Rwanda is a land-locked country with an estimated population of 11 million and a surface area of 26,338 sq. km of which 1,390 is water surface. There are 24 lakes including three shared lakes (i.e. Kivu with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Cyohoha and Rweru with Burundi). Other lakes include

      -   The Northern Lakes :  Burera, Ruhondo
     -   The Central Lake: Muhazi
   - The Bugesera Lakes: 
Cyohoha (North and South), Rweru, Rumira, Kidogo, Gaharwa,    Kirimbi, Mirayi and Gashanga

    - The Gisaka Lakes: Sake, Mugesera and Birira

    - The Nasho Basin Lakes: Nasho, Mpanga, Kagese, Cyambwe, Rwakibare

    - The Akagera National Park Lakes: Ihema, Mihindi, Kivumba, Hago, Rwanyakizinga

The major rivers are: Nyabarongo and Akanyaru whose confluence forms the Akagera. Others are the Ruhwa, Rusizi, Mukungwa, Kagitumba, and Muvumba. However most of these rivers are not fished on a daily basis, associated with the rivers are water pools locally known as ibidendezi that have also been turned out into fish production systems.
The national fish production is estimated at 26,732 tons (2015) of which capture fisheries contribute 25,159 tons and aquaculture 1,573 tons. Rwanda is currently by far a net importer of fish from neighboring Uganda and Tanzania. Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors provide about 200,000 jobs (both direct and downstream jobs) though it is not a traditional enterprise. On the whole however, fishing in Rwanda has remained artisanal characterized by smallholder fishers and farmers.
Rwanda has very good potential for increased fisheries productivity which if commercialized in approach and linked to sectors such as tourism together with an enabling policy can stimulate increased fish production for both local and regional markets.

Given the current state of fisheries sector and the demand for fisheries resources there is need to put in place strategies and measures that will ensure that Rwanda can fully and sustainably utilize her resources to meet the high animal protein demand.
The main fish species caught in the lakes are
the Isambaza (Limnothrissamiodon), Nile Tilapia (Oreochromisniloticus), Inkube or African catfish (Clariasgariepinus)and Haplochromis sp. There is also an emerging fishery of Indagala (Rastrineobolaargentea). Other species in Rwanda water bodies include: Common carp (Cyprinuscarpio), Mamba (Protopterusaethiopicus), Ningu (Labeovictorianus), Schlibemystus, Nkolongo (Synodontissp) Lamprichthystanganicanus Msiha (Swahili), Rwanda rushya (Kinyarwanda) etc. Of these, only Nile Tilapia and the African catfish are cultured. Although the widely cultured common carp was introduced in Rwanda presumably for aquaculture, it only exists in wild stocks in the rivers and lakes of the Nasho basin. This array of indigenous fish species and those that have already adapted to the local conditions without detrimental effects provides a sound base for launching a vibrant aquaculture industry without importation of new species
                                       Lakes of Bugesera District


                 Lakes in the Nasho Valley (Kirehe and Kayonza Districts


 The level of per capita fish consumption in Rwanda estimated at 2.3 kg is the lowest in East Africa and falls far below the Sub Sahara Africa and global level estimated at 6.7 and 16.6 kg respectively. Clearly, the low level of fish consumption in Rwanda is of serious concern to national development in terms of population health since fish provides high biological value proteins, vital vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and other micro-nutrients crucial to a healthy diet of the people. This is of particular concern given the limited alternative sources of animal protein and other related nutrients. If Rwanda’s population growth continues as projected in the vision 2020, the country will need 112,000 tons just to attain the average Sub Sahara per capita consumption of 6.6 kg/person/year and 265,600 metric tons to reach the global average of 16.6.


Fish farming is reported to have started in Rwanda at the end of the 1940s during the monarch and the Belgian colonial administration, promoted mainly as a government sponsored activity. The then administration constructed two main fingerling production centres at l'Ecole des Assistants Agricoles, Butare, in 1952 and the Kigembe Station in 1954.  

During the period 1960- 1965, development of fish culture in Rwanda came to a standstill; many existing ponds were abandoned due to civil strife. From 1967 to 1973, the government undertook to revitalize fish farming through two UNDP/FAO projects. The projects reactivated the Kigembe Centre and carried out trials on culture of Cyprinuscarpio (common carp), Tilapia species and Clariascarsonii /liocephalus. Tilapia fingerlings were produced and several ponds in rural areas were restocked.

Interventions under PAIGELAC project also reactivated fisheries activities  in which case fish farmers and fishermen were  organized under cooperatives and given various forms of support ranging from training, study tours to direct provision of inputs.  The project trained 3623 fish farmers and supported 118 fishing cooperatives across the country.

