Low fish consumption is frustrating the State’s campaign to hook up more farmers into Kenya’s fast-growing agriculture segment, government officials say.
Despite Sh5.7 billion State investment in development of aquaculture in the last three years, annual fish consumption levels in the country remains low at 3.7 kilogrammes per person.
“We want to raise per capita fish consumption to at least 10 kilogrammes per person to ensure farmers have a market for their fish,” Micheni Ntiba, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Fisheries Development told an agricultural sector development forum in Nairobi.
The ministry’s campaign to promote consumption of protein-rich fish comes in the wake of an International Food Policy Research Institute’s study which shows at least 35 per cent of children in Kenya face malnutrition.
At least 150,000 farmers in 160 constituencies in the country have taken up fish farming since the government launched the campaign in 2009, making it one of the fastest-growing segments of agriculture.
Farmers, especially in Central Province, have however cited lack of market for fish as their biggest hurdle.
Stringent quality standards have locked out most fish farmers from the lucrative European Union markets.
Government statistics indicate that fish ponds around the country produce 20,000 tonnes each year with an ex-vessel (unprocessed) value of Sh6 billion.
This makes it the second major source of fish after the overexploited Lake Victoria which produces 111,868 tonnes worth 11 billion.
The Indian Ocean (Kenya’s 880km coastal strip) which contributes over 8,000 tonnes annually and Lake Turkana (over 6,000 tonnes) are ranked as third and fourth sources of fish.
The recent investment has seen the segment creating direct employment of 1 million fish pond construction technicians, ministry statistics claim.
“This kind of performance makes up just one per cent of the country’s potential of 200,000 tonnes that can come out of the country’s fish ponds,” Prof Ntiba said.
The ministry is now banking on the new fish markets that are slowly opening up in African countries such as South Sudan, DRC, Rwanda and Zambia to boost aquaculture.
Fisheries resources is expected to contribute at least 60 per cent of the additional Sh80 billion that agricultural sector is targeting in the next eight years.
But unlike the strategy for revitalising agriculture which sought to improve productivity, commercialise agriculture and make farm products competitive, the new strategy focuses on co-ordinating and lumping together resources of 10 agriculture-related ministries to promote growth .