10m x 15m each plus four holding tanks.
He harvested his first large quantity of fish in 2010 that he sold at sh9m in Arua town and surrounding markets.
Mr Obedmoth used part of that money to pursue further education especially in aquaculture to add to his diploma in business studies acquired from Uganda College of Commerce, Pakwachi in 1999.
The Abi Zornal Agricultural Research and development Institute also sponsored him for two weeks certificate training in aquaculture management and food processing at Makerere University department of zoology.
Managing the farm
Mr Obedmoth capitalized on his new skills to start training and offering consultancy services to farmers.
These pay him consultancy fee and gate fee when they visit his farm.
He assembled a low cost hatchery using a large bowel, a jerry can for hot water and inner tube of a motor vehicle through which fresh air is pumped and discarded drip water tubes.
One drip water tube taking air from the car tube and the other supplying warm water to the bowel.
He periodically inflated the vehicle tube with help of a foot pump to ensure constant supply of fresh air. A plastic tube connected to the mouth of the bowel acts as out let for over flow of water.
He would heat up the water in a clean container before pouring it in a jerrican because fish fry need warm water between 26 0C to 28 0C to thrive. The adjustable mechanism on the drip water tubes were used to control the amount of water and air entering the open bowel.
Mr Obedmoth kept the equipment inside a dark room because the fish fry don’t feed in light.
In order to get the eggs, Mr Obedmoth surgically opened the head of a male catfish to remove the pituitary gland from beneath the brain.
Since pituitary gland produces among others reproduction hormones, the liquid contents from the gland are injected into a mature female catfish that is then allowed to stay overnight.
In the following morning the eggs are squeezed out of the mother fish and placed on a net immersed in a warm water in the bowel.
Fertilized eggs take 24 to 36 hours to hatch in warm water. If the water is too cold, they either take too long to hatch or don’t hatch at all.
During hatching the fry fall through the net to the bottom of the hatchery bowel leaving the eggshells trapped on the trap mesh.
Fish fry are born with a bag of food in their abdomen as such Mr Obedmoth would allow them to feed on that natural food for three days before introducing artificial foods like anthemia or planktons.
He made sure the nursery ponds were cleared of frogs before taking the fish fry to the nursery pond since a single frog can eat over 50 fish fries in a day.
Using this equipment Mr Obedmoth bred thousands of catfish fry which he sold at sh300 each and used some to restock his ponds.
However he was forced to abandon using the equipment because the small size of the hatchery bowel meant that there was high mortality rate of the fish fry due to ammonia concentration even after removing the trap with the eggshells within 36 hours of hatching.
He is planning to construct a modern hatchery once he resumes selling fish next year. A modern hatchery requires running generator, aerators, water heating solar system, water pumping and circulation system; imported scoop nets and hatch traps, water tasting gadgets, and a large breeding pond for the fry (baby fish).
For the mirror carps, Mr Obedmoth uses the head of a flowering papyrus or grass locally used as broom to collect the eggs.
The papyrus flower or broom is inserted into the water in a holding tank. He gets a mature female fish and applies pressure on the belly to see if it has eggs. The belly of a male fish is also pressed to see if it can release sperm.
Then the two are separated for 24 hours before they are placed together in the holding tank which has a small surface area and roaming space for the female fish to run away.
As the fish struggle to mate, the female fish produces eggs into the water and the male fish spreads sperm to fertilize them.
The eggs remain hanging on the papyrus or broom which is removed after 24 hours as the mature fish are returned to the main pond.
To get the fish fry Mr Obedmoth uses an egg trap made out of a piece of disused mosquito net held firmly on a stirrup (Strong wire).
He evenly spreads the fish egg on the egg trap and keeps it submerged in the nursery pond for 36 hours to allow them to hatch.
In 2010, he stocked 2,000 mirror carps and brood stock catfish. He surprised people by stocking 10,000 tilapia fish when many officials were preaching that tilapia did not do well in the region.
“Tilapia is the best fish to farm its rate of regeneration is high and it protects the young ones by keeping them in the mouth,” he said.
Mr Obedmoth’s farming thrives on sheer resilience and keen attention. He created raised hedges to prevent catfish from fleeing into nearby swamp because they behave like crocodiles at night by leaving the ponds to graze on land and the water in the ponds is fertilized using cow dung.
Mr Obedmoth is strict when it comes to financial discipline, keeping records of every income and expenditure and annually inviting auditors from Arua district audit department to audit his books of accounts.
During harvest time buyers flock to Mr Obedmoth’s farm to buy on site while in the nearby Oluodri trading centre and at Arua town main market fresh fish business is brisk due to surplus demand.
Some businessmen buy the fish in big sacs and boxes and carry it on motorcycles to sell in Democratic Republic of Congo.
He has acquired 60 acres of land in Ajia Sub County where he wants to grow upland rice on large scale.
He also managed to complete the construction of a commercial building that he is renting out to businessmen to get more regular money.
Being a polygamous father, Mr Obedmoth is comfortably paying school fees for six children and looking after his family well.
Mr Obedmoth dreams of establishing a big modern hatchery like the one he saw at Uganda’s Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda’s farm.
He wants to construct a big water dam to harvest rainwater for use during dry season so that the water levels in the ponds remain constant.
He is also planning to venture into fish processing in order to present variety of products to meet customers’ demands.