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Promoting Circulatory-Water Commercial Farming Systems among smallholder farms/households for Efficiency, Food and Income Security in Uganda

Having food and income secure households in urban, suburb and rural Uganda

Photo of Henry Mugisha Bazira
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Water Governance Institute

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

None at this stage

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Selected project districts are Mukono, Wakiso, Mpigi and Kampala Districts covering areas of 31.4; 1906.7; 1207.8 and 365 km^2, respectively

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We selected Uganda, because we are nationals and resident in it and we are trying to address issues affecting us related to fisheries and horticulture food industry. Issues affecting Uganda affect us directly. Mukono, Wakiso, Mpigi and Kampala Districts were selected for this project because they host major trading towns by the same names that offer good potential for marketing Aquaponics, Aquaculture and hydroponics products. Also, they are districts where fish and horticulture crop farming are relatively well established and appreciated - making it easy to introduce new approaches to fish and horticultural crop farming. WGI has already been involved in promoting Aquaponics (integrated fish & horticultural crop farming) in Uganda-with 210 farmers now practicing Aquaponics. From experience we have realized that there are farmers interested in only raising fish or horticultural crops using our circulatory water innovation. In response to this need, we have modified our innovation and expanded our interventions to include smart Aquaponics, Aquaculture and hydroponics using circulatory water systems - a reason for the title of this proposal. WGI seeks to establish a network of Aquaponics, Aquaculture and hydroponics producers to contribute to the market stock of fish and horticultural crop products; minimize dependency on wild fish capture and its associated negative impacts on fisheries; and allow fishes in the wild to recover as well as enable farmers to produce throughout the year with minimal or no reliance to seasons, thus enhancing their resilience to climate change effects/impacts. Current crop farming is heavily dependent on rain-fed system, which is seasonal. Traditional fish farming is in natural lakes, rivers and wetlands - a practice that is threatening the health of these water bodies due to pollution from fish feeds. Our innovations are aimed to reverse or mitigate the effects of traditional fish farming and capture fisheries.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

As earlier stated WGI has already introduced circulatory-water Aquaponics in the districts of Kampala, Wakiso, Kamuli, Adjumani and Hoima. This project is designed to undertake actions in the districts of Mukono, Wakiso, Mpigi and Kampala, which are districts located in the central part of Uganda bordering Lake Victoria's western front and are districts that can spur the growth and expansion of circulatory-water farming systems, due to their proximity to the national, regional and international market. These central districts are cosmopolitan in nature with the Baganda tribe dominating the population. Uganda has 64 tribes with each represented in the region. Majority of the people are involved in agriculture and fisheries with a few involved in trade. Kampala is the capital city and center of administration. The selected project districts have urban, suburb and rural households that offer a customer-base that can easily adopt smart Aquaculture, Hydroponics and/or Aquaponics thus making the promotion of circulatory-water farming systems in Uganda possible. Eating fish is a common habit in about 98% of the country/population - making it easy to promote integrated or isolated fish and crop farming using circulatory-water systems. Ugandans are people that continuously seek avenues that can improve their conditions and are therefore open to new innovations. Fish in the wild is declining due to unregulated and exploitative fishing practices to extents unable to meet demand - thus calling for alternative sources such as fish farming. Traditional earthen pond aquaculture in wetlands has not resulted in desired yield and income outcomes - requiring improvements. Also Cage Aquaculture is threatening the sanctity of lakes and rivers due to fish feed pollution. Aquaponics (circulatory-water) farming systems are proving superior in many aspects (e.g. stocks, yields, environmental friendliness, flexibility, security, water and feed efficiency, etc) to traditional earthen pond and Cage Aquaculture. Horticulture crop products which are essential in the human diets are scarce and not affordable to majority households, yet could be grown cheaply in Aquaponics or hydroponics occupying relatively smaller spaces. Studies have shown most menus/diets in Uganda are deficient in proteins, vitamins and essential mineral salts resulting in malnutrition prevalence, thus calling for supplementation. Most women are housewives that perform unpaid domestic duties and thus are often marginalized. Women also tend to be more responsible than men on managing home-based enterprises. WGI deliberately seeks to support women adopt home-based circulatory-water aquaponics, aquaculture and hydroponics (vertical & horizontal) as part of empowering them. It is against this narrative that this project on circulatory-water commercial farming systems is being promoted in Uganda

