Navigating Environmental Hurdles: SkyFox Steps Up To the Plate

When West African entrepreneur Dr. Oliver Ujah set out to kill two birds with one stone—provide both fish and irrigation—he didn’t realize all the environmental hurdles he would have to navigate. Now he knows, and, instead of hindering his ambitious plans, he says it has provided a solid foundation for success, and a project looked on by USAID and others as an innovative gem.

But it wasn’t easy. Ujah had to go back to the drawing board. There were some delays, though no diminishing of his dream. “We seem to have utterly underestimated environmental requirements for the projects, said Ujah. “But we realize these are very important in a go forward decision to proceed.”

Ujah’s business is called SkyFox, Ltd., and it is fostering a for-profit social innovation by both raising and marketing fish and providing irrigation for crops. SkyFox is fostering a for-profit social innovation in terms of both the raising and marketing of fish and providing irrigation for crops. Based in Ghana, the program also covers, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Burkina Faso. The company has plans to expand to  Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire by next year.

SkyFox is fostering a for-profit social innovation in terms of both the raising and marketing of fish and providing irrigation for crops.

SkyFox’s innovation is crucial in providing an adequate fish supply as well as water to irrigate crops. The two initiatives are vitally linked. The region needs yearly a half million tons more of fish.vAt the same time, the hill area between the savannas and the desert are starved for adequate water. This need can be filled by water from the various ponds flowing down to the crops. The area between the savannas and the desert is both starved for adequate water, and the region needs about 500,000 tons more fish each year.  Fish is a staple of local diets.

The innovation involves creating hilltop, geo-textile surface aquaculture ponds which are capable of raising 3.5-4.5 tons of catfish/tilapia twice a year. SkyFox provides the infrastructure, and training, as well as the fish fingerlings, working with cooperatives. During the dry season, said Ujah, the land is not productive and the farmers have little to do. “Previously, they didn’t have the capacity to tap into the water for agriculture. They do now.”

However, the cost of assessing the environmental impact of dozens of ponds wasn’t factored into the early planning. That fact alone would have drawn down funds provided by four governments under a program called Securing Water for Food (SWFF). It was time to call in additional resources. Hence, a team from USAID’s Global Development Lab was brought to Ghana to assess the situation and make recommendations.

There were many.

The main thought was that the program had to be scaled down due to the cost of gaining environmental approval for a large number of ponds. “We received an environmental checklist which we used to document a baseline for all the sites and which we send to the development lab for approval,” said Ujah. At the same time, Ujah said the program began a program to engage the community on how SkyFox designs and manages the various sites. “These directions have all been very useful for us, and we plan to continue this cooperation moving forward,” said Ujah, an agricultural economist.

Another recommendation from USAID’s development lab was that SkyFox considers franchising the project in other countries to manage the program effectively. “This is something we are considering in the long run,” said Ujah. “We want to be able to set others up in an environmentally safe way utilizing what we have learned.

“If they accepted the way we work, we could provide franchises,” he added.


USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $35 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.