One challenge preventing the fish from growing in the past has been the feed—the animal pellets sold in town sink (tilapia only eat food that floats) and the protein content is something like 20% when it should be 30% or higher. Additionally, no one knows how many fish are in the ponds, so we don’t know how much feed we should give them. CVI used to make its own fish feed, so a few months ago we decided to try that again. I talked with the Gulu District Fisheries Officer about making fish feed, and he gave me a spreadsheet for customizing formulas based on the protein content and price of each ingredient. If we have sweet potato leaves available from the farm, we can enter the number of kilos we have and adjust the formula to use less ingredients we have to buy. I worked on the spreadsheets adding ingredients and updating prices until I had an optimized formula for CVI.
Stephen, the head farmer, and I headed to town to buy fish feed ingredients. We started walking down the road until we were able to flag down a passing boda. We both piled onto the back and set off on the 22+ km ride to the CVI office. Soon after getting on, our boda began to sputter and finally stopped. We all got off, the driver blew into the gas tank and tipped the motorcycle over to push the last bits of petrol down to the engine, then restarted the bike as we climbed back on. This is a common occurrence with boda drivers, and we managed to make it to the next roadside stand where the driver bought a water bottle of petrol. Water bottles of various sizes filled with this amber liquid dot roadsides everywhere, and no, they’re not filled with ice tea.
The road is quite bad in spots and made entirely of dirt. This was some months ago when dry season was in full force, so dust rose in copious amounts. I made the mistake of wearing a white shirt. There aren’t that many 4 wheeled vehicles on the road—it’s mostly bodas, bicyclists, and pedestrians—but when a truck does come speeding by, it leaves behind a trail of billowing dust clouds. The worst is when you get stuck behind a truck and languish in its dust. We spent several kilometers in this state because our poor engine carrying 3 people didn’t have enough power to accelerate past the truck in the rare passing opportunities. I followed Stephen’s lead and covered my eyes to protect them from the dust. It’s quite unnerving to bounce along on a boda with your eyes shut—you don’t know when you’ll hit a bump that will send you flying off your seat. Finally, our boda driver saw his chance when the road widened. He gunned the engine and shot into the other side of the road. Even if I had my eyes open, I couldn’t see if there was oncoming traffic or giant potholes on the other side of the truck. I squeezed my eyes shut, held tightly onto the back of the boda, and prayed our driver knew what he was doing. We soon safely shot past the truck and pulled into open road and continued zooming toward town.
But alas, our road adventures were not yet over. We soon ran into 6 inches of loose dirt that someone had dumped all over the road. Often, trucks dump leftover dirt and bricks on the road in a giant pile until someone uses it to fill the innumerable potholes and ditches, but in this case the government was trying to fix the road by dumping trucks of dirt but hadn’t gotten around to compacting the dirt yet. In rainy season, the dirt turns into impassable mud. Our boda first attempted to avoid the dirt by driving along the very edge of the road without falling into a ditch, but eventually even that narrow strip of road disappeared. We were forced into the thick of the dirt, and the bike slowed, faltered, then stopped and the driver had to stick out his feet to prevent us from falling over. As he walked and pushed the bike through the dirt, the truck we had finally managed to pass earlier zoomed by. All our progress had been for nothing! We were again stuck behind our dusty friend. When we finally made it to town, my face was caked with dust! But at least the brown dirt helped cover my cheeks’ lobster red hue from the sun.
We walked to many different places around town to buy all our ingredients for the fish feed—Gulu doesn’t have any Walmart Super Centers or Blue Seal Feeds where you can find everything in one spot! Some of the sellers were out of what we wanted. This is common among sellers and restaurants in Uganda. They buy or make a certain amount, and when it’s finished, it’s finished—sometimes for weeks. There’s no backroom storage stockpile. In the market, we spent 20 minutes talking with the many mukene (small, dried, silver fish) sellers to let us weigh their fish. They usually sell by the basin, but we needed to know the price per kilo. Finally, one woman consented to let us take a bag and walk across the market to the scales to weigh her fish. The people in the market only sell small amounts of mukene for cooking, but later, I learned you can buy large sacks of mukene for animal feed from another place in town much less expensively. Now that our experimental feed has worked, we buy the mukene in 100 kg sacks. Stephen and I bought what we could, tied our purchases onto the back of a boda, made a quick detour for mugatti (fried bread—you gotta use every opportunity to town to supplement the cassava and posho in Lukodi :) ), and climbed aboard for a dusty journey back to Lukodi.
Another ingredient we wanted was blood meal. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I’d read it was high in protein, good for fish feed, and cheap. We asked for blood meal at the feed store—they didn’t have it but said they could get it from Kampala and would come tomorrow. Tomorrow came and went. And the next day. And the next. First, the people in Kampala failed to get it on the bus in time. When they did get it on a bus, the bus broke down. Finally, the blood meal arrived in Gulu, but every time someone from CVI went to pick it up, the shop was closed. Eventually, we picked the blood meal—it turned out to be red-black granules, and boy, did it smell! Unfortunately, it also sunk, and since we wanted our feed to float, I decided to switch to bone meal, which has a similar protein content, doesn’t smell, is readily available in Gulu, and only 200 schillings (6 cents) more per kilo.
Finally, when we had all the ingredients, Stephen, Kazungu, Onen, and I measured the proper amount for each and poured it all into a big pile on the cement floor of the store. Kazungu took a spade and methodically turned over the pile until it was thoroughly mixed—we had our fish feed!
Who knew it would be so hard to mix fish feed? I naively thought it wouldn’t take very long, but after much researching various fish feed formulas, searching around town for ingredients, and experimenting with different recipes, we finally made our own quality fish feed. It’s cheaper and more nutritious than the feed sold in town, and the fish love their new feed! They’re growing much faster than before partly thanks to their new diet.
My fish feed journey taught me that completing projects takes a long time in Uganda. I first have to understand the local resources available by talking with many different CVI staff members and other local connections, such as the District Fisheries Officer. There are almost always Ugandans who have already successfully implemented whatever project I’m interested in. I can learn from them and spread what they’ve successfully done. I’ll probably fail in the first few attempts and there will be innumerable delays, but eventually, we’ll get it to succeed. And the bumps and clouds of dust in the journey along the way make a great adventure.