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Uganda's population is growing annually at 3.5% and is dominated by youth (75%) that are unemployed or underemployed - meaning that their ability to sustain themselves is limited or lacking altogether and therefore depend largely on the ageing population (their parents) for survival. Opportunities for employment are minimal. This calls for mind-change and innovation to create employment. Traditional rain-fed agriculture, which employs 65% of the labor force, is increasingly unable to provide all the food products required to feed the growing population due to changing climate and unreliability of rainfall, implying that farming approaches need to be modified to more intensive and climate smart systems such as aquaponics, hydroponics (vertical & horizontal) and aquaculture. This makes our innovations relevant now and in the near future. With changing climate and increasing populations, water availability is dwindling - meaning that water efficiency (reuse & recycling) is becoming the mainstay. Increasing temperatures due to changing climate is resulting in rampant incidences of pests and diseases as well as emergence of new pests and diseases - suggesting improving food production technologies including improved post-harvesting approaches. Current and future food systems require a focus on developing a clear and effective food value chain that promotes circular economy. This calls for deliberate public-private sector partnerships geared towards developing the various food value chain. Our aquaponics, hydroponics and aquaculture interventions are aimed at contributing towards the development of the fisheries and horticulture crop food value chains and offer clients smart farming options. Fish is the best source of protein, while horticultural crop products such as tomatoes, onions, green pepper, etc are the best sources of vitamins and mineral salts in human diets critical for mitigating nutrient deficiency related diseases. However, these products are usually in short supply and are not affordable to majority of the households, which could explain the prevalent nutrient deficiency illnesses reported in many homes. Our innovations offer products that address nutrient deficiency related diseases as well as a source of income in homes. Culturally, women are not actively involved in capturing fish on the lakes, because of the belief that they present with bad omen (especially if in their menstrual periods) that can cause fishers to drown. Our innovations overcomes this cultural barrier and eliminates the claimed risk of drowning, thus allowing women to be involved in all fishing activities. Government is currently revising the fisheries policy to include aquaculture and aquaponics. Uganda is an exporter of fish and horticultural products to Europe, WGI hopes to contribute towards sustaining this market through establishing a network of farmers using circulatory-water production systems that are also beyond the traditional fishing zones.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Circulatory-water farming is applied in three approaches i.e. aquaponics, hydroponics and aquaculture. Aquaponics is the integration of aquaculture and hydroponics. Fish and crops growing together in a closed-loop or open-circuit water recycling/reuse system where fish wastewater is drawn from the fish tank (aquaculture) and irrigated onto a crop growing in grow-beds (hydroponics) through which the wastewater is filtered and clean water is collected in a sump from where it is returned to the fish tank in cyclic manner (closed-loop) or the water from the sump is irrigated onto a nearby garden and is not returned to the fish-tank, but is replaced with freshwater in the fish tank (open-circuit). Hydroponics is the growing of crops without using soil, but alternative materials (i.e. gravel, aggregate, sand or perforated board) to hold the crop and allow easy water flow through the root zone, while aquaculture is the rearing of fish in cages/ponds/tanks. These innovations allow year-round production of fish and crops and extend fish production beyond traditional fishing zones such as rivers, lakes and wetlands, thus increasing fish and crop availability on the market. The systems promote water-use efficiency and thus reduce the dependency on seasonal rain-fed crop production i.e. producing more food with less water and saving water for other food value chains. With climate change, water-use efficiency is critical for making households more resilient and adapted to the changes. The innovation offers farmers choice of integrating fish and crops or growing them separately in smart systems. Since the systems do not involve boat fishing, they overcome the cultural barriers and permit women to be involved in all fishing activities. The innovations are usually set up in screen houses, which isolates them from pests and diseases that affect fish and crops in the wild. The innovations occupy smaller spaces/land than traditional farming, thus saving natural ecosystems from extensive agriculture. The innovations will trigger the development of the fisheries and horticultural value-chain that are seriously underdeveloped and create opportunities for further investment in food systems. As arable land reduces in productivity and availability, more intensive and efficient farming approaches need to be adopted, especially for households in urban and suburb settings - our innovation addresses such need. Our innovation shifts focus on exploitative and destructive wild fish capture to more environmentally friendly production practices. Reports suggests that 75% of the food eaten in Kampala is produced within the outskirts of the city - making suburban farming an important factor in feeding the city dwellers. Similar dynamics are observed around the other project districts/towns. Government deployed the military to curb harmful fishing practices in the wild - our innovation helps mitigate the need for this excessive enforcement.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Our innovation modifies traditional aquaculture and crop farming into smarter systems, thus enabling people to produce more food in smaller spaces and also taking advantage of both horizontal and vertical spaces. Currently, there is scarcity of fish and horticultural crop products on the market. Our innovation makes fish and horticultural crop products readily available at the household and commercial levels. It also enables farmers to adopt circular and blue-green economies. Fish stocks in the wild that have been depleted through capture fisheries, will be allowed to recover as the demand and number of fishers on the lakes and rivers is reduced. The innovation takes fish farming to places where fish production was not possible, thus expanding the fish production zone and increasing on market stocks. Our innovation attracts more investment and puts in place more efficient and smart food production systems, which also reduces waste. People will have year-round food production.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Circulatory-water (a.k.a recirculative) fish and horticultural crop farming is trans-formative in the sense that it transforms traditional access to fish by allowing fish to be grown in containers or tanks instead of natural lakes, rivers and wetlands. It transforms horticultural crop farming from relying on soil for support and nourishment to the crop being supported by alternative inert materials and obtaining its nourishment entirely from the nutrients dissolved in the water - it makes it clear that a crop can thrive without soil. The innovation helps transform farming areas where fish production was not possible into fish producing zones as well as making food production more intensive (requiring less land/space) and smarter (automated & remote controlled). It is an innovation that uses both horizontal and vertical spaces to grow crops, which is not possible in traditional systems. 

