When the British colonial government established a demonstration fish pond in Abinyu village, Kijomoro sub county in present day Maracha district, the aim was to teach and inspire the community into fish farming.

This was in 1958 but there were no immediate results. Instead of learning, the people stole all the tilapia fish that were put in the pond and ate them.

However Mr Apollo Ezati by then a 17-year-old teenager, keenly observed how the solitary fish pond was constructed but soon joined the military service in 1962 before trying out fish farming.

The 1979 war that swept former president Idi Amin from power drove Mr Ezati into exile in DR Congo (Zaire).

Upon returning from a 10-year exile, Mr Ezati, as a primary six leaver found job opportunities hard to come by and turned to farming. This was when he decided to practice what he had seen several decades ago from the community fish pond.

The beginning

Mr Ezati together with his son Mr Humphrey Titia himself a senior one dropout dug a small pond near the source of a stream in 1990.

But with no fish breeds, no feeds and no technical knowledge this was more of a nightmare start. They went around catching immature fish in the nearby streams to bring to their pond.

It was a largely futile effort registering high mortality rate due to lack of feeds and poor management practices.

Only the high demand for fish in the area remained the biggest motivating factor for the pair.

The Italian development cooperation agency, ACAV, soon noticed the struggles of the two and started empowering them.

The ACAV sponsored them to acquire professional skills of pond management from the Uganda institute of fisheries, Entebbe and the Source of the Nile in Jinja.

With that know how, they reset their pond to the required 14 metres by 24 metres size and ACAV gave them pipes for making inlets and outlets while providing fish feeds and catfish fingerlings from Kajansi.

The capacity of the farm increased as more customers came demanding for fish, prompting them to construct the second pond.

The National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) was the next to join in uplifting the family with more technical knowledge, fish feeds and more fish ponds.

Today, the family has 10 ponds including a nursery pond for fingerlings and a reservoir tank for water. Registered as Eyofia Memorial Farm, it has diversified to have apiary, grafted mango, citrus and animal husbandry.

Meanwhile Mr Titia has risen to become chairman of Maracha district fish farmers association that has 78 members in Oluvu, 54 members in Oleba and 35 members in Olufe sub county.

Catching the presidential eye

In 2008, President Yoweri Museveni while visiting Arua district that still had Maracha as a county asked to visit some of the progressive farmers.

The Eyofia farm was selected; an impressed president Museveni gave the family five solar panels to light the pond area, a pickup truck, 200 bee hives and sh10m to improve their farm.

He also promised a honey processing plant although Mr Titia says it was never delivered

The pair embarked on more training including a short course at Makerere University that greatly improved their production.

By this time, many community members had shown interest not only in buying fish but establishing their own ponds, presenting the next challenge for Mr Titia and Mr Ezati to establish a hatchery.

The first hatchery was however small and had very low production capacity and yet ageing Mr Ezati could not do much at this stage, Mr Titia had to act.

He started experimenting on nursing ponds (where the fish fry after two weeks are transferred until the time they are ready for sale).

He fenced the nursing ponds with a mosquito net and although this saw an improvement in production levels, Mr Titia remained ignorant about another bottleneck - cannibalism in the fish- that prevented production optimization.

FAO the ultimate savior

In 2016, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) set out a plan to construct a sh60m hatchery in some selected districts including Arua in a cost sharing arrangement.

When a vetting of farmers in the area was done it was found out that no farmer in Arua district was better than the Eyofia farm proprietors although the farm had now been curved out into Maracha district.

The FAO project managers considered that Maracha was not far from Arua and therefore establishing a hatchery there would still serve the community well.

Mr Ezati and Mr Titia contributed sh9m about 15% of the project cost while FAO bankrolled the rest.

“I accepted the terms of the project although at the point, I did not even have money, I picked a loan to finance my part of the project,” Mr Titia revealed.

The hatchery

fingerlingsEach hatchery has thousands of fingerlings at varying stages of growth. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

As you arrive at this heavily forested 10-acre farm, the sight of a gigantic water tank connected with pipes from the nearby spring, a semi-permanent building that houses four hatching tanks and other related equipment receive you.

Fish hatching at the new acquisition commenced in March, 2018 and the production of the third batch of fingerlings is already underway.

“The first batch was largely a flop because we were getting used to the new setup and we had not taken care of vices of cannibalism etc.,” he says.

When the West Nile Web visited the farm in July, the managers were working to deliver on a long list of orders - 25,000 from Mahagi, 12,000 from Aru and 4,000 from Ndiri all in DR Congo; 25,000 from Maracha district, 7,000 from Adjumani district and slammer orders from other local farmers - for fingerlings.

Each of the fingerlings is sold at sh400 for every Ugandan and sh500 to a foreign customer. The current lot has an estimated 250,000 fingerlings and Mr Titia says they would scoop a cool sh24m when sold.

Benefits

Eyofia is certainly a successful family project that too has benefitted the community through low cost produce and provision of opportunities for casual labour.

The farm has turned into a learning center for educational institutions and nongovernmental organisations.

Farmer groups or school tour students are charged sh50,000 for gate pass and sh150,000 for facilitation.

Mr Titia says the biggest benefit of the enterprise has been the expansion of the family land from five acres to 10 acres. They have also acquired more parcels of land in other parts of Maracha and Arua district for other enterprises.

The children here are in good private schools and Mr Ezati who is unable to do any work now is ageing gracefully.

Challenges

Water on this farm is still inadequate despite one system being set by the FAO project because the only protected spring in the area is shared with the community.

Commercial fish feeds are expensive and most of the time substandard.

Next plans

Mr Titia who has assumed the management responsibility from his father says he has plans to drill a borehole in order to have sufficient water for sustainable production.

He wants to expand the hatchery and go to feed making for the fish to reduce expenses on fish feeds.

He plans to establish the value addition components on the farm with small factories for his dairy products and the fish where farmers across the West Nile region would have all their stock processed at his plants. Titia is targeting the export market in it all.

Animal husbandryAnimal husbandry, especially dairy farming is the latest enterprise the farm engages in. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

He wants to build a large capacity hall at his residence and eventually turn the farm into a fully-fledged learning center.

“We have been struggling to accommodate the visitors who come for study especially in the event of rains, we have had to take our visitors to the church but we now want to put up a hall so that they can all learn from here,” he says.