How a De Heus plant can support fish farming in Uganda and help feed the nation

11 April 2024
4 minutes

In June 2023, De Heus began construction of its first dedicated aquafeed plant in Uganda. Located in Njeru, near Jinja, on the north shore of Lake Victoria, the factory is expected to start operations early next year. Once the facility reaches full capacity, it will produce some 50,000 tons of fish feed per year, helping to support a rapidly developing aquaculture industry. In addition, it will help to improve the diet and food security of the country's growing population and boost local agriculture.

Perfect conditions for aquaculture

"Uganda is the ideal climate for fish farming," says Bon Tjeenk Willink, General Manager, De Heus Uganda. "The temperatures are perfect so you can grow fish in Lake Victoria all year round." Furthermore, the country's population is growing rapidly and with it, the demand for protein. "Fish is a big part of Ugandans' diet," Bon continues. "They eat about 10 kilogrammes of fish per person per year, which is much higher than neighbouring countries like Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya." At the same time, wild catch is decreasing due to over-exploitation of the lake, so demand for farmed fish is increasing. "Taking all these drivers together, there's huge potential in Uganda," says Bon.


Delivering a reliable supply of aquafeed

Aquafeed is currently imported into Uganda from Zambia, Brazil, Egypt and Vietnam, but feed supply chains are unreliable and expensive. This make the business case for new and existing farmers unattractive, resulting in fewer farms. "We believe that once De Heus has a local factory delivering a reliable supply of high-quality aquafeed, on time and at an affordable price, the aquaculture market in Uganda will get an enormous boost," says Bon.

Making a positive impact

A growing aquaculture sector will help kick-start a whole industry in East Africa. "It will attract infrastructure and businesses like hatcheries and genetics companies that didn't exist here before," says Bon. "For me personally, I love the fact that we will have an impact and deliver enormous benefits for Uganda." One of the main benefits is the production of healthy protein for a population that's crying out for it. "Uganda produces a large amount of agricultural produce, but at the same time, there's a shortage of protein which leads to malnutrition," explains Bon. "By fostering aquaculture, we will contribute to the production of sustainable protein that's relatively affordable."

By fostering aquaculture, we will contribute to the production of sustainable protein that's relatively affordable.

Bon Tjeenk Willink

General Manager, De Heus Uganda

Construction challenges

All these benefits will come once the new factory is complete, but building a state-of-the-art facility in Africa is not always easy. "Jinja is a uniquely beautiful place. There's a river with high banks and wonderful views, but it's also hilly so we spent nearly a year levelling the ground so we could begin construction," explains Bon. "In addition, there's a lot of rain which makes the soil very fertile but it hampers construction."

Supporting local agriculture

Despite the construction challenges, the fertile land is an advantage for De Heus since the new factory will also buy raw materials like soy, corn and cassava from Ugandan farmers, supporting the local agricultural economy as a result. "We want to buy directly from local farmers as much as possible," says Bon. "We need good raw materials, so we will work with farmers to make them better at what they do, increase their yields and improve the quality and consistency of their products." To this end, De Heus will provide coaching, academies and seminars to not only improve farmers' skills, but also to attract other entrepreneurs to invest in this business. "Given that some 80% of the population works in agriculture, we can have a big impact," says Bon.

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Regional expansion

It's not just Uganda that's waiting for a reliable source of high-quality aquafeed, surrounding countries need it as well. "We definitely want to serve aquafarmers in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda," says Bon. "The aquaculture value chain in these countries is waiting for reliable, affordable feed. Exporting from Uganda will be good for the country and great for the neighbouring countries because they want to develop this business too."

Net zero ambitions

Another ambition Bon has is to make the plant net zero in terms of emissions. "I really think it's achievable," he says. "We're already building a biomass boiler which uses wood chips for example, and these are a leftover product." Uganda is also at the Equator so there's enormous potential to generate energy for the factory using solar panels. A net zero plant would also be attractive to customers. "Our clients are large fish farmers who are often funded by impact investors who really care about climate change."

Growth platform for the region

By building plants in Africa, De Heus is creating a growth platform for agricultural, commercial and community development, Bon believes. "The first steps in a new country are always difficult, but once you get a foothold the opportunities for all stakeholders are endless."