The innovation is regenerative in nature in the sense that it shifts the fish demand burden off natural water bodies to other production systems, thus allowing fish stocks and species in the wild to recover. It recycles and/or reuses fish wastewater rich in nitrogen and mineral salts to nourish crops. The innovation was inspired by aquariums where guppies (ornamental fish) are grown with the idea that it is therefore possible to grow food fish in similar tanks systems. The innovation was also inspired by the fact that Aquaponics (integrated fish & crop farming) is a growing approach in developed countries and the recognition that Africa and Uganda in particular have more competitive environmental conditions for farmed fish compared to winter countries. Environmentally and socially, the presence of farmed fish ponds/tanks has proved to reduce the mosquito population in the area they are located and subsequently reducing the incidence and severity of Malaria sickness. The innovation, when in large-scale, has been found to have an ameliorating effect to the environment through improving the temperature and humidity conditions of the micro-climate where it is located.   

Furthermore, the innovation was inspired by the existing and well-grounded fish eating culture in Uganda as well as the widespread desire to eat healthy among the population. This culture and desire is challenged by the reducing availability of fish from the wild, thus requiring an alternative source of fish - in this case farmed fish. There is also a growing interest among the population to farm fish. However, majority of the population have limited knowledge about fish and hydroponics farming - which requires farmer training to impart knowledge, skills and technology about fish and hydroponics farming. 

This project is inspired by the need to transfer skills, knowledge and technology about fish and hydroponics farming to farmers. In this regard, WGI decided to expand its original focus on promoting aquaponics to include hydroponics and aquaculture which are integral parts of aquaponics, because there are customers who were interested in raising fish only using the circulatory-water system, while there are also those who prefer hydroponics only and have nothing to do with fish. We decided to offer customers that opportunity to make choice on the configuration of the system. 