Fish Production Systems

Suitability of an area for aquaculture depends on various biophysical and socio-economic factors which include: the natural requirements of the species to be cultured, the production system of choice, availability of water in sufficient quantities and in good quality, topographical features, accessibility to markets, and connectivity to energy among others.
Based on several factors indicated in the Fisheries and fish farming Master Plan, districts are  
grouped into zones and assigned the most cost effective production system. However, the most suitable production system for any zone does not preclude others but is a ranking according to the available options.
Cage fish culture is the raising of fish in containers enclosed on all sides and bottom with mesh material that secures the fish inside while allowing relatively free water exchange with the surrounding environment.  In this system, fish is raised either in low cage water volumes of 1 ? 8m3 or High volume with low density fish where stocking densities can vary between 150 – 500 individuals . This technology has been found to be useful due to (i) fulfilling directly and indirectly  the universal fundamental goals of producing high quality fish, (ii)  being inexpensive and simple, therefore easily adaptable by small holder farmers with limited resources, (iii) being applicable in most existing water environments and does not require conversion of land into new bodies of  water, (iv) There is less likelihood of off flavour fish than in ponds, (v) It is more adaptable than conventional aquaculture methods in meeting production to market size, (vi) It is not very capital intensive, and  (vii) It is applicable in open waters with low capture fish yields.  It is therefore the most likely major option to commercialise aquaculture in Rwanda in view of the pressure on land and terrain since it has been demonstrated that tilapia can grow much faster in cages than ponds. For example, whereas it takes over 12 months to raise tilapia from 30 grams to 600 grams in ponds, it has been found to take only 6 months to attain the same weight in cages.
Given the biophysical features of Rwanda and the enterprise budgets generated in neighboring countries, the Low Volume High Density (LVHD) cage system is recommended as the most suitable production system. The following zones are found to have moderate to high potential for cage culture.

                                               Cages on Lake Burera and Kivu

Lake Kivu Districts

Lake Kivu offers a great opportunity for cage culture in Rwanda. The lake is located in a mountainous region between 1°34' and 2° 30' South latitude and between 28°50' and 29°23' East longitude. This area is characterized by volcanic activity. The lake covers a surface area of 2,370 km2 of which 42% is within Rwanda’s border. Its average depth is 240 m with the maximum of 490 m, found in the north of the basin. Its total volume is estimated at 550 km3. Lake Kivu is permanently stratified with an upper stratum (20-60 m), where there is some mixing by wind action. A thermocline is observed at 20–30 m. During the dry season (June-July), there is a partial movement of water in the first upper layer.The climate around Lake Kivu is continental humid, characterized by a short dry season in December to January followed by a long rainy season from February to May, a long dry season from June to September and a short rainy season from October to November. The average annual rainfall is 1300 mm. However the surface water temperatures has been to be constant all year round being between 24°C and 26°C. The pH of surface waters is 9.1 and the dissolved oxygen has been found to be between 5 to 9ppm.

                             Lake Kivu showing the Rwandan Part



Map of Lake Kivu; the entire shoreline with its bays have high potential for fishcageculture

                    Newly introduced cage structures made of HDPE and the 56ply cage net


  Lakes Burera and Ruhondo

Lake Burera situated on the southern slopes of Mt. Muhabura in Northern Rwanda at 1°23'4 °30' S/29°45'-29°49'E and 1862 m above sea level, is 12 km long and 8 km wide. It contains two small islands and is fed by 6 streams. The lake has a maximum depth of 173 m and an open water surface of approximately 3500 ha. It drains from its southwestern extremity to Lake Ruhondo (1°28 '-1°33 ' S/29°42 '-29°46 'E), 1764 m above sea level. The V shaped Lake Ruhondo  is 9 km long, 3 km wide and 65 m deep. The lake has an area of 2800 ha. In addition to the overflow from Lake Burera, it receives water from four other streams, of which Gasura is the most important. There is a 500 ha swamp at the northern end of the lake i.e. at the apex of the 'V'. It drains to the southwest via the Mukungwa River, a tributary of the Nyabarongo.According to the water parameters found in the two lakes , they can only support cage culture of cold tolerant species like the Blue Tilapia (Oreochromisaureaus) which has been reported to tolerate temperature as low as 9oC while the lethal temperature for Nile Tilapia (Oreochromisniloticus) is 10oC. Nile tilapia would also grow but at a much slower rate because of the temperatures that are in the lower 20s.


  Lakes Burera and Ruhondo that are deep enough to support cage culture
 Tank based Aquaculture production

Raising fish in tanks is commonly employed in recirculation systems also known as “Closed Systems”. 
In tank-based culture systems, fish is raised in tanks that are supplied with clean water.  The tanks can be made using various materials ranging from concrete, fibre glass, metals to high density poly-fibre supported by wooden or metallic frames. Fish rearing tanks can be square, rectangular, circular or oval. Raising fish in tanks can be by water flow-through or recirculation systems.  These systems are especially recommended where there is established infrastructure for supply of water for production and are appropriate for peri-urban and urban aquaculture production.  Due to adequate rainfall in Rwanda, rain harvesting supplemented by springs or municipal water in peri-urban and urban areas can support tank-based aquaculture production using water reuse.

