Savvy fish farmers zero in on fingerlings to make a fortune

Seven years ago, former President Kibaki’s government, through the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP), committed about Sh2 billion to jump-start fish farming in the country.

The aim was to achieve an annual growth of 20,000 tonnes, an ambitious target since production then stood a 1,000 tonnes.

This target has not been achieved. The current annual production is about 10,000 tonnes while revenues stand at Sh5 billion, a fifth of the government’s 2017 target.

However, there are several success stories across the country that exemplify the potential in this sector which, if given more State attention, can uplift the livelihoods of thousands of Kenyans.

While the main commercial activity in this sector is rearing fish to maturity, a section of farmers have increasingly (and successfully) branched out to a different subsector, the sale of fingerlings. Tiberius Buteyo, a Bungoma resident, is one such entrepreneur.

The farmer-cum-environmentalist ventured into the fish farming industry in 2004 with just six ponds.

Now, his farm consists of 60 fish ponds 40 are dedicated to the rearing of fingerlings for sale while 20 are for breeding mature fish.

“I used about Sh100,000 to construct the ponds and feed the nearly 1,000 fingerlings of Tilapia and Catfish,” Mr Buteyo, the director of Buteyo Miti Park, told Enterprise. “At the time, it was all trial and error. There was not much educational and technical assistance from the relevant local authorities.”

He also has to contend with fish poisoning, theft and negative cultural beliefs all of which he eventually surmounted but not after incurring heavy losses every so often.

Mr Buteyo harvests between 10,000 and 30,000 fingerlings every two weeks, with the biggest catch realised during wet seasons when the fish population increases at a faster rate.

Each fingerling is sold at up to Sh5 depending on age and size. This amounts to gross sales of between Sh50,000 and Sh150,000 every fortnight, exemplifying how lucrative the venture is. “There has been a good market for breeders locally. Farmers are increasingly investing in fish farming as it is less expensive than traditional cash crop farming,” he told the Business Daily.

“I get orders from middlemen, who resell them to potential farmers, and the fisheries ministry for distribution.”

His 20 production ponds have about 6,000 fish which he sells for at least Sh150 each on the wholesale market. When harvesting mature fish, Mr Buteyo culls fingerlings and places them in their appropriate ponds, ensuring that his farm is self-sufficient.

Kiarie Kahareri, the Bungoma County fisheries officer, told Enterprise that the county had a total of 2,650 ponds run by 2,200 farmers by the end of last year.

“Fish farming is relatively easy compared to any other forms of farming. You do not have to be near a river it is possible to do it at residential homes using a borehole or rain water,” he said.

Successful case study

Farmers in the county are now receiving training on pond management, giving them a chance to interact and exchange ideas with peers from various regions.

Another successful case study in fish breeding is Ms Lucy Ndung’u, a resident of Kiambu who makes Sh250,000 in net profit every month from just five ponds.

Ms Ndung’u, a member of the Githunguri Fish Breeders Association, rears both tilapia and trout species but prefers the latter since they mature faster.

On average, she sells 3,000 fingerlings every month but demand is double that amount. A trout fingerling retails at S3 while tilapia goes for Sh12.

“I have been unable to satisfy market demand since my supply orders are only halfway met. I am forced to keep many of my clients on the waiting list,” Ms Ndung’u told Enterprise.

“I urge more breeders to seek income refuge in this sector.” Ms Ndung’u’s fellow association member Agnes Gathecha, also a resident of Kiambu, says she has in the past two years made a profit of S.6 million from her 12 ponds selling both mature fish and fingerlings.

She, however, says the country needs a well-structured market and reduction in red tape experienced by aspiring breeders seeking certification.

Aquaculture provides up to 24 per cent of the country’s total fish production, with the remaining percentage coming from lakes and oceans.

In 2012, Kenya’s fish industry had an average producer value of Sh1.2 billion supporting the livelihood of about 500 000 people. This has since grown to Sh5 billion income with the number of people depending on the sector growing by 700,000.