National Animal Genetic Resources Centre & Data Bank

How to use good fish genetics to be successful in Aquaculture

Aquaculture or fish farming is a high-risk business that is prone to genetic factors. Therefore, as in any farming business, getting the right fish genetics has a tremendous impact on achieving farming goals. Unfortunately, this is rarely discussed in farming forums but here are simple guidelines with a view to helping investors in the sub-sector.

Once upon a time, the Nile Tilapia and Catfish were considered to be cheap and a ‘poor man’s fish’ but they have now become everyone’s fish. Also, they are the most viable ventures in aquaculture.

In fact, the two species are the main reason Uganda’s fisheries sub-sector is the second highest agricultural foreign exchange earner. With more than one million Ugandans engaged in fish farming, NAGRC&DB’s efforts to provide top-quality fingerlings and feed is having a huge impact on the success of smallholder farmers and this provides a fertile ground in the implementation of the Parish Development Model (PDM).

The major key role of NAGRC&DB’s fish program is to support sustainable market-oriented fish production through fish genetic improvement for improved food security and household income.

This will be achieved through establishing systems for production of founder brood stock of improved culture strains, conservation and development of indigenous fish genetic resources as well as monitoring of fish breeding and multiplication activities in the country.

In the course, NAGRC&DB trains fish breeders, farmers and extension staff on fish breeding and management technologies on top of reviewing of regulatory frameworks on fish breeding and fostering fish breeders’ associations.

From a statistical point, a large volume of tilapia and catfish produced is consumed locally, which means it makes a great contribution to food security, income generation and employment. As a result, this implies that opportunities for fish farmers, researchers, traders and professionals are growing tremendously.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case as many fish farmers, especially those at smallholder level, end up with substandard fingerlings that negatively affect their harvest.

It is on this background that NAGRC&DB’s efforts to conserve top quality fish genetics comes in handy and may be the grand entrance in opening up the field too smallholder fish farmers under the PDM. That means that farming groups at parish level require a person of specific skills, especially the genetics aspects.

To be successful, a tilapia or catfish farm has to have a technical section to handle fish genetics.

NAGRC&DB helps to achieve the aforementioned function by establishing facilities and structures in different ecological zones of the country.

In this regard, facilities like hatcheries can be handy in mass production of improved founder brood stock and fingerlings (for majorly Nile tilapia, African catfish and Mirror carp but also new culture candidates) for distribution to both hatchery operators and grow-out farmers.

In addition, these facilities can be used as training centres for hatchery operators/fish breeders and farmers on appropriate fish breeding and management technologies.  On the other hand, conservation of indigenous, threatened and other fish genetic resources can be enhanced through using such facilities.

In summary, the starting point of every fish farmer is the genetics of the breed because it is the key determinant of the success of failure of the venture. Working with NAGRC&DB offers protection from substandard fingerlings provide monitoring and ensure high yields in the venture. 

There is also need to emphasize that every fish farming venture requires a person with a background in fish breeding and genetics and is needed to lead this most important section.

They should understand research and continuously carry out some sort of trials in order to develop the best performing brood stock, feeding strategies and other management practices. This section is responsible for brood stock handling, egg collection and set-up, and may include four to six staff who can work in the pond collecting eggs.


In 2020, NAGRC&DB rolled out a programme to revive fish breeding across all its stock farms by constructing ponds and also introducing top-quality fingerlings of tilapia and catfish.

Whereas the programme started at Rubona and Kasolwe stock farms, more fish production infrastructure is being established on other centre farms of Lusenke, Bulago and Maruzi.

The aim is to enable production of quality fingerlings in all corners of the country and increase farmers’ access to them.

So far, the program is picking up and has attracted many farmers to aquaculture. According to Dr Peter Beine, the NAGRC&DB executive director, fish farming is a tricky venture mainly due to poor breeds and feeds.

“However, ever since this programme started, we have got an overwhelming number of farmers who have reached out to get our fingerlings,” he says.

“What’s more, we have supplemented this by providing quality feed that is produced from our stock farms. This has not only improved efficiencies in fish production but to also increased farmers’ access to good quality feed at affordable prices.”

The programme targets supporting youth, women farmers and other underprivileged groups of people as a first priority by giving them stock in form of fingerlings to be able to improve their livelihoods through increased food, nutrition and income security.

Now that government has rolled out the Parish Development Model, more categories of farmers, especially at smallholder level, will also benefit under this programme through similar arrangements and ultimately improve their productivity and production.

Dr Beine adds that in the long run, this will lead to increased aquaculture production which will compensate for the dwindling production from natural water bodies.

Dr Beine hopes that more households and farming groups will seize the opportunity of the availability of NAGRC’s quality products.

What’s more, all NAGRC facilities are being used for training of farmers in the communities as well as learning centres for students from all levels of education

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