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Promoting Integrated Fish and Crop (Aquaponics) Commercial farming in Refugee settings in Uganda

Building hope, esteem, joy and harmony among refugees and host communities in Uganda

Photo of Henry Mugisha Bazira
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Integrated fish and horticultural crop (Aquaponics) farming refers to an approach that combines fish farming (aquaculture) and soil-less crop farming (hydroponics). Crops are grown on grow-beds either containing gravel and sand or a plastic floating base on water with perforations where to place/plant seedlings. Fish are raised in a tank made of bricks-cement and sand or wooden/metallic frame lined with plastic sheet that holds the water. The fish-tank and crop-beds are connected by pipes. The crop-beds are also connected to a water collecting sump. How the system works is as follows: Water (wastewater) is drawn from the fish-tank and irrigated onto a crop growing in the grow-beds. The wastewater may be drawn out of the fish-tank by a pump or flows out by gravity into the grow-beds. If the wastewater is drawn out by gravity, the grow-beds are cascaded below the fish-tank at different levels to allow gravity flow of water. The grow-beds then filter the wastewater removing fish feces and residual fish feeds (organic materials), thus cleaning the water. The grow-beds also provide a surface-area on which the organics are broken-down (decomposed) by bacteria into nutrients (i.e. nitrites, nitrates & mineral salts) that are taken-up/ absorbed by the growing crop - this process further cleans (sanitizes) the water. The cleaned water drains from the crop-bed into a collecting sump. The water in the sump is then pumped back (using power) into the fish-tank. This water recycling process is repeated several times until the water is considered no longer fit for fish usually after 7 days in smaller fish-tanks and after a month in larger aquaponics systems and then replaced with freshwater. This is what is referred to as circular-aquaculture (aquaponics) In non-circular-aquaculture (open-circuit aquaponics) systems, the wastewater is drawn from the fish-tank and irrigated onto a crop growing in a nearby soil garden. Such water is never returned to the fish-tank, but is replaced with freshwater in the fish tank. This is what is referred to as integrated fish and crop farming. It is also a modification of the cyclic system intended to meet the demands of farmers who want to use the fish wastewater to irrigate crops growing in traditional soil-based gardens. The cyclic is more water efficient compared to the non-cyclic systems. 

To ease the burden of circulating or moving water in the Aquaponics, the system is automated using regular grid electricity or solar energy. Solar energy is preferred especially in areas not served by grid electricity, which are the majority. Grid electricity only serves 26% of the Ugandan population. With declining fish stocks in the wild, inadequate and expensive fish and horticultural crop products on the market, Aquaponics is a useful approach of making fish and horticultural crop products available to households living in limited spaces as well as those faraway from traditional fishing areas. Refugees usually live in limited spaces and depend on handouts of food, clothes and housing. They also get free medical care. The food variety is usually restricted to beans, maize/ corn meal, and rice as the major food stuffs with occasional supplements of other foods. These food stuffs usually become monotonous- causing people to dislike them and do not offer the full range of nutritional requirements. Aquaponics offers a fresh source of fish protein, vitamins and mineral salts from horticultural crops (e.g. tomatoes, collard greens, green pepper, broccoli, onions, etc) and provides a full range of nutrients critical for normal functioning of the human body. Aquaponics also offers the households additional incomes from the sale of fish and horticultural crop products not consumed. These two food and income benefits are the main reason we are promoting Aquaponics. The other reasons are being able to use water more efficiently through recycling and reuse and saving water for other food value-chains or household processes, which is very important for refugee households who usually have limited access to water. This intervention is intended to contribute to the United Nation's Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) aspirations aimed at enhancing refugee resilience and self-reliance. Since refugees do not live in isolation, but are surrounded by a host-communities, it is important that our intervention is also shared with the host-community to avoid a feeling that refugees are being treated better than the host-community and therefore mitigate the potential risk of conflicts that could arise as a result of non-equitable benefit sharing. For purposes of this intervention, a contribution of 25% will be made to the host-community and 75% to the refugee community in terms of project benefits and implementation. The project also seeks to address the prevalent malnutrition exhibited in many host communities due to limited access to good quality protein, vitamins and mineral salts. The project will offer the 7.5 and 75 cubic meter fish-tank Aquaponics systems to the clients at shared cost (50%) for semi-commercial and commercial purposes. The reason for the shared-cost is that it enhances ownership and commitment to maintain the system properly. Our experience elsewhere where we have given the Aquaponics system free-of-charge have shown that clients/beneficiaries neglected the units, "considering them our units not theirs", resulting in the units' performing poorly. However, where farmers/ household have contributed 50% to its establishment, the performance is good - this is the basis of our adoption model. Also, the cost-sharing enables the project to support many more beneficiaries, because instead of spending the full cost of setting up the Aquaponics unit for one client, the project is able to setup for two individuals. The project targets refugees communities in Adjumani, Chaka II, Nakivale and Orukinga settlements as well as their host community. The refugees in these settlements are 204,987; 101,050; 123,348 and 123,340, respectively. These are among 234,300; 408,700; 576,300 and 576,300 host populations, respectively. We hope to work with the local governments, Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and other humanitarian actors operating in the refugee settings. This is intended to achieve project buy-in as well as to coordinate with other livelihoods interventions being undertaken by the other actors within the refugee - host community settings to avoid duplication or distortions. The advantage is that there are quarterly meetings that occur where such coordination is harmonized by the different actors including OPM - which is mandated to provide oversight on refugee interventions.

