KAKAMEGA: “Thou shall not overstock your fish pond” is a popular aquaculture command that if broken leads to poor quality produce, or so the decree goes.
But defiant fish farmers are proving that this rule is not cast in stone and may be broken to boost proceeds from fish farming.
Some fish farmers from western Kenya have opted to capitalise on every stage of fish growth by adding value with base targets aimed at profits and quality produce.
A farmer gets double or more fingerlings, rears them in his pond and sells the excess at every stage of their subsequent growth until they are four or five months old when he retains the required stock.
“The common tilapia fish takes about eight months to mature. Scientifically, they need enough space in the pond so they can get sufficient oxygen necessary for growth. For every square metre, only three fingerlings are recommended. But we have developed an ingenious way of capitalising on the pond space before the fish reaches five months by stocking more at the early stages of rearing and reducing them subsequently,” said Farm Africa project manager Charles Opanga.
Mr Opanga oversees a group of more than 700 farmers identified to pilot this project of post-fingerling sales. He tells Smart Harvest that Farm Africa discovered that many farmers were dropping out of fish farming after the venture proved no to be “very profitable” as projected.
They then sought to add value to fish farming through innovation by improving the quality of fish reared in Kakamega, Vihiga, Busia, Kisii and Kisumu counties.
“After the 2007-08 post-election violence, the government rolled out the Economic Stimulus Programme to jumpstart the economy. With that came aquaculture and there came government subsidies like free construction of ponds, free fingerlings, free fish pellets and extension services. But the subsidies were later withdrawn, making many farmers opt out of the project,” says Opanga.
Farm Africa then set up aqua shops to offer technical knowledge on best aquaculture practices. It provides subsidised quality feeds and other inputs to fish farmers. One such beneficiary is Zachary Shitoti from Shichirai village, Kakamega County, who has three fish ponds.
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“I have done fish farming on and off since my secondary school days. Initially, I used to stick to the recommended number of fish per pond for eight months and sell them to middle men who often exploited me. I could keep 1,000 table size fish and end up selling them at Sh100 each, making gross sales of Sh100,000,” says Mr Shitoti.
Then came Farm Africa with its solutions, helping Shitoti increase the proceeds from his farm. “Starting this year, I have stocked 5,000 fingerlings in my ponds. At three months when they weighed 100 grammes, I sold 1,000 of them to Bukura Agricultural Training Institute for Sh100 each and the ones that weighed 200 grammes for Sh300 each,” he says.
Shitoti also sells to local farmers who he says have opted to cut on the cost of production by simply rearing almost mature fish for few months before harvest.
Although he only rears the fingerlings for three months, Shitoti says he still makes as much money as he makes from selling mature fish. This, he says, is because selling directly to other farmers eliminates middlemen.
From the 5,000 fingerlings he began with, Shitoti only keeps between 2,000-2,500 for harvest upon maturity.
“The tricky part is juggling the math of stocking. You have to stock an amount that is sufficient for sale. It is advisable to have an alternative pond which you can transfer the excess numbers in case you fail to hit the sale targets. But there is good market for post-fingerlings,” Shitoti says.
Shitoti also benefits from Farm Africa’s Facebook page, through which he can reach more than 2,000 fish farmers with “Aqua Tips”.
“I keep updating the stage of growth of my fish and price for sale on the platform,” he says “The response has been positive across the country.”
The firm also offers an on-line market, E-Soko, where farmers with post-fingerlings like Shitoti can advertise.
Shitoti says fingerling farming is a lucrative venture that needs more tact than capital might. “One only needs to buy more fingerlings from a hatchery and ensure they are of a good seed that matures fast. The trick here is making maximum use of pond space at the initial growth of fish until they are five months,” he says.