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Gardening

Fish Farms in City Backyards

Fish farming at Wangige in Kiambu County
Fish farming at Wangige in Kiambu County. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG 

The fish fillet that you enjoy every so often in Nairobi could most probably be a catfish from one of our farms,” says Nick Chege, a 29-year-old who has embraced city farming.

The actuarial science graduate started Blue Aqua Fish Farm two years ago, a company that rears fish and also trains new farmers.

“We realised that farmers, especially in Nairobi and its environs, were interested in fish farming but lacked the know-how. The demand for fish was also rising since the traditional sources of fish were lakes that were far,” he says.

Nick partnered with Peter Kimacia, 27, who now has nine fish ponds with over 3,000 fish.

“It wasn’t hard for me to buy into fish farming. I used to fish in a river that was near our home, though it dried up,” says Peter who studied mechanical engineering.

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They rear catfish and tilapia in Wangige, which they say are easy to farm in a basic fish pond, even in a backyard.

“Catfish is ideal for filleting as it does not have many bones. You can also have many of them in a small space. They are bigger and can grow to around one kilogramme when mature at about six to eight months,” explains Chege. On the other hand, tilapia weighs between 300 grammes to 400 grammes (a plate size), when mature after six to eight months.

Teach new farmers

Besides rearing fish, they also help city farmers set up ponds mostly on idle land, initially bought for speculation.

“Most of our clients own land in Konza, Emali and Machakos that they are not actively using. Interestingly, the hotter the area, the faster the fish grows. For instance, in Konza or Machakos they can mature in about six months while they could take about eight months in Nairobi,” says Chege.

Of late, he says, he has seen an increase in clients from Wangige and its environs.

“We train them on fish farming, help set up ponds, provide fingerlings from our hatcheries in Thika and Kiambu, and also grade the fish,” explains Peter.

Grading ensures that the fish are fed according to their weight and that the bigger fish do not eat the smaller fish.

“We visit the farmer and harvest a few fish, which we put into a bucket of water and it is weighed. This assists the farmer to know the correct size of pellets to feed the fish. Catfish grows at different rates and they are cannibals.

Grading ensures the bigger fish are separated from the smaller fish to avoid them preying on them,” he explains.

Nick says when a farmer does not do grading, he might have stocked 1,000 fish only to harvest 100 humongous fish.

The source of water is very important. A farmer cannot use Nairobi city water as it contains too much chlorine, which is not good for the fish. Use water from boreholes or rain water.

To start a fish farm, one requires around Sh150,000 to Sh200,000 per pond, for an area of about 200 metres squared. However, as city fish farming picks up, most Kenyans are sceptical about growing foods in estates due to the uncertainty of its legality. Those with greenhouses, pigsties or rabbit hutches hide.

However, Makodingo Washington, a former chief officer of agriculture in Nairobi, says that it was illegal to do any farming related activities a few years ago, but not anymore.

“It is now legal and there is a new 2015 law {Urban Agriculture Promotion and Regulation Act} that allows people to farm in Nairobi,” says Dr Makodingo.

Prices of catfish

But can one rear domestic animals in Karen? “Absolutely! You can keep goats in Karen and even in Kibera. In addition, the county is now keen on city gardening and it is encouraging multistorey gardens and fish farming,” he says.

He adds the county is actively supporting fish farming by offering free tanks to women and youth.

“The tanks are about one and a half meters in diameter, which have a capacity of about 300 fish. We also provide them with fingerlings and fish feed,” he says.

For those with extra space, fish farming is not complicated. The fish is feed once or twice a day.

“Catfish, for instance are nocturnal and the best time to feed them is early morning or late evening,” explains Peter.

A pond is about a metre deep after which a dam liner is put to hold the water. The liner should have plastic outlets to empty the water.

Put fresh water every two to four days because too much algae can poison the fish. Use the dirty water, which has algae and fish poop as organic manure.

“We no longer have to buy fertiliser for our crops as this water is rich enough,” says Peter.

Nick and Peter sell their fish to restaurants and fish mongers in Uthiru, Kangemi and Kiambu.

“We also announce in churches during harvesting period and the locals come and buy. I remember my first harvest was all bought by the locals,” says Peter who also sells ornamental fish, like goldfish.

Catfish goes for Sh350 to Sh400 per kilo while tilapia retails at about Sh450 per kilo.

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