By Justin Kayiranga
Akagera Management Company through African Parks in partnership with the Government of Rwanda and the Kingdom of the Netherlands have launched the Gishanda Fish Farm, an initiative that will contribute to the sustainable development of the community around Akagera National Park.
The Gishanda Fish Farm which is established in Kabare sector in Kayonza district in the Eastern region of Rwanda, will help to tackle Gishanda Lake conservation, preventing illegal fishing activities which have affected the lake’s biodiversity especially fishes.
With its modern fish farming model, Gishanda project will be using a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) and solar technology that will enable it to produce around 30 to 40 metric tons of fishes per year.
Ishimwe Fiston, Community Conservation Manager at Akagera National Park, said that although Gishanda Lake is not located in the Akagera Park, its preservation is part of the park’s giving back to the community scheme by helping them to easily get fishes from the lake instead of hunting them in the lakes inside the park.
“In recent years, the majority of hunters/poachers we have had were those who came to the park to fish illegally. So, the solution was to help them get what they were going to hunt in the park, and get it outside the park legally.” Ishimwe said.
He added that “So far, the number of poachers has decreased because they have been helped with the means to legally get fish outside of the park.”
Gishanda Fish Farm project aims to transform the lives of the people living nearby Gishanda Lake.
This is part of the park’s mission to care for and preserve the biodiversity and natural resources on the outskirts of the park, as well as helping its neighboring community to taste and feel the benefits of living near the park.
Kayihenda Theogene, resident of Kabare Sector, says that “since this project came, we have benefited a lot. We have gotten jobs and now we have started to get fish production in Lake Gishanda thanks to the fish fingerlings they were given by the project and the restoration of the lake.”
The government of Rwanda commends these project components as they are contributing to the target that Rwanda has dedicated to fish farming in the National Strategy for Transformation (NST1).
Dr. Solange Uwituze, the Deputy Director General at Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Board, says that “This project is going to be producing 30 metric tons of fishes per year which is a very good addition to our target to hit 127 metric tons per year by 2024.”
“Another good point is that the project has also a very strong component of community education not only in aquaculture but also in entrepreneurship skills as well as in culinary skills so as to not only increase wealth among the community but also improve their nutrition status” Dr. Solange added.
The Gishanda project is the second fish farm of its kind in Rwanda. In 2019, FoodTechAfrica developed and opened the first Rwandan RAS farm in Bugesera, Lakeside Fish Farm. The viability of this concept, both economically and technically, was successfully tested through the establishment of a grow-out tank at Lakeside fish farm and is now being applied at scale at the Gishanda Fish Farm.
It is a project that seems to have been carefully developed, especially in terms of environmental protection, as 90% of the energy used on this site comes from a solar powered system that powers all of the equipment both during the day and at night.
The planning and implementation of this project cost two billion Rwandan francs, and it has already provided permanent employment to 30 residents, while people owning property near the lake were helped with the creation of a fishermen cooperative of about 96 members who are currently practicing fishing activities in lake Gishanda.
According to a Press Release sent to TOP AFRICA NEWS, Gishanda Fish Farm is a new sustainable socio-economic development project partnership between Akagera National Park managed by African Parks and FoodTechAfrica, a consortium of Dutch private companies, with the support of the Rwandan and the Netherlands Government.
Gishanda will accelerate aquaculture development in the Republic of Rwanda by introducing innovation and new skills in the aquaculture industry. The official ceremony was attended by Dr. Solange Uwituze who is the Deputy Director General of Animal Resources Development, the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Rwanda, Mr Matthijis Wolters, African Parks Regional Manager, Jes Gruner and Park Manager for Akagera National Park, Ladis Ndahiriwe.
This Fish Farm will be a producer of quality tilapia fingerlings (juvenile fish), demonstrate catfish farming as an accessible protein production option for communities, as well as tilapia production for food: and serve as a model of circular agriculture with the farm effluent fertilizing an on-site organic vegetable farm. Being the second fish farm of its kind in Rwanda, the project will not only provide employment opportunities for local community members, it will also become an important source of food and protein to supplement local nutritional deficits.
Dr. Gerardine Mukeshimana, Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources for the Republic of Rwanda, said:“Gishanda Fish Farm, and the RAS system of sustainable farming, embodies many of the principles that will enable Rwanda to achieve its long-term vision for becoming an upper-middle-income country by 2035, and a high-income country by 2050. Sustainable agriculture, and particularly aquaculture, is an area of strategic focus to simultaneously address food security and to build the sector into a key national economic contributor. Gishanda Fish Farm’s role as a source of quality and education positions it well within this strategy.”
