The Mbeo family is practising a different kind of fish farming on the shores of Lake Victoria. Whereas most fishermen row their boats deep into the lake in hope of bringing back big stocks, the Mbeos simply go into big cages and catch as much as they want.
Their firm, Lake View Fisheries, is Kenya’s cage fishing pioneer, winning several entrepreneurial and environmental conservation awards in the three years it has been up and running.
Like most new ventures, Lake View Fisheries started as and idea that would not give its bearer any rest until it was executed. One of the Mbeo siblings, Gilbert, always had a passion for fish farming and shared his ideas with his family. In 2013, the family took a collective risk and invested most of their savings into his passion.
Gilbert had over the years done his research and learnt a lot about pond farming and cage farming. He realised that in a small area on the lake one could keep a large number fish compared to a pond.
“When we decided to go with this style of farming we knew we had to reach out for expertise because such cages have not been seen in Kenya, says Gilbert.
And so they consulted experts from Africa’s biggest cage farms to understand best practices on cage management before setting up on Ramba Beach in Mfangano Island.
The farm is characterised by floating circular high-density polyethylene (HDPE) cages, a technology mostly applied in mariculture.
It has two circular HDPE cages with a capacity of 25 tonnes. Each is made of high density pipes surrounded by green nets with a 20 metre diameter and depth of six metres.
The cages use a series of up to four nets: the actual net that holds the fish, predator net, feed containment net measure to contain the feed so that it doesn’t spill out and finally the bag net that covers the cage to keep away predators such birds.
The company runs a tilapia hatchery, 31 ponds, two demonstration square cages and circular HDPE cages.
Before the fish are released into the cages in the lake, eggs are hatched in and incubation room using re-circulation aquaculture system.
The cages hold a brooding stock of 2,000 tilapia fish while the company currently produces over 100,000 sex reversed fingerlings in a month. Each fingerling costs between Sh5 to Sh10 depending on the size.
“We went through several months of developing our brood stock, which involves cycles of breeding and selecting the most favourable genetics and traits fit for cage farming,” says Gilbert’s sister, Michelle Mbeo, a Lake View Fisheries co-director.
Some of the daily activities include scuba diving to inspect different cage parts, feeding and monitoring fish health.
“We are building a team by up skilling local talent to ensure that this skill set is available in Kenya. Currently we have two employees being trained in Mombasa. Our target is to train 20 staff members,” says Gilbert.
The company has employed 31 permanent staff working in hatchery, the cage management, sales for fingerlings and outgrown fish.
The core revenue stream for the company is sale of high quality tilapia fingerlings and the outgrown fish.
“We stocked both circular cages with 100,000 mono sex tilapia fingerlings in April and expect to harvest in September when they mature at 400 grammes,” says Michelle.
The first harvest for the two square cages done in February was 10,000 tilapia worth Sh3 million.
They plan to increase the cages to 52 with a target to scale up production to 10,000 tonnes of fish in the next five years.
Table size fish is the second revenue stream for the company. Most of the sales are Sh300 per kilogramme (kg). Fish leaving the farm for the market after light processing goes for Sh600 per kg.
“We sell them locally, to hotels, restaurants in Mbita, Kisumu, Kakamega and Nairobi,” says Gilbert.
The cage fish farming method has been hailed as one that is environmentally sustainable and the company has a programme where it trains local farmers.
“We are working closely with 30 farmers training them on economic and sustainable fish farming. We provide them with quality fingerlings, expertise and feeds,” says Michelle.
“There’s a lot of wild fishing which has depleted the stock of fish. But through cage fishing, people will be able to get farm fish in sustainable way,” adds Gilbert.
The company spends Sh500, 000 on feed per month, both for the hatchery and cages. Approximately 250 and 400 of 20kg bags are used in hatchery and cages respectively.
Like any enterprise, Lake View Fisheries also has challenges. The lack of financial support and heavy taxation on feeds and HDPE cages are among its top challenges.
The county government of Homa Bay is set to partner with the investor to boost fish farming in the county. Last month Governor Cyprian Awiti visited the farm and promised Sh50 million to help replicate the project in other parts of the county.
The company has won awards recognising the positive environment and energy footprint in November 2014 and recently ranked 3rd in Small and Medium size Enterprise (SME) category during Green Innovation Awards organized by National Environment Trust Fund.