With the launch of the Economic Stimulus Program (EPS) two years ago to boost food security and spur long-term development in rural areas, fish farming has become a major beneficiary as demand for fingerlings – young fish - soars
An increased number of Kenyans venturing into fish farming has led to some prospective farmers moving across the border to the Great Lakes regions looking for fingerlings.
Launched in 2009/10 financial year the ESP programme aimed at urgently jumpstarting the Kenyan economy towards long-term growth and development particularly in the wake of the 2007/08 post-election violence and the global economic meltdown. The government allocated a total budget for the ESP of US$275mn (Ksh 22bn).
Among its targets were investment in long-term solutions to the challenges of food security and expanding economic opportunities in rural areas for employment creation. Under the programme, the government was to spend US$14mn (Ksh 1.12bn) to construct fish ponds in over 140 constituencies.
Local organisations raising young fish are making huge profits as demand outstrips supply as the number of fish ponds rise across the country.
“We cannot meet the demand for fingerlings in this region. Individuals and institutions have been flocking our ponds seeking fingerlings. Acceptance of fish has also raised demand”, observed Edwin Ndereba, the Chairman Thuita Forest Network, a non-governmental organisation in Nithi County.
While initially formed for forest conservation efforts such as tree planting, the Network has emerged as the leader in fish farming in Eastern Kenya region.
Currently, the network has ten fish ponds most of them stocked with fish- mainly tilapia and catfish-for sale as well as a breeding stock for fingerlings. The Network is among the 62 authenticated organisations by the Fisheries Department nationally to supply fingerlings to the fledging aquaculture businesses.
Others in the country include Chwele Fish Farm and Yala Fish Farm in Western Kenya, Isiolo Fish Farm in Northern Kenya, Mwea Fish Farm in Central, Thongoni Aquaculture Farm in Machakos and Bamburi Nature Trail, Mombasa among others.
“It will take a while before market for fingerling slows down. Even among women, interest in fish farming has been rising with its low labour demands and little land requirements”, noted Gladys Murugi, the treasurer of the 97 member Network that has 75 women and 22 men.
With the declining land size as population rises, land intensive enterprises such as fish farming and greenhouse tomato and cabbage farming in the country have become a darling of smallholder producers.
A fish pond measuring 450 sq m can sustain a family’s economic fortunes.
Recently the group raked US$375 (Ksh 70,000) from the sale of fish and used the proceeds to set up a fish hotel at the neighbouring Kibugua market in Magumoni division of Meru South District.
“We have been able to supply the hotel with fish from our ponds but demand for fish continues to rise among the education, young and those well traveled. Soon we may have to source fish elsewhere as our hotel cannot support this appetite”, said Japhet Kabucha, the secretary to the group, that is constituted by several self-help groups.
So far, the Network benefits 5,000 persons directly, with another 1,000 persons indirectly mainly through the fish farming activities.
Formed in 2004, the network moved to fish farming two years ago after a US$437,500 (Ksh 3mn) funding by the Nanyuki based non-governmental organisation COMPACT.
With this funding, the group was able to construct fish pond, stock the fish and get the necessary permits from government bodies and local authorities to operate fish ponds. But their major break came after the government launched the Economic Stimulus Programme.
Through the programme, the government funds individuals or organisations that are interested in fish farming.
“With the already existing fish ponds, the Fisheries Department felt we were ahead in the pack. With the ESP, we have constructed a demonstration fish pond where interested persons and schools can learn fish management and marketing”, said Ndereva, a retired Kenya Navy officer.
But even with increased appetite in fish dishes, it is the fingerlings that hold the future of the Network especially for the near future. While the stipulated price per fingerling is Ksh 7, the price sometimes goes beyond Ksh 10 per piece due to rising demand. Two neighbouring schools-Njuri secondary and Kericho primary- have already set up fish ponds with the trend moving to the neighbouring regions.
“These institutions have been seeking information from us on how they can obtain fingerlings. Hundreds of individuals have registered with the relevant fisheries department seeking fingerlings from us”, asserts Ms Murugi.
Like other members of the Network, Murugi believes that once they will be able to obtain necessary funding for the construction of a fish hatchery, their business returns will triple.
Already, special ponds for hatching have been constructed and stocking of male and female fish done at a ratio of 3:1 respectively. However, aquaculture has its challenges.
“Poor breeding stock and feeds are the biggest drawbacks to this sub-sector. Farmers need to buy fingerlings from registered organisations lest they lose their investment through poor stock”, observed Kabucha.
Equally, fish pellets in the mark sometimes fail to supply the required nutrients due to poor formulation resulting in reduced growth rate of the fingerlings. The fish take longer to attain table size of about 300-500 grams.
Within the network ponds, the fish are fed on locally formulated ration bran, chicken grower’s mash and fish meal. Feeding costs average US$45 (Ksh 3,600) although other overheads are few.
Prospective fish farmers also need to ascertain that the feed do not have aflatoxins as this can kill the fish. The Network painfully learnt this lesson after fish in one pond were wiped away after taking feeds sourced from a neighbouring country. Water comes from the neighbouring Magumoni stream.
The network also works closely with the Forest Department, the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Ministry of Water, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development and a number of non-governmental organisations.
by Mwangi Mumero