Enterprise

Magarini peasants growing their small fortunes from Artemia farming

artemia

Artemia cysts and biomass on display in a plastic container in 2012. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • The group has specialised in artemia farming, a rare but sustainable project that is slowly turning the fortunes of the peasant farmers in the North Coast.
  • The farmers are now experts in growing of artemia, also known as brine shrimp -- a small crustacean known to be a highly nutritious food for fish larvae.

A short distance off the main Malindi-Garissa road at Magarini in Kilifi County sits the extensive, well-tended salt pans of the Kadzuhoni Self-Help Group.

The group has specialised in artemia farming, a rare but sustainable project that is slowly turning the fortunes of the peasant farmers in the North Coast.

The farmers are now experts in growing of artemia, also known as brine shrimp -- a small crustacean known to be a highly nutritious food for fish larvae.

According to Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) officer Wilfred Mtawali, besides improving the quality of salt harvested in the farms, artemia is an additional source of income through production of artemia biomass and cysts.

The farmers manage huge lakes of sea water in ponds before turning them into salt.

Introduced in Kenya in the 1980s, artemia filters out the planktonic algae, which when in excessive amounts can make salt to be of lower quality.

“All salt farms have artemia as it eats the algae in the water, cleaning it. We are able to get high quality salt," Mr Mtawali says.

“The farmers were not aware of its alternative use but after research we have realised that we can use the salt farms in its production.”

READ: Scientists use salt pans to reduce fish food import bill

ALSO READ: Artemia, the best feed for fish larvae

Best feeds

Artemia cysts (eggs), he says, is the best feed for fish larvae as they are delicate.

When Mtawali visited Vietnam he learnt how he could bring millions to the small salt farmers in the pans.

He stayed for two months visiting farms learning how to grow the shrimp from the eggs to a full grown adult.

“In the year 2013, I went to Vietnam. They practice both artemia and salt farming extensively.”

He said farmers in the county have also embraced and done research on the shrimp.

“The farmers even started shifting from salt cultivation to artemia. Vietnam at the time had the best quality of cysts, “he said.

The Kenyan artemia is genetically similar to those from San Francisco Bay and Great Salt Lake, which are so far considered standard in aquaculture nutrition.

“We have taken a sample from most salt mining firms in Magarini. The sizes of the cysts vary naturally. The smaller the size the better. Kenyan cysts is the smallest hence the best but a lot needs to be done to improve the farms,” he said.

Mr Mtawali says processing artemia grown in Kenya will cut the costs that farmers with big hatcheries incur through importation of the fish feed.

“Fish farmers in Kenya have to import the eggs from foreign countries at a higher cost. It has been discovered that they can be grown in Kenya. We also need a machine for processing it that way farmers can buy at a lower price if we process it here,” said the officer.

Sh20,000 a kilo

Artemia, currently being imported to Kenya at Sh20,000 for a kilo, will be readily available from the local farmers.

“You can mix the artemia biomass with flour and get fish feed. At the same time, the eggs can be used for the fingerlings in the hatchery,” msaid Mr Mtawali

The group learnt on the farming technique from KMFRI in 2010 through a pilot project.

Mr Mtawali says the six farmers who have taken up artemia farming earn Sh700 from the sale of a kilogramme of raw, unprocessed cysts.

“When the eggs are produced we collect and store for every farmer. The little cysts they produce as their ponds are small is taken to KMFRI where they are cleaned, dried and sold to hatcheries, “he said.

He foresees substantial economic gains if the venture can be taken to a higher level.

Suleiman Wario, an artemia farmer, says the new venture has provided an alternative livelihood for the local community.

However, he says they lack processing machines despite only needing a week to produce.

“I used to work at the salt mines but now I have my own pond. If we had machines, we would make a lot, as a kilogramme elsewhere is almost Sh14,000 .I have sold more than 20 kilos,” he said.

KMFRI Artemia culture specialist Morine Mukami said the shrimp can also grow in the laboratories on a small scale.
“It is reared anywhere there is salty water and land. The most favourable conditions are in a salinity of over 80ppt to reduce predation,” said Ms Morine.

Small sizes

She says smaller-sized cysts are preferable.

“The small size is the best in making fish feeds. The hatch percentage is also good. We got the parent artemia from the US where it occurs in a natural environment," says the KMFRI specialist.

After the artemia is processed, it is sold to university students, salt farmers and hatchery managers.

"Having cooperatives for small scale farmers and getting them a processing machine will boost the practice," she said.

“The big salt farmers have very little interest in artemia. They are so much involved in salt production and artemia cysts collection seems to them as tedious and less feasible,” she said.