What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Refugees move into an area and change the dynamics of the society they enter, which could result in competition for natural resources (water, land, fuel-wood, etc) with host communities as well as discomfort among them. By virtue of being displaced, refugees initially do not have joy and peace among the society they reside. In addition, refugees depend heavily on hand-outs including food rations, money, shelter, clothes and medical-care, which undermines their independence, self-esteem and pride of fending for themselves. Refugees are usually restricted in movement and their ability to be involved in gainful employment. Food rations are comprised of standard food stuffs, with little or no alternative choice - leading to food monotony. This could trigger nutrient deficiencies. The lack of happiness among refugees is associated with loss of original livelihoods, homes and not getting other gainful and respectful employment opportunities in the host country. Humanitarian actors including the State often offer support skewed in favor of refugees - leaving host communities with a feeling of being left-out. There is need to offer balanced support. Host communities tend to suffer recurrent nutrient deficiencies due to the nature and quality of food stuffs available to them. Fish and horticultural crop (vegetables) products which are good sources of protein, vitamins and mineral salts are often lacking in their diet - consequently leading to nutrient deficiencies. Integrated fish and horticultural crop (Aquaponics) farming innovation offers an opportunity for refugees to produce own fish and vegetables at home as well as earn additional income. It also gives refugees opportunity to add fish and vegetable variety to their food rations and acquire a sense of satisfaction in the available foods. This will enhance their happiness knowing that they can earn a living; give them hope for a business after refugee life and sense of belonging. Similar benefit accrue to host residents

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Aquaponics targets refugees communities in Adjumani, Chaka II, Nakivale and Orukinga settlements as well as their host community. The refugees in these settlements are 204987; 101050; 123348 and 123340 individuals, respectively and they also live among 234300; 408700; 576300 and 576300 host populations, respectively. These are areas where refugees tend to stay for a long time (10-60 years) in contrast to the temporary refugee holding/reception sites.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Refugees occasionally come into a welcoming or hostile host communities and before long the situation changes. In addition, humanitarian actors often offer support skewed more to refugees than the host communities, which can trigger conflicts. Our project bridges the food and relational gaps between refugees and host-communities as well as securing harmony between the parties and balanced humanitarian and development support by all actors to refugee and host communities.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Aquaponics addresses the human need to be food and income secure and not to depend on others' handouts for survival. Refugees are people displaced from their original homes and livelihood sources and become heavily dependent on the goodwill of others for basic necessities of life such as food, shelter, clothing and medical care. While the goodwill is appreciated, it instills a sense of inadequacy among the beneficiaries, who feel not having control over the affairs of their lives. One's joy, hope of a good future and dignity of life comes with the ability to be in charge of one's life including the ability to have gainful employment, dignity, free movement and free association. This sense is often lacking when one is a refugee. Aquaponics offers refugees an opportunity to produce own food and earn income and have a sense of control over one's life i.e. what they eat, earn and hope for a potential business after refugee life.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

