My main purpose for being at CVI is to help turn some of their fish ponds into an aquaponic system, so I couldn’t wait to check out the ponds. I met CVI’s head farmer, Stephen—a hardworking man who has turned acres of bush into a productive farm. Stephen gave me a pair of bright yellow “gum boots,” and we headed down to the farm past the fields of maize, pigs rolling in the mud, bunnies hopping around their coop, chickens and goats running around the yard, and dogs sleeping in the shade. Finally, I soaked in the view of three beautiful tilapia ponds. A rabbit hutch overhangs one of the ponds, so as the bunnies happily hop around all day they add additional nutrients to the pond. Stephen and I measured the size of all the ponds, and he answered all my questions about the piping and construction of the ponds. The engineer in me compelled me to draw a detailed diagram of the ponds and water flow. Stephen showed me the fish food and the stream from which they pump water into the ponds during the dry season.
I took out my DO (dissolved oxygen) and conductivity meter (thanks to YSI for donating this fine instrument to me and UNH) and showed Stephen how to use it to measure the water quality. He loved learning to use it and wants to help every time I take water samples! I wasn’t able to test all the water quality parameters I wanted because I couldn’t bring most of the kits on the plane (they contained hazardous chemicals), but I had picked up a pH kit in Kampala, so as we waited for the pH strips to dry, I started talking to Stephen about aquaponics. He hadn’t heard of it before, but he was eager to learn! When I showed him the pictures of the aquaponic system I visited in Kampala, he became very excited and couldn’t believe they grew 5-6 kg taro yams in six months. Stephen said he wanted to build an aquaponic system here at CVI. As we sat there on the grass in the beating sun, I wanted to hold onto that moment. There was an empowering, visionary feeling as Stephen bought into the idea and we dreamed about the aquaponic system we would build. Later, I met with Night, the farmer who oversees the crops, and she also grew excited about aquaponics. We discussed what vegetables we should grow and envisioned clearing the bush behind the ponds to make room for grow beds. Again, it was a magical moment of vision and dreaming about the future. I can’t wait to make our idea become a reality.
I called the professor I’m supposed to work with at Gulu University, and to my amazement he picked up and told me to come meet him. This is the guy who I’ve emailed repeatedly and haven’t received a reply in 2 months. I’ve found Ugandans are extremely helpful and friendly over the phone or in person, but they don’t do email. I went to the university (and got in trouble with the security guard for taking a picture) and found the professor’s office. He said he couldn’t help because aquaponics wasn’t his field of expertise, but he introduced me to a master’s student, Komakech, who’s an expert in aquaculture. I told him about the CVI fish ponds and how the tilapia weren’t growing too well; he gave some suggestions and offered to come out and visit the ponds! I was so thankful for his expertise and willingness to help—I know virtually nothing about fish, so Komakech is an answer to prayer. He also knows all the fish farmers in the area and said he can introduce me so I can ask them about aquaponics. I can't wait for Komakech to come visit the CVI ponds--I think I'm going to learn a lot from him!