After overcoming initial misgivings about turning their portions of land into fish ponds, aquaculture is now a major source of income for thousands of Kenyans.
While some have stuck to actual fish farming, some entrepreneurs have ventured into other related activities albeit on the sidelines of aquaculture to make money from services such as feed and fingerling production, equipment supply as well as consultancy to meet the growing demand as the sub-sector grows.
Statistics from the Directorate of Aquaculture in the Ministry of Fisheries Development indicate impressive growth in terms of tonnage of farmed fish and acreage, from contributing a paltry two per cent of the national fish production to about 10 per cent in a span of 10 years.
According to the directorate’s December 2012 report, there were 4,742 farmers with 8,026 fish ponds that occupied 722 hectares with an output of 4,220 metric tonnes of fish. But over the years the area under fish farming increased to 14,076 hectares, with a rise in production to 19,337 metric tonnes.
During this period, the Ministry of Fisheries Development was allocated Sh5.686 billion to implement fish farming under the Economic Stimulus Programme in 160 constituencies.
As a result, farmers today rake in millions of shillings from the new-found business enterprise sustaining livelihoods of thousands of people.
Apart from being a major source of protein, fish farming is now a business of choice for many after an initial lacklustre performance that discouraged many people from venturing into the trade.
George Ambuli, 42, from Emuhaya in Vihiga County, who trained as a welder and a mechanic, and has taken up fish farming, is living testimony on the strides aquaculture has made within a decade.
Mr Ambuli is one of the beneficiaries of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and SmartFish’s partnership with the government that trains emerging commercial fish farmers. The programme is funded by the European Union and implemented by FAO.
“Part of the overall goal of the programme is to ensure that fisheries and aquaculture are integrated within overall food security strategies with aquaculture contributing to improved fish supplies in the East African region,” explains Davide Signa, SmartFish expert on food security.
Mr Ambuli says: “The whole thing started as a hobby and I did not at any one time imagine that it would turn out to be a major business enterprise. In my area fish farming has benefitted more than 1,000 farmers.”
Fisheries assistant director Betty Nyandat said the gains in fish farming is enormous and could earn the country billions of shillings annually if it is fully tapped.
“The country’s potential to produce fish amounts to 1.4 million hectares of farming area, with the capacity to produce 14 million tonnes worth well over Sh50 billion annually,” she said.
The project sparked an interest in fish farming and Ambuli together with other farmers formed Bidii Farmers’ Self–help Group.
“We started in a very crude way with a small pond but got a boost in 2004 through assistance from our local Constituency Development Fund that donated catfish fingerlings. After about four months we harvested some 180 pieces,” he said.
The group has been contracted to build fish ponds and to train several farmers in western Kenya.
“Currently, we have a tender to supply 88 bags of feed to the government which is being distributed to farmers for free under the stimulus programme. We have ordered for a state-of-the art feed processing machine from China after getting a grant from a micro-enterprise organisation,” said Ambuli.