We shall know that we are creating positive change when at least 40 refugee households adopt Aquaponics each producing 0.5t fish and 0.2t vegetables per year. Refugees' dependency on food and money handouts will be reduced by 10%. Food monotony eliminated among refugee households practicing Aquaponics by introduction of fish and vegetables to the traditional refugee menu. Households practicing Aquaponics will sell 90% of their produce to other refugee households and earn extra income. 50% reduction in number of persons diagnosed with food related malnutrition. Humanitarian actors will mainstream Aquaponics as one of the livelihoods interventions in their programming. Refugees will exhibit healthier bodies and lives, because "you are what you eat". Aquaponics contributes towards the realization of the United Nations' Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework(UN-CRRF) agenda that seeks to attain self-sufficiency of refugees.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Fish is the best protein source, while horticultural crop products are good sources of vitamins and minerals salts critical for a healthy body. Refugees tend to suffer prevalent nutrient deficiencies that can be sorted by these foods. Our inspiration is demystify access to fish which has for long been thought only possible from lakes, rivers and wetlands, but we are able to take fish farming to non-traditional inland fishing zones. Fish stocks in the wild are dwindling due to over-fishing and Aquaponics can contribute to the fish stocks on the market. It is fun to watch your fish eat and grow to market sizes and it brings joy that you made it happen. We are also inspired to bring on board many fish farmers that can be organized into cooperative arrangement to improve fish and horticultural crop product supplies, product prices and access to the market. The few individuals with fish farming knowledge are selfish and do not want others to learn fish farming. It is a smart practice.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Refugees in Adjumani, Chaka II, Nakivale and Rukinga settlements tend to stay for many years and closely interact and share natural resources with the host communities. Competition over resources often triggers conflicts. Also, the skewed manner in which social goods and services is rendered by both the State and humanitarian actors leaves the host communities feeling left-out and this is recipe for further conflict. Refugees come freeing from conflicts in their original countries and so are not happy; have lost their original livelihoods; never seem to be settled or have a feeling of being aliens in their host country, even when Uganda has an "open-door policy" to refugees. There is need to assist refugees regain joy, peace and confidence in the host country as well as assist host communities not to feel left-out in the delivery of social goods and services by all humanitarian actors. The innovation contributes to bridging these gaps.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Aquaponics has already been introduced by WGI with some success in Kampala, Hoima, Kamuli, Wakiso and Adjumani districts where refugee settlements exist - meaning there is already appreciation of the innovation in the country. With this experience, we are confident to introduce the innovation with some success in Kaka II, Nakivale and Orukinga refugee settlements. Ugandans by nature are welcoming people that are willing to cooperate with foreigners. The open-door policy makes Uganda a good destination for refugees. In addition, Government has gazetted land for refugees. The welcoming nature of Ugandans, the policy and land makes it possible to introduce Aquaponics in refugee settings with little or no conflict. As part of avoiding conflict, some Aquaponics unit shall be setup in host-communities so that these communities do not feel left-out. Also clearances and approvals shall be sought from the relevant central and local government authorities

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

- Care and Assistance for Forced Migrants - CAFOMI is a NGO already operating in the selected refugee settings. WGI has a partnership with CAFOMI to undertake joint actions. WGI and CAFOMI are already jointly promoting the innovation among refugees in Adjumani district - World Food Program - WFP is a UN agency dealing with refugees in Uganda. WGI will work with WFP to introduce the innovation into refugee settings. Office of the Prime Minister - OPM is a government entity responsible for providing refugee oversight. WGI shall seek clearance from OPM to implement the project in refugee settings UNHCR will be interested in the quality of service WGI offers to refugees UNFAO is already promoting development of the fisheries sub-sector in Uganda Min. of Gender and Labour Min. of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries Local government Other Humanitarian actors

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Technology-enabled: Existing approach is more effective or scalable with the addition of technology

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name


Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Water Governance Institute (WGI) is research, training and advocacy NGO that deals in water, water associated natural resources (fisheries, forests, land, oil, gas & minerals) and related infrastructure. WGI was founded in 2008 and registered in 2009 as non-state actor. It later transformed its style of operation from the traditional charity organisation to more of a social enterprise. This was aimed at securing sustainability of interventions and reduce the dependency on grant funding. Solar-powered integrated fish & crop (Aquaponics) farming is the organization's agenda of promoting smart agriculture that enhances the household's resilience to climate change effects. WGI seeks to contribute to the development of Uganda's fisheries value-chain that remains underdeveloped for too long. WGI is the leading promoter of Aquaponics in Uganda. WGI operates in Adjumani refugee settings and seeks to intervene in Chaka, Nakivale and Orukinga settlements. WGI collaborates with the partners.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