As a result of the Gishanda Fish Farm project, the local communities in Akagera have so far been the biggest beneficiaries in terms of training and skills development. During the construction, two villages received electricity, a school was supplied with clean running water; and local farmers were provided with low-cost rich effluent fertilizer.
Despite Rwanda’s verdant landscape, malnutrition is still an issue and can lead to bush meat poaching. The Gishanda Fish Farm is expected to produce up to 30 tonnes of 350-500g tilapia annually of which at least 10% will be supplied locally at reasonable rates to supplement the local community’s nutritional needs.
In addition to the production of fully-grown tilapia, the Gishanda Fish Farm is expected to produce 1 – 1.5 million tilapia fingerlings annually, of which 110,000 will be retained for farm production. A high-quality strain of tilapia, the commercial sale of around one million fingerlings; will bolster the Rwandan aquaculture sector.
The balance of 300,000 – 400,000 will be used to re-stock lakes in the region, generating locally viable sources of protein and economic growth on a national scale.
Ladis Ndahiriwe, Park Manager of Akagera National Park said: “It may seem an unusual move for a conservation organisation to be building and running a fish farm. However, our goal at African Parks is to leave a legacy of sustainability, for both communities and protected areas. This project addresses sustainable land use, biodiversity conservation and improving community lives.”
Training and upskilling are at the heart of the Gishanda project, which aspires to become a national learning hub for the aquaculture sector, partnering with education and government institutions as well as the private sector. Three catfish demo ponds have been built on site to teach household level catfish farming to community members. Pond supplies (lining) and assistance will be provided to the community to develop catfish farming for nutritional and enterprise purposes.
Partnering with organic farming experts in Rwanda, the Gishanda project will also develop a demonstration vegetable farm to teach local farmers methods in sustainable agriculture.
The farm will also be offered as a business to a selected community cooperative (the goal is for a women’s cooperative) who will benefit from hands-on technical, sales and financial training to develop a viable and sustainable business.
In 2019, FoodTechAfrica (FTA) developed and opened the first Rwandan RAS farm in Bugesera, Lakeside Fish Farm. The viability of this concept, both economically and technically, was successfully tested through the establishment of a grow-out tank at Lakeside fish farm and is now being applied at scale at the Gishanda Fish Farm.
The RAS system allows for the production of high volumes of sustainably produced fish on a small land surface. Because of the re-use of water, it uses 10 times less water than traditional pond-based fish farming systems.
FTA’s Wouter Van Vliet says “The confluence of partnerships and technology is a powerful tool for solving some of the most critical food supply issues. At FTA, we are proud of what this partnership has delivered and the ripple impacts it will have on the aquaculture sector.”
The effluent water from the system is highly concentrated in nutrients, making it very suitable as a fertilizer. The integration of solar power with this fish farming system also reduces energy costs and environmental impacts further.
“The major goal was to create a system that could generate enough energy to power all of the equipment both during the day and at night. The quality of the system’s components was also given top priority, as uninterrupted power supply is critical,” said Frank Hoogers operational director at Independent Energy.
Beyond the companies’ support, the project was made possible by generous co-funding from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) and SHV. SHV subsidiary Nutreco Middle East and Africa will act as a key sponsor and feeding partner for the aqua farming activities.
Matthijs Wolters, the Netherlands Ambassador to Rwanda said, “The Gishanda Fish Farm illustrates the sustainable impact of public-private partnerships and the long-term benefits for the growth of the aquaculture sector in Rwanda. Rwanda’s communities will benefit from the innovative circular economy model that the Gishanda Fish Farm embodies.”
Nutreco CEO Fulco van Lede said, “We are proud to announce today’s partnership with African Parks, and in particular our close collaboration with SHV. Together, we will put Nutreco’s purpose of Feeding the Future into place, in a region that requires more sustainable protein sources.’’
Ricardo Kandelman, Executive Board Director at SHV, concluded: “Supporting and educating people to ensure a better future is a perfect fit with the SHV purpose – ‘Courage to care for generations to come’. Throughout our history of more than 125 years we have always cared for people and communities in all parts of the world in which we operate. We are proud that because of our support, this project can be realised. Teaming up with Nutreco makes it even more valuable as it clearly shows what SHV can do if we join forces within our family of companies.”