Enterprise

Expensive fish meal led me to silkworm farming

bdGitijiwe1

Timothy Mutugi at his farm in Gitijiwe village South Imenti Meru County. NMG PHOTO

Summary

  • When Timothy Mutugi embarked on fish farming last year, he thought he would immediately reap good returns from the venture.
  • He invested Sh50,000 in constructing the pond and bought 500 fingerlings at a cost of Sh7,500.
  • The venture would however run into major challenges. The cost of fish feed weighed him down as a 20kg bag of fish feed was retailing at Sh4000.

When Timothy Mutugi embarked on fish farming last year, he thought he would immediately reap good returns from the venture. He invested Sh50,000 in constructing the pond and bought 500 fingerlings at a cost of Sh7,500.

The venture would however run into major challenges. The cost of fish feed weighed him down as a 20kg bag of fish feed was retailing at Sh4000.

The headwinds he faced would however turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Mr Mutugi embarked on research to come up with cheaper alternatives for protein.

“It came to my realisation that for a long time, there has existed a shortage of fish meal, pushing the prices up. So I had to source for alternatives,” Mr Mutugi confesses.

His research revealed to him that insect meals are some of the best cheaper alternatives to partially or fully replace fish meal.

“Research proved that insects are a good source of protein,” he explains.

Mr Mutugi, an accountant and finance specialist, currently pursuing his PhD in entrepreneurship, embarked on studying the myriad uses of silkworm byproducts.

“One of the byproducts of silkworm farming is silkworm pupa which I realised was quite suitable to replace fish meal because of its high nutritional value,” he explains.

With as little as Sh2,000 in 2015, Mutugi purchased some silkworm eggs from the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), and renovated one of his farmhouse structures to accommodate the venture.

He also contracted to deliver castor and mulberry leaves where he could purchase the leaves at Sh30 per kg.

“Silkworm farming not only required small portions of land, but it was also a safer investment and assured a stable income monthly,” he explains.

Mr Mutugi who rears two types of silkworms — Mulberry silkworms and Eri silkworms— has close to 200,000 silkworms. Mulberry silkworms feed purely on mulberry leaves while Eri silkworms feed on castor leaves.

“Silkworm pupae are rich in oil content. Pupae oil is used in the cosmetic industry with the remaining pupae cake being a rich source of protein suitable for poultry and fish,” he says.

Mr Mutugi says a kilo of silk goes for up to Sh1,500.

In 2015 the entrepreneur went to Nigeria as a beneficiary of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) under the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP), a multi-year programme of training, funding, and mentoring, that sought to identify and help grow some 10,000 start-ups and young businesses from across Africa. The plan is aimed at empower ing the next generation of African entrepreneurs.

“White collar jobs are not the ultimate solutions to youth unemployment. Sericulture provides gainful employment, economic development and improvement in the quality of life to the people in the rural areas, thus playing an important role in poverty reduction,” he says.

Apart from rearing silkworm, and keeping fish, he also grows arrowroots and has a tree nursery bed consisting of over 5,000 seedlings. He sells a kilo of arrowroots at between Sh80 and Sh100 locally.

Water from the fish pond, which he says is rich in nutrients, is used in irrigating both his arrowroots and tree nursery bed to improve the soil quality and crop productivity saving him an average of Sh5,000 a month. This helps in reducing the cost of chemical fertiliser at his farm.

“The mulberry trees provide fruits that are rich in minerals and vitamins. Herbal medicines are also obtained from the roots and barks. Timber from mulberry trees is resistant to termites and is used in making sports items,” he says.

Mulberry trees are also planted for soil protection as they curb erosion. The foliage for mulberry is used as fodder for cattle.