More farmers in the Rift Valley are turning to commercial fish farming driven away by the high cost of inputs and unpredictable market conditions for crops.
The Fisheries ministry says about 500 farmers have taken to aquaculture, attracted by the ready market and good prices.
The sub-sector, however, accounts for less than one per cent of the national fish production with a total of 1,012 metric tonnes produced last year.
The farmers are gaining from two factors in the new venture: changing diet of residents and the creation of a fisheries and marine department at Moi University.
Rift Valley has been known as the country’s ‘grain basket.’
Residents are turning to fish consumption for its high protein content, a shift that has motivated more farmers to embrace aquaculture.
They have the university to thank for sensitisation on modern farming techniques, which is expected to result in improved profits.
The head of the department at the university, Dr Boaz Kaunda, says Rift Valley, and in particular, the North Rift, has high untapped potential for fish farming to enable the residents increase incomes.
Dr Kaunda regrets that the government has been concentrating on fishing activities on fresh waters and marine at the expense of commercial farming.
Dr Kaunda says fish from fresh water contributes 99 per cent of total fish production, earning the country over Sh9 billion last year.
Unfortunately, Kenyan fishermen have been unable to tap the potential in marine fishing due to lack of appropriate gear.
Marine fish is estimated to have a potential of over 150,000 metric tonnes per year.
Among farmers who have adapted fish farming in Rift Valley is Mr Philip Maritim from Uasin Gishu district.
Mr Maritim has constructed three ponds in his one acre plot in Kapsaret and keeps ornamental fish apart from Nile perch, tilapia and African cat fish.
He generates an average Sh5,000 weekly, a venture he says is more profitable than crop farming or keeping dairy cows.
He says his success has attracted more farmers, who also visit Moi University for updates and training in modern trends.
Dr Kaunda says fish products from the country are exported to countries in the larger European Union.
During the year under review, the don says, a total of 36,368 metric tonnes of fish and fishery products valued at Sh5 billion were exported to various destinations.
Tuna loins export was the bulk at 22,117 metric tonnes valued at Sh1.1 billion. They were mainly exported to Spain and Italy.
A total of 11,846 metric tonnes of Nile perch fillets valued at Sh3.4 billion were last year shipped out to various markets.
National fish and fishery products exports have increased following the lifting of ban on the exportation of fish to the EU countries.
According to Dr Kaunda, aquaculture has proved to be a source of self-employment income generation apart from contributing towards the government’s overall goal of poverty eradication.
He has asked policy-makers to allocate more resources to the sector to give it more prominence by improving information sharing, training, and market research.