Tilapia farm relief after years of tilling dry land

Ms Margaret Muthoni says there is ready market. PHOTO | WAIKWA MAINA
Ms Margaret Muthoni says there is ready market. PHOTO | WAIKWA MAINA 

Margaret Muthoni, 60, from Mung’etho village in Ndaragwa Constituency toiled tilling the land for more than four decades but has nothing to show for it. 

Her village its a few kilometres from Ndaragwa town, a dry area where traditional maize and beans farming is a big gamble.

She can’t hide her pains as she recalls and explains the many years she prepared her three-acre farm, invested heavily in crops farming, only to end up with withered maize stalks that did not sustain her livestock for a week.

But she has found hope in raised fishpond, which she terms as her retirement plan.

Last year, she was among a group of women trained in fish farming which she decided to give a try early this year. So far, so good. 

After expressing interest, a local NGO that trained them volunteered to support her to construct the first raised fishpond, from where she gained additional skills.
We arrive at her home a few minutes past 8am. 

In the compound a jovial Ms Muthoni is playing with her grandchildren, teaching them how to trap and harvest the fish.

Ms Muthoni constructed the first raised fishpond in January this year, which she harvested in July earning Sh48,000.

By May, the grandma had witnessed some promising development in the first fishpond, motivating her to do a second one, which she harvested on the day we visited her home. 

Her plan is to construct 12 similar fishponds that will guarantee her a monthly income of about Sh50, 000.

She plans to construct a third one from the earnings she got from the sales in the second pond, and she is determined to reinvest in a new pond every time she harvests. Her vision is owning 12 ponds.  

It will cost her Sh20,000 to construct each, an amount that includes materials and labour.

To construct a raised fishpond lasting up to 15 years, materials include a strong liner, wire mesh, strong posts, and some timber. 

Each 200-fingerlings capacity pond occupies an area measuring three square metre.

She buys a single fingering at Sh15, putting the total capital investment at Sh23,000. The fingerings are ready for harvest in about seven months.
Ms Muthoni sells a piece of the table size fish at Sh250 each.

“I sell to my neighbours and local fishmongers. We just fix a harvest date and inform them in advance. They all flood here and the ponds are empty in less than an hour. There is a high demand for fish by the local community,” says the farmer.

She says the total cost of feeding on day one to harvest does not exceed Sh2,000.

The returns are better than any other type of farming, Ms Muthoni says, noting the small size of land occupied by each pond, the practice is not labour-intensive with minimal cost of production. Ms Muthoni has specialised in Tilapia species, which she says have better markets and are suitable for local climate. 

The first month after introduction in the pond, the 200 fingerlings are given 100 grammes of fish meal, two to three times in a a week.

Mr Edward Mathenge, an aquaculture expert, says overfeeding is dangerous and can result in water poisoning.

“The recommended feeding is five per cent of the body weight. We have trained the farmers on how to make their own feeds, which is reducing the cost of production to about Sh1, 000 to maturity,” said Mr Mathenge.

The other crucial point is to ensure that the water has enough algae but not much polluted to allow oxygen circulation.

The easiest way to tell if the water is over polluted is when it’s very thick and darkish in colour and the fish appears on top of the waters, facing upwards trying to breathe.

“At this point, a farmer must realise that the water is toxic and must half empty the pond and add fresh water. The recommended height of the pond is about one metre and a half, and the depth of the water should always be about one metre high,” said Mr Mathenge.

Ms Muthoni says the biggest challenge she has encountered is cases where the pace of growth is not same which affects harvesting.

But the expert says that is normal, and normally, there are some additional fingerlings from the buyers to cover for such incidents.

“That is very normal to all living things. Even human beings do not grow at the same rate. But the margin in fish growth is very minimal, maybe a difference of one fish,” said the expert.