A mother of three in Chuka town, Tharaka-Nithi County is raking in hundreds of thousands of shillings after specialising in sale of male tilapia fingerlings. Known to grow bigger in size and mature faster, rearing of mono-sex fish is quickly taking root in the region with the promise of better returns.
Margaret Wanjiku Kinyua has has set up a breeding site at her farm in Kibumbu within the Chuka municipality, taking advantage of the presence of numerous rivers in the region to supply the fingerlings that are in high demand. Already, a fish processing factory with a capacity to process more than 20,000 kilogrammes per day has been set up in Tunyai, Tharaka South sub-county.
The Mt Kenya Fish Company is targeting tilapia, catfish and trout farmers in Tharaka-Nithi, Embu, Meru and Isiolo counties, offering them a ready market.
Ms Kinyua says she started rearing mono-sex nilotic tilapia three years ago after she attended an excursion organised by the Tharaka Nithi fisheries department at the National Aquaculture Research Development and Training Centre in Sagana, Kirinyaga County.
The switch was an instant hit, earning her Sh280,000 in her first harvest. To ensure her fingerlings are single-sex, Ms Kinyua first breeds the male and female fish together.
“After 21 days, you remove the female, which usually have eggs in the mouth. You remove the eggs by turning the fish upside down and pour the eggs into a container. You put them in a hatchery and feed with special hormones to make them male only,” she explained.
Ms Kinyua said male fish are in high demand because they mature fast and become bigger thus have more kilos.
“The advantage is that the male fish will not breed and that will ensure they grow fast. Female tilapia will keep breeding and will not grow to be big enough for sale. If you put in 2,000 fingerlings, even if you lose some, you will get almost the entire number,” she says.
The male fish also ensures that she harvests at the same time with ease as all are of similar age and size and there are no young fish in the pond.
Ms Kinyua currently has three large ponds and harvests her fish after eight months.She sells a single fish at an average of Sh350, which earns her at least Sh200,000 in eight months. The fingerlings are sold at Sh15 and are in constant demand with customers continually visiting her farm.
Apart from fish farming, Ms Kinyua also practices tea, poultry and dairy farming but says her quarter-acre piece of land where she has set up the fish ponds earns her more than the five acres under tea. Income for the fish also feeds her large family. However, Ms Kinyua laments at the high cost of feeds and is planning to start making her own using sunflower and pelletiser.
Mt Kenya Fish Company manager Joseph Gichuru said they will extend credit to farmers to buy fingerlings, feeds and for general maintenance to be repaid after harvesting.
“We will be requiring at least 20 tonnes of fish per day. You will already have a market and no fish can go to waste. We will also give you credit facilities to help you. The challenge is on you to supply us with the fish,” Mr Gichuru told farmers.
Chuka-IgambaNg’ombe constituency has been identified by the fisheries department as among 10 constituencies countrywide to receive Sh5 million each to boost a fish farming and eating culture.
Area MP Muthomi Njuki says the money will be used to build fish collection centres and installing deep freezers. Mr Njuki said fish farming would help boost nutrition and the animal feed market.
“Fish is currently cheaper than goat meat and has higher nutritive value. Many people say fish eating is just for people in Nyanza. Fish contains essential nutrients that help the brain,” he said.
Tharaka-Nithi fisheries director Stephen Gichunge says the county was already leading in fish production and the numbers would only rise since it has many permanent rivers that could be used for the venture.