A couple of days after meeting Komakech, the masters student studying aquaculture at Gulu University, I expectantly waited for him to come visit the CVI ponds. He came roaring up the road (a couple hours late, but hey, that’s Ugandan time) on his motorcycle donned in goggles and a jacket to fight the dust. He brought his friend, Winston, who’s also studying aquaculture. We walked down to the ponds, and Komakech gave many helpful suggestions. He even brought a water quality test kit, so we could measure ammonia and nitrite levels.
One of Komakech’s biggest suggestions regarded the fish feed. Tilapia like feed that floats, but the feed we have sinks, so the fish weren’t eating all of it. He suggested we build feed troughs and submerge them halfway underwater. Stephen, the CVI farmer, found some iron roofing sheets and we started making the troughs. Using a hammer, he flattened the metal then bent it to create sides. There was a hole in the middle of one sheet, so he plugged it with a ripped feed bag lying in the yard. To secure the corners, we punched small holes in the sides and twisted bits of wire through them. We carried the troughs down to the ponds and thought about how to secure them. Eventually we decided to use wire and metal stakes scavenged from a nearby fence (at least it was partly falling down). Stephen and his assistant William pulled the fence posts out of the ground, but the bottoms were encased in concrete. William just banged the concrete against another fence post until the casing fell off! We jumped into the water, sunk the posts, and submerged the troughs. When we poured feed into the troughs, the fish quickly swam over! A swarm much larger than the number that normally appears at feeding time emerged, so the fish seem to like their new feed troughs!
We went through several iterations when designing the feed troughs, but I really enjoyed participating in the Ugandan style design process. Since there’s no Home Depot or Lowes out in Lukodi, we used whatever materials we could find. But with some simple tools and a little creativity, we built some excellent feed troughs.
Later, we wanted to change some of the water in the ponds because there's too much algae, which is reducing the dissolved oxygen in the water to dangerously low levels for the fish. Normally, Stephen uses a gas pump to lift water from the stream to the ponds, but his water hoses are a few years old and broken. Saturday morning, he and a couple farm hands tried to fix them. They hauled the pump down to the stream, but every time they turned it on, water came bursting from leaks in the canvas hose. I watched as they turned off the pump, hacked off the ruptured part of the hose with a machete, inserted a 6 inch section of plastic tubing into one end of the hose, and pulled the other end on top. Then, they cut strips of rubber from an old tire and tightly wound a strip over the hose seam. After removing all the ruptured sections and splicing the hose back together, Stephen turned on the pump again. All seemed fine for a few seconds until, "PSSHHHT!" the hose ruptured again in a new spot. After a couple hours of working on the hose, they fixed most of the leaks until it was good enough to pump water to the pond. I am constantly amazed at the hard work and ingenuity of these Ugandan farmers.