A fish farmer inspects his fish pond at  Chinga Village in Othaya. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

For the last four years, Peterson Munyu, 73, has been putting his efforts towards fish farming with a vigour that has surprised his family and neighbours.

Munyu a resident of Iriaini ward in Othaya, Nyeri County took up fish farming in July 2020 during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, reviving his once abandoned fish pond with the hopes it would change his fortunes.

“I was one of the beneficiaries of the economic stimulus programme under the late President Mwai Kibaki’s administration. I had one pond in 2009 but when the initiative ended, so did my fish farming venture,” he said.

The ESP program was implemented by the national government between 2009 and 2013 increasing fishponds from 4,742 to 69,998 in 219 constituencies.

However, farmers like Munyu had given up on the venture until 2020 when he became a beneficiary of the Aquaculture Business Development Programme (ABDP) a donor-funded program in 15 counties - Western and Central Kenya. 

Rebbeca Wambui a fish farmer from Chinga in Othaya, Nyeri, displays Tilapia fish after harvest. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Nyeri is among the 15 counties that are beneficiaries of ABDP which is an International Fund for Agriculture Department (IFAD) project.

Munyu has since then increased the number of fish ponds to three and is one of the fish farmers that have revived the aquaculture in Nyeri County. According to county fisheries data, last year, the county produced 34 tonnes of fish from aquaculture which is an increase from its 56 farmers groups and 3,224 fish ponds.

There are estimated 3,000 fish farmers in Nyeri County who are actively taking part in aquaculture.

Munyu first started rearing tilapia fish in his pond in 202 but the mortality rates discouraged him and he turned to catfish farming instead.

“The tilapia were not doing well in my ponds, and I faced losses I suspect it was due to the temperatures, but I have found hope in mudfish (catfish) which have thrived in my ponds,” he noted.

He noted that on average, he restocked his pond with 1000 catfish in his ponds, and has managed to sell 400 fish.

“One of the reasons I was attracted to fish farming is it is not labour intensive, I can operate the fishponds with my wife and one or two employees,” he said.

His farm is located in a tea-growing zone and he noted as he grew older, tea farming became more tedious and tiring at his age.

“I just turned 73 years old, and as a tea farmer it is not easy to keep up with the daily demands of the tea bushes, that require labour, constant tending, and travelling to and from the tea buying centre,” he said.

He noted that fish farming was also ideal for his small farm as it did not take up too much space. 

“My ponds occupy between 10 metres by 20 metres each and on the small space, I can manage the fish comfortably, “he said.

However, he has had several challenges including securing a market for his catfish and the high cost of feeds. “A 25 Kg bag of fish feeds costs Sh5,300 which is very expensive for me I have had to improvise with supplementing my feeds with dried rabbit meat,” he said.

Munyu also lamented that he had challenges securing a market for his mudfish noting most buyers were only willing to buy a few kilogrammes of fish.

“In Central Kenya, you find people are willing to buy beef and chicken at Sh400 but when you sell to them fish at the same price, you find they are hesitant to purchase the same,” he said. Munyu’s plight is similar to Rebecca Wambui who is also a fish farmer from Chinga ward, over 5 kilometres away in the same constituency.

Ms Wambui ,a retired agriculture teacher also turned to aquaculture to supplement her income in retirement.

“After I retired I realised I needed a farming activity that is not labour intensive, when I weighed the options, fish farming was better for me economically and physically,” she said.

Her farm is located less than 800 metres from Chinga dam and she therefore had to be wary of predators.

“When I started I did not know that fish and other animals living around the lake would become predators to my fish, through the assistance of the ABDP program we installed predator nets and I fenced around my pond, to keep my fish safe,” she said.

Despite her efforts, she faced challenges in mortality rates in the pond and rearing the tilapia fish to the table size. “Fish feeds are a challenge for me as a farmer, they are too expensive and that is why I introduced Azolla farming to supplement my fish feeds, currently it is difficult to source fish feeds from local agro vets in our villages, I have to travel to major towns which is an added expense to me,” she noted.

However, this has not deterred her aquaculture business as she has seen the nutritional and financial benefits of the venture. “Living in a tea growing zone we do not have many sources of protein, fish farming offers readily available protein for my family and locals here, which has improved our overall health,” she noted.

Othaya Sub County Fisheries Officer Samuel Gacheru has over 10 years of experience working with fish farmers in the area. Gacheru noted in the last four years, the production of fish from aquaculture had increased from 100 kilogrammes per month to over 1.5 tonnes.

“Initially the fish farmers were engaged in subsistence farming but since 2020, we have seen more interest in those engaged in it as a business,” he said.