 Ornamental fish rearing

Rwanda is endowed with various Haplochromine species and the newly identified “Rwanda rushya“ which display various colour shades in an impressively beautiful pattern can be explored for ornamental culture. Keeping of fish for pleasure will become increasingly important as more and more Rwandans join the middle class. It is therefore important that technologies to harness this suitable fish stocks are adopted and the private sector attracted to the industry. The following interventions are planned to start ornamental industry in Rwanda;

      -          Set a national fish aquarium not only for beauty but for education purposes as well.
Undertake research to produce an inventory of fish species suitable for ornamental industry.
Demonstrate ornamental fish culture.
Provide support services to ornamental fish trade.

                             Sport fishing – Lake Muhazi

Sport fishing if well organized can be a big source for national revenue as well as creation of jobs. In 2008, sport fishing created 63,000 jobs in Costa Ricaand earned the country US $599 million. In Rwanda, sporting fishing should be developed on Lake Muhazi. This lake is 40 km long and has a mean width close to 1 km, with a maximum width of 2 km. It occupies the floor of a system of valleys, with 13 narrow arms. Much of the lake shore is swampy and there are swamps at the heads of all the 13 arms. The lake is fed by the Mohagumbo River at the eastern end, and by 13 other small streams, and drains from the western end via the Nyabugogo River that flows to the Nyabarongo River. The lake which is 77 Km from Kigali city is unpolluted.  A number of resorts have sprung up on this lake; a fact that points to an already identified tourist sector on the lake. The growth in the tourism sector in Rwanda also presents a very good opportunity for development of recreational fishing.


 Lake Muhazi with its arms. The lake is suitable for sport fishing
 Input supply for commercial aquaculture

 It has been established that the critical factors of aquaculture are mainly: seed, feed, technology, capital and market. Whereas capital and markets cut across the agriculture sector, seed, feed and technology in aquaculture require specific considerations as they are applied to aquatic environments. 

Availability of good quality seed is a key to development of aquaculture industry.  Fish farming in Rwanda is constrained by lack of reliable sources of quality seed. The Kigembenational aquaculture station has been rehabilitated and equipped to produce atleast 5 million fingerlings every yeasr, but considering the high demand of seed with the fast upcoming cage culture investments this station will not be enough and more seed production sites need to be established.

As Rwanda continues to transform the Aquaculture sector from the subsistence to the commercial systems and considering that feed is a major input in aquaculture production, accounting for up to 60% of production costs, there is need to have good quality feeds produced inside the country as to date there is no industrial manufacture of fish feeds and farmers do not make on-farm made feeds. The industry depends on feed imported from Uganda. Establishment of a feed factory would set in a paradigm shift from low–input, low-output based on pond fertilization to feed based aquaculture.

Input supply other than feed and seed

Aquaculture requires several inputs ranging from chemical compounds to equipment such as cage making materials and equipments like the HDPE pipes, good quality cage nets, aerators, graders, water and air pumps, diffusers, various types of hapas,  feeders, and packing materials, among others.  As the aquaculture transformation process evolves, availability of the required inputs is becoming crucial and needs the private sector for its development.Fish Marketing, Processing and Product DevelopmentSound marketing and international trade strategies will be crucial to the orderly and progressive development of the Rwanda aquaculture industry. Fish marketing and processing with the associated Quality and Safety Assurance and Management systems for fish is  pivotal in the transformation of Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors in the country. As fish production increases, there is need to increase and develop a fish marketing system as well as build capacity for processing and developing fish products. Currently, market of fish is driven by high prices which can be as high as 3,500 RWF per kg of Tilapia. Although demand is likely to remain high due to increasing human population, large quantities of fish from the proposed production systems will necessitate processing to avoid post harvest losses. Consumers have increasingly recognized the health and nutritional benefits of eating fish. Fish is comparatively low in calories, fat, and harmful forms of cholesterol, and comparatively high biological value protein, vitamins, and Omega-3 fatty acids which are implicated in the prevention of heart disease and others.

In the short term, the following measures have been  put in place to streamline fish value addition and marketing in Rwanda to attract investment in fish filleting and production of products such as fish ball, fingers, soups and others;
The Fisheries products promotion centers that are located in Kigali, Rwamagana and Musanze that are equipped with ice making machines for the improvement of the cold chain system in the transportation of fish and fishery products
Value addition to the Isambaza from Lake Kivu and the progressive ban on the marketing of this product using basins and baskets.
Introducing the concept of open air fish eating places at social gatherings not only for marketing fish but for health reasons as well.
As aquaculture industry in Rwanda grows, the PPP should identify and develop new domestic and international markets, including specialty markets, import replacement and export development.
 Support export enhancement programs and international trade missions for aquaculture products.