The fish and horticultural food systems have the following challenges: Fish stocks in the wild are depleting due to uncontrolled fishing practices. This is worsened by the high post-harvest losses as a result of fish spoilage due to limited preservation facilities. Demand for fish is escalating with the growing population and export requirement. Therefore there is need for mechanisms that allow for fish stocks recovery in the wild as well as fish availability on the market. Aquaponics is one such approach that has the potential to deliver on fish recovery in the wild and stocks in the market. Horticultural crops such as tomatoes, green pepper, collard greens, cabbages, carrots, onions, etc. which are critical sources of dietary vitamins and essential minerals salts are often scarce and expensive on the market. They also fetch premium prices and are a good source of income just like fish. Horticultural food crops are also challenged by the many diseases and pests that affect them in natural environment undermining the quantities available on the market. There is need for approaches that increase the availability of such products on the market as well as their survival during growth. Hydroponics offers an opportunity to produce disease and pest free horticultural crop products in large quantities using small spaces. 

Farming approaches are increasingly shifting from extensive to more intensive practices as populations grow and land for settlements and agriculture production becomes scarce and expensive. There is also growing need to produce food stuffs certified to have been produced organically with no use of chemicals. Also, there is need to increase productivity per unit area and amounts of produce - which calls for a change in the production systems. 

Existing policies support aquaculture, hydroponics and aquaculture development. However, they need to be improved to include elements that are not currently addressed in the policies and legislation.

In economic terms, the innovation can be assembled with a diversity of fish tank and crop-bed system sizes ranging from one cubic meter fish tank units to fish tank units as large as 675 cubic meters and crop-beds ranging from two square meters to one hectare of space on a horizontal or vertical arrangement depending on availability of space, water and farmers interest and financial capacity. However, WGI is marketing systems consisting of 7.2m^3 to 75m^3 fish tanks and grow-beds ranging from 8m^2 to 0.5 acres. 

The larger systems have better economic qualities compared to smaller systems. Larger systems exhibit a cost-benefit analysis ratio ranging from 2.4 to 2.72; fish tend to gain desired minimum market weight of 1.0kg and reach maturity faster and have less water quality related challenges compared to smaller systems - a reason why they are the preferred options. For these reasons, the one cubic meter fish tank and 4m^2 grow-bed systems are only used for training and demonstration purposes transferring knowledge, skills and technology to the beneficiary farmers/clients. 

The innovations use higher fish and crop stocking rates compared to traditional garden farming, implying more food produce. For example, catfish is stocked at a rate of 1 fish to 8 liters of water, while tilapia fish may be stocked at a rate of 1 fish to 15 liters of water. This implies that a one cubic meter fish tank would be stocked with 125 catfish and 66 tilapia. These fish stocking rates may be doubled in the system when it is automated and remotely controlled. Considering the current average market price of US$2.75 for one kilogram fish and assuming that 50% of the fish stock reaches maturity in first 12 months of stocking, it is possible to earn US$172 or $91 per cubic meter of water for catfish or tilapia, respectively. This is money that drastically transforms households incomes - making fish farming (aquaponics) the next frontier for investment. Since the fisheries sector is seriously underdeveloped, these systems form basis for advancement of the fisheries and horticultural crop value-chain as well as improvement of households' livelihoods, water security and poverty situation in Uganda.

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Attachments (1)


This is a document that highlights a few examples of Aquaponics units that have been setup in Uganda including photographs of the beneficiaries of the units. The document also provides insights on the costs of and revenues likely to be generated from the units. The document presents an overview of the potential environmental impacts of the innovation. It is used as an informative brochure.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Henry Mugisha Bazira  Great to see you joining the Prize!
It is lovely too see a Vision coming together for food and financial security.
We noticed your submission is currently unpublished. Was this your intention? We'd love to have your submission included in the Prize. Even if you've not started populating your Vision just yet, by publishing your submission you can make it public for other teams in your region to see, get in touch and possibly even collaborate with you.
You can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your post. You can also update your Vision at any time before 31 January 2020 by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" on top. If you need inspiration or guidance, take a look at the Food Vision Prize Toolkit. We look forward to seeing your Vision submission.

Photo of Henry Mugisha Bazira

Itika Gupta, thanks a lot for your comment. Yes it was my initial intention, because I didn't feel that the idea was in a form fit to be published, but now that you say so I will publish it to be included among the others.