Kampala, Uganda

Organization Headquarters: City / State


In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

The questions in this regard were shared on the platform. What Aquaponics design option works best for refugee settings? Do we setup a centralized Aquaponics production facility in proximity to refugee settlements to supply products to refugees, considering that refugee live in limited spaces or do we setup individual household Aquaponics units of much smaller capacity per unit and thus have a cumulative effects of individual units?. The centralized facility is to some degree inward looking and has less development impact on the refugees than the latter approach. Smaller units have challenges

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

Yes we used the resources offered during the improve phase. We talked to Mr Biniam Fessehazion - who gave us insights on our proposals. From the discussion we realized that the title itself had a few challenges for the reader to understand exactly what was being focused on and how the proposal was going to address the refugees and host community. In response we transferred the terms that could cause misunderstanding in the title to the main text. We talked to Mr. Francis Iwa - Executive Director of Care and Assistance for Forced Migrants on the possibility of mainstreaming Aquaponics into the humanitarian livelihood programs and he advised that it was possible to do so and he linked us up to the Livelihoods working group of the humanitarian actors in Uganda that include UNHCR, WFP, OPM, UNDP, Red Cross, among others who meet quarterly every year. Preliminary discussion with this group has revealed that Aquaponics viable in refugee settings.

Learning have enable us redesign Aquaponics to larger fish-tanks (7.5m3 & above) due to risk associated with smaller fish-tanks and allowed flexibility in the materials used depending on availability and costs.  

We learnt that it is important to automate Aquaponics units to reduce the labor burden farmers face moving water in and out of the fish-tanks. We also modified the alignment of the fish-tank and crop grow-beds to enable gravity from of water from the fish-tanks into the grow-beds and water collecting sump. The solar water pump then pumps the water back into the fish-tank.

During the introduction of Aquaponics in Adjumani and Hoima, it became apparent that this innovation could easily be introduced into the refugee settlements. This was realized when 10 households in refugee settlements adopted our Aquaponics units. It was this that inspired us to develop a dedicated project for refugees in Uganda.   

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

BridgeBuilder funds will contribute to already existing program on Aquaponics and specifically support interventions dedicated to refugees/people on the move. Other funding sources received are general in nature and permitted a limited attention to refugees. The BridgeBuilder funds will enable us:

Create awareness and transferring knowledge and skills among refugees and host -communities about Aquaponics, especially in locations where the innovation has not yet been introduced such as Kaka, Nakivale and Orukinga settlements as well as expand coverage in Adjumani refugee settlements

Transforming Aquaponics units from being manual to automated systems and thus ease the workload farmers usually face with the manually operated units and enhance water-use efficiency among refugee households

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

The BridgeBuilder funds will an existing Aquaponics program in Adjumani and a new intervention in Chaka II, Nakivale and Orukinga refugee settlements.

Awareness-raising, technology and skills transfer $40,000

Extension and technical after-sales/ service support on Aquaponics among the 4 refugee and host-community settings $20,000

Fabricating and installing 20 aquaponics units to serve as demonstration sites i.e. 16 units in refugees and 4 units in host communities $30,000

Solar-powering 20 aquaponics demonstration units $10,000  four in each refugee settlement and 4 in host communities

Quarterly monitoring and evaluation of project progress, performance and successes $20,000

Reporting, accounting and auditing $10,000

Contribution to staff Salaries over a 30 month period $75,000 

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

Key activities include conducting:

Awareness-raising, technology and skills transfer over an 18 months period

Extension and technical after-sales/ service support on Aquaponics among the 4 refugee and host-community settings over a 30 month period

Fabricating and installing 20 aquaponics units to serve as demonstration sites i.e. 16 units in refugees and 4 units in host communities over a 6 months period

Powering using solar energy 20 aquaponics demonstration units at refugee and host-community settings.

Quarterly monitoring and evaluation of project progress, performance and successes over 24 months period

Reporting, accounting and auditing

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

Impact: By 2022, we expect to attained 2500 and 1500 Aquaponics farmers among refugee and host-communities, respectively - 60% of which will be women owning semi-commercial units. Trained through awareness-raising exercises and the demonstrations 2.5 million individuals.

