No longer at pilot stage: Cage aquaculture on the African Great Lakes is expanding

A harvest of fish from cages at a cage fish farm (Credit: National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI), Uganda)

Cage aquaculture on African inland water bodies is necessary. Africans eat

much less fish compared to people on other continents.  FAO says that this is

due to low fish supply i.e. less fish is produced on the continent to meet

demand. Other reasons include safety of fish by foreign fleets, denying fish

to local markets and directing rather nutritious fish to fishmeal. This is

important because fish is an important part of human diet. More fish will

be pivotal in the fight against malnutrition and on the continent. Additional

approaches to produce fish such as cage aquaculture are hard to avoid. Our

focus is on how to make them sustainable. Why?

Much as we need more fish, we have to be careful not to be destructive to

the environment and the benefits these water bodies support. These are

services that cage aquaculture may not provide. A few are demonstrated in

tourism, fish production. water provision and fish production.

Tourism: The water bodies are strikingly beautiful and support tourism.

For example, Lake Volta exhibits beautiful shores as shown in this video

sourced from YouTube.

Lake Victoria is equally mesmerizing and locations like the source of the

River Nile are important tourism locations.

Water for domestic use: From Victoria to Volta, we still fetch water for

domestic use directly from these water bodies. We shall do so for several

more years in future and thus we need proper use.

Fish production: Inland water bodies produce a lot of fish supporting jobs,

revenue and food security (De Graaf & Garibaldi, 2014). Cage aquaculture

may never be able to produce this fish and support these benefits that reach

the poor. More so, fish from aquaculture may not reach the poor due to

higher prices compared to fish from wild fisheries.

Unsustainable cage aquaculture is destructive: Lastly, cage aquaculture,

when not conducted properly is con-sensually known to be destructive to

the environment and ecosystem services. This means that it can reduce the

potential for tourism, fish production and make water too dirty to be used

directly as seen as above. Already, there are areas where cage aquaculture

has caused problems not only to the environment but to also to the farming

ventures. For examples see here and here.

Our work

In a new study published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, various

scientists across the African Great Lakes Region combined data to show the

occurrence and magnitude of cage aquaculture on the African inland

waters (see map below). Using the data, further analysis was conducted to

examine adherence to best practices.

Observations from the study

Cage aquaculture installations have increased on African inland water

bodies. From nine cage aquaculture installations with 185 cages on only

four water bodies in 2006, currently (2018), more than 263 installations

with >20,000 cages on 18 water bodies are estimated. Cage aquaculture on

the water bodies is no longer at the pilot stage but is commercial and

expanding in terms of size of farms and number of water bodies used for


Unfortunately, the expansion of cage aquaculture is not simultaneous with

total adherence to best practices. For instance, cage aquaculture

installations are extant in areas with excessive nutrients, shallow sites and

water bodies and inactive installations are not fully decommissioned. 

A fish farm in water with excessive nutrients. Additional nutrients from the farm can worsen water quality affecting the environment and other water uses (Credit: Laban Musinguzi, 2017)


In the paper, three main recommendations are articulated to sustain cage

aquaculture development on African inland waters. These are:

  1. Establishment of zones with full adherence to best practices
  2. Development and promoting best practices
  3. Development of strong regulatory frameworks and institutions where
    they are not available


De Graaf, G., Garibaldi, L., 2014. The value of African fisheries. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Circular. No. 1093. FAO, Rome, p. 76.

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