Laban Mwanzo has in the last 17 years been on a wealth creation journey that has seen him become one of the prominent fish farmers in western Kenya. He has grown his entrprise into a venture that supplies the region with fingerlings and fish. When he is not on the farm, he is either offering trainings or lobbying to improve the welfare of other farmers in the association he chairs.
But were it not for his friend, he would most likely not have taken the first step in the journey.
“My friend Dr Harrison Charo (then a director at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri) paid me a visit and saw the huge potential in my farm which is located in a swampy area with lots of stream water, adequate space for expansion and encouraged me to try fish farming," he recalls.
Not one to think twice about getting his feet wet, he took the challenge and says "since then, I have never looked back.”
Today, he is the proprietor of Labedcash Marine Enterprises, a fish farming and a fingerlings production venture in Malava, Kakamega County. He has 200 ponds fully stocked, each carrying on average 500 fish. His fingerlings hatchery has a capacity to produce 1 million fingerlings within three months.
“I started with a hatchery during the Economic Stimulus Programme of 2009, a spending plan initiated by the Government of Kenya to boost economic growth and lead the Kenyan economy out of the 2007–2008 post-election crisis. I was one of those people who were privileged to be assisted by the government,” he adds.
With the guidance of officers from Kemfri and the Fisheries Department, Laban ventured into fish farming and mostly in fingerlings production because during that time, fish farmers in Kakamega used to source fingerlings from as far as Nyeri County.
Back then, demand was not high and so he would occassionally lack market. But rather than feel disheartened by the situation, he would then ‘grow’ them in his ponds leading him to having the many ponds he has now.
However, with fish farming not being widespread in western Kenya, he has had to limit his fingerlings production to keep costs in check.
“We normally produce fingerlings when there is a market or depending on the client's demand,” says the farmer who has employed 50 workers, including 20 women to sell the fish on a commission basis.
With fish farming being a sensitive venture, his company only sells the fingerlings to the farmers after a thorough training, noting that, "it is one thing to dig a pond and buy fingerlings but stocking and feeding is another ball game altogether."
“The training takes a while because we have to teach farmers how to dig the ponds, do stocking and feeding. It is quite involving because a farmer may want to rear fish only to realise that feeds are not readily available in the market and when in stock, they are very expensive,” explains Laban who is also the chairman of Kakamega Fish Farmers Cooperative Society which has a membership of 1,400 farmers.
To minimise feed costs, Laban says that he has had to opt for local feeds. His association is currently drafting proposals to the county government and other donors to fund the construction of their own fish feed processing plant because the ingredients like soybean, maize bran, and wheat bran are locally available. They hope this will help them overcome the challenge of high cost of feeds and quality.
“We are also encouraging farmers to grow crops like soybeans which is a key ingredient in fish feeds and in this way, they will also benefit from fish farming.”
Laban says there is huge potential in fish farming.
Demand for fish has been rising as awareness on the nutritional benefits of white meat especially fish grows.
"There's a lot of market for fish because people eat fish. One cannot go wrong with fish business,” he advises.