Confronting the 'perfect storm'
: a qualitative study of livelihood sustainability in Ugandan aquaculture

  • Tim Messeder

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Global food security is under increasing threat due to three key pressures: climate change, rapid population growth and increased resource consumption, a trio labelled the ‘perfect storm’ by Beddington (2009). As society is intrinsically dependent on the food producing ability of 500 million smallholders around the world, their capacity to increase yields is of primary importance. Their ability to increase production is under threat as the factors driving the ‘perfect storm’ increase the difficulty of raising yields.

    The importance of smallholders is reflected in the development of theoretical and policy models which place sustainable livelihoods at the centre of food production systems. One model which encapsulates this is the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) which has been deployed within national policy formulation and praxis in a number of developing country contexts. However, the emergence of the ‘perfect storm’ scenario requires adjusting sustainable livelihoods theories to accurately reflect the challenges that smallholders are contending with. This is because sustainable livelihood theories and global modelling of food production systems fail to recognise the increased vulnerability of livelihoods and the disconnect between the macro-level scenario of the ‘perfect storm’ and the micro-level as experienced by the practitioner.

    This thesis uses the aquaculture industry in Uganda as a case study to examine the lived reality of smallholders in the midst of this ‘perfect storm’ scenario. The aquaculture industry in Uganda is experiencing a surge in new and predominantly small-scale entrants, producing fish using pond or cage-based systems. The growth in this industry is due in part to chronic levels of unsustainable fishing practices throughout Uganda and the wider region which is driving fish price increases and creating a profitable market for fish produced through aquaculture.

    This study was primarily conducted using qualitative research tools (c.120 data points) collected at all levels of the aquaculture industry in Western and Central Uganda over a period of eight months.

    This thesis demonstrates that a heavy focus on the provision of the inputs of feed and seed is side-lining the ‘softer’ skills, abilities, and inputs that profoundly influence the success or failure of aquaculture. The neglect of factors such as knowledge transfer and market access is severely compromising the ability of inexperienced aquaculture practitioners to be successful in this industry and is responsible for the industry failing to meet ambitious national production targets.

    It demonstrates how smallholder Ugandan aquaculture practitioners are struggling to adapt to the pressures of the ‘perfect storm’ and are unlikely to meet future yield demands. The pressures of the ‘perfect storm’ require a reconfiguration of the SLA theoretical model in order to highlight the critical importance of providing an appropriate enabling environment to support smallholder producers in Uganda and more broadly across the global food production system.

    Discourses around food sustainability and security must give due consideration to the need to implement strategies that do not just provide tangible inputs to producers, but which also ensure that there is an effective enabling environment in place so that producers can adopt the necessary skills and are able to access markets. Policymaking needs to practically translate these challenges into viable solutions that capture the resilience and assets of the world’s 500 million smallholders to enable them to survive, adapt and thrive as the pressures of the ‘perfect storm’ play out.
    Date of AwardJul 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorDavid Bek (Supervisor), Nigel Berkeley (Supervisor), Amanda Berlan (Supervisor) & Martin Wilkes (Supervisor)

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