Farmers in Meru County are using greenhouses for rearing fish in a move intended to beat the cold weather with the delicacy growing faster in this environment as compared to outside ponds.
Moses Muriuki, a farmer at Kethera, South Imenti, said that after keeping fish in open ponds for more than 10 years he discovered that they take too long to mature, and resorted to housing them in greenhouse ponds.
“I started with 5,000 fish nearly a year ago. The fish in ponds outside this greenhouse are four months older than those in here yet they are the same size.
“The ones in the greenhouse, mature faster since it is warmer,” he said, adding that many farmers were turning to greenhouses to hasten the maturity of their fish.
However, the farmers complained of lack of market
“At the moment we are selling fish at Sh300 a kilo and my estimate is that I will earn more than Sh2.5 million from the harvest. But these are only wishes because the fish has matured yet there is no market,” said Mr Muriuki.
Another farmer, Johnson Mbaya, said he has 2,000 fish in three ponds that he expects would earn him over Sh500,000 but he was still looking for a buyer.
The farmers are banking on the revival of a processing plant, built at Kanyakine in 2010 at a cost Sh58 million, which was grounded just a few months after the launch.
The facility was one of the five factories in the country set up as part of the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) in 2009.
However, fish farming failed to take off after farmers abandoned it due to lack of market for their catch.
The factory, which has coolers and a fish feed processor, was also envisaged to producing sausages, samosas, fish fingers and smokies but these products are not being processed due to lack of some equipment, said Benson Murithi, the manager.
He said they need a meat mincer, a mixer and sausage filler which cost about Sh1.6 million.
“We cannot buy all the fish from farmers because we have not secured enough orders.
“The factory has a processing capacity of 12 tonnes per week but now we are doing about 500 kilos,” he said.
“The main problem for us is securing market for fish because the more orders we get the more we will buy from farmers. We need more people going out there to market our products but that capacity is lacking.”
The manager said that at full capacity the factory could earn farmers over Sh54 million per month. However, he said, the potential can only be reached with a ready market and offering extension services to farmers.
On the brighter side, lack of market has led to some farmers embracing value addition.
One of the farmers has opened a micro-processing factory with capacity to process up to 100 kilos of fish per day.
The facility also has a restaurant where sausages, samosas, kebabs, burgers and fish balls are served.
Joseph Mutwiri, the proprietor, said he came up with the idea after realising his catch was going to waste. “We have a small capacity to process between 50 and 100 kilos of fish, producing over 1,000 sausages per a day. We hope to expand in future according to demand because we will also supply the products to supermarkets and outside Meru County,” Mr Mutwiri said during an interview at the factory based at Makutano.
Besides selling the products through his retail outlet, Mr Mutwiri said vendors can buy whole fish and fillet for resell.
“We have registered at least 40 farmers who will supply the plant mainly with tilapia and catfish. However, we are facing a challenge because most of the fish weighs below 300 grams yet we need 400 grams for tilapia and one kilo for catfish,” he said.