Measurement: We shall measure the number of refugee and host-community Aquaponics farmers; number of fish and horticultural crops stocked; yields (i.e. No. & kgs) harvested from the unit; and monetary value (real & estimated).

Question: How to we introduce Aquaponics in a sustainable and replicate-able manner among refugees and host-communities; be able to build the farmers into a network of 10,000 producers that can contribute to plugging the fish and horticultural crop product gap in homes and the market within the next 5 years.  

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

This project will be implemented in partnership with Care and Assistance for Forced Migrants (CAFOMI). Water Governance Institute (WGI) shall be the lead implementer and fiscal agent. WGI shall be responsible for undertaking project activities, but will from time-to-time engage CAFOMI to undertake activities relevant to their role as a humanitarian actor and any other assignment that will from time-to-time be requested of them as per the attached MoU. CAFOMI will assign coordinating staff to the project at respective refugee settings that will collaborate with WGI staff. WGI will identify staff at local government level that will coordinate project activities among host-communities in collaboration with WGI staff. The attached organo-gram depicts the hierarchical flow of authority in project implementation. CAFOMI already has presence in the Refugee settlement and will facilitate WGI's access to the settlements.

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

Assumptions: Refugee settings will have sufficient space in which to install the Aquaponics units and have adequate and easily accessible water. Many refugees households will be willing to adopt Aquaponics.

Pivot or Change of Model: Yes. based on discussions we have had with national and international experts and other Aquaponics producers, we have included a circular fish tank model to the existing prototype to mitigate the significant hydraulic forces on the walls of rectangular fish-tanks. Instead of using wooden grow-beds, we opted to use plastic ones. We have modified the Aquaponics unit from manual to automated system.

Adaptation to Plans: Yes. our initial focus was 50:50 contribution to refugees and host-communities, but recognizing that Building Bridges focuses more on people on the move, we opted for 75:25 contribution ratio, respectively. 

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Attachments (6)

Project Implemenation Timeline..pdf

Presents the implementation schedule (timeline) of project activities.


Describes WGI's path developing Aquaponics and the costings of each unit.

Sketch outline of Aquaponics unit.pdf

Sketch outlining the Aquaponics system operation, including the clients and beneficiaries. It demonstrates the circulation flow directions on water in the system, including fish and crops

WGI_BridgeBuilder Project Organogram.pdf

Depicts the hierarchical order of authority in implementing the Aquaponic project in refugee-host community settings. The red lines show CAFOMI's influence; the blue lines WGI's influence, while the dotted green lines show Local Government's influence - dotted because their influence is restricted to project oversight and monitoring with no dedicated funding from the project, but may be facilitated accordingly.

Project Team.pdf

The project team comprises of staff of WGI and CAFOMI as well as relevant local government officials in project districts hosting refugees. WGI staff will essentially take lead in the implementation of the project. CAFOMI will be responsible for coordinating project work in refugee setting in collaboration with WGI staff. Local Government Officials will support the extension service component and monitoring of the project.


Memorandum of Understanding between Water Governance Institute (WGI) and Care and Assistance for Forced Migrants (CAFOMI) for undertaking joint activities


Join the conversation:

Photo of Henry Mugisha Bazira

Thanks Geoffrey Mosigisi for appreciating our innovation. We too look forward to the good luck or is it blessing

Photo of geoffrey mosigisi

Hi Henry,
Interesting innovation. Good luck.

Photo of Henry Mugisha Bazira

Aquaponics was identified by CNBC East Africa as a potential innovation that can enhance commercial farming and economic inclusion of refugees. Mr. Bazira Henry Mugisha, the Executive Director of Water Governance Institute was interviewed in this regard. The following is a link to that interview:
Global Response Partnership (GRP) is an incubator assisting Water Governance Institute to scale-up Aquaponics in refugee, host-communities as well as other communities.

Photo of Diederick van der Wijk

Hi Henry,

One of the graduates from our previous cohort in Amsterdam is focusing on energy and agriculture in East Africa. He has built a great network and an innovative solution. I would love to put you in touch. Check out

Photo of Henry Mugisha Bazira

Thanks Diederick for the link, I will check it out

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Henry Mugisha Bazira thanks for submitting your idea! Mark Capron shared an idea around Restorative aquaculture and thought it might be interesting for the two of you to connect. Henry's very knowledgable about contextualizing aquaculture and programs within communities of people on the move and Mark you seem to have a lot of knowledge around the science and technology and best practices.