On Saturday, my professor, Dr. Musaazi, called me just past 7 am, and I hopped on a matatu to meet him at the university. We were going to find Charles Mulamata—the aquaponics expert in Uganda. He founded the Africa Aquaponics Association, which now has 100 members. Mr. Mulamata lives in Kampala, so we drove to his neighborhood. Once in the general area, we would occasionally stop and ask for directions to his street (there are no street signs). Someone would point the way, and off we would go.
We found his home and walked in—Mr. Mulamata was there! He talked with us and showed us the two small aquaponic systems he had in his yard. He’s growing catfish, celery, and taro yams. Tilapia are more commonly used in aquaponics, but catfish require less oxygen, so when the pumps shut off in Kampala’s periodic power outages, the catfish can survive better. The yams are a staple in the Ugandan diet. The yam, stem, and leaves can all be eaten, and they’re more nutritious than rice. His yams grow to 5-6 kg (11- lbs) in six months while the best farmer in Uganda growing in soil gets 1.5 kg yams after 8 months.
We asked many questions and I learned so much. Mr. Mulamata said it’s difficult to find the appropriate pumps in Uganda because the pumps sold in the market are all 15 feet of head or greater. Aquaponics requires a high flow rate and little head, and since these two properties are inversely related, the market pumps don’t have an adequate flow rate. He also said that Ugandans are very hesitant to try new technologies. Even though aquaponics sounds like a perfect solution to food insecurity, they’re afraid to try it themselves. Also, many don’t realize you can grow fish in ponds and raise them for food. Uganda used to have a thriving fishing industry because their lakes were abundantly full of fish. Now, the fish in the lakes are almost gone, and fish are quite expensive in the market. Still, Mr. Mulamata said some Ugandans don’t understand you can grow fish like you grow chickens. He also said Uganda has the 2nd fastest growing population in the world, so the country is going to need a lot more food. Aquaponics sounds like it could be a solution.
Dr. Musaazi hadn’t heard much about aquaponics before this, but the more he heard from Mr. Mulamata, the more excited he became. Now Dr. Musaazi really wants me to build a system for his daughter-in-law and three grandchildren before I leave.
I can’t believe that I actually got to meet Mr. Mulamata. I’ve been reading about his work online for over a year, and nearly all the information about aquaponic sites in Kampala points back to him. We just showed up at his house, walked in, and talked with him! He answered many of my questions about aquaponics in Uganda, and he invited me back on Wednesday when he has more time. I can’t wait.