Like all farmers, when Maurice Odhiambo started his fish farm in Oyani village, Migori County, he did so with gusto. Little did he know that misfortune lies ahead.
When he was just about to make his harvest, Odhiambo suffered losses after his fish were swept away by perennial floods. He narrates to Smart Harvest the ordeal that made him develop a thick skin.
“I put up my fish ponds in 2012 and in my first harvest in early 2013, I got a profit of over Sh190, 000. I was elated,” he recalls.
To start off the project, he built a standard fish pond measuring 10ft by 10ft along river Oyani on the three-quarter-acre family land.
When he was preparing for another season, heavy floods swept away all his investment.
He says the situation was made worse by dykes that had been constructed along the river causing a backflow.
Odhiambo who had just stoked his fish pond with 800 tilapia fingerlings lost Sh45,000 which he had invested in labour, buying the fingerlings and feeds.
“It was sad as floodwaters washed away all the fingerlings I had placed in the fish pond just a month before,” Odhiambo recalls.
Odhiambo almost gave up.
The father of three had used his personal savings to construct three fish ponds and stock them with fingerlings.
“I was really demoralised I almost stopped fish farming,” Odhiambo says.
He stopped the project to recover and this year, the 30-year-old graduate from Kisii University dived back into fish farming.
At the beginning of the year, Odhiambo approached the county government for support.
“I was given 2,800 fingerlings which I placed in my three fish ponds,” he says.
As a strategy, he sought a lasting solution that would prevent his fish from being washed away by floods.
Odhiambo joined hands with three neighbours who also ventured into fish farming to raise the dyke that has been causing trouble.
After consulting with friends and family, he discovered that raising the dyke was the permanent solution to the flooding problem.
“We came together and contributed money to help in raising the dyke,” he says.
He created two other fishponds measuring 30-by-50 feet and 20-by-30 feet.
Odhiambo also built fish ponds that are fed by underground water.
To avoid flood catastrophe, before establishing his fish pond, he first sampled the soil type in his area and topography of the land to ascertain surface runoff which determines if flooding can happen.
He established a standard pond measuring ten-by-ten feet and filled it with water three weeks to stocking, then added agricultural lime to kill insects and other pests.
For safety reasons, Odhiambo explains that the deeper end of the fish pond should be about 4.5 feet lower (which is often the lower side of a slope) and the shallow end be 3.5 feet.
“In a standard pond (10-by-10 feet) you add half a kilo of normal commercial fertiliser to help in growing planktons and algae which are fish feed on. By the end of three weeks the water will turn greenish ready for stocking,” he says.
Odhiambo puts chicken waste gunny bags and dips them in the ponds to help in algae and plankton formation.
The plankton is a key fish feed that gives fish healthy gills and turns the water dark, preventing predators like fish eagles and cats from stealing the fish.
“The gunny bags containing chicken waste are placed in two opposite sides of the pond away from any overflow point and feeding is done in two other areas without the bags,” he explains.
He feeds his fish with the fish starter for two months before he moves to growers mash until they mature and are ready for the market.
Odhiambo sells his fish to hotels and institutions while fishmongers buy from his farm.
Demand is real
Milton Oboka who is the Director for One Vision Kenya says there is still a gap in fish production because farmers lack key skills.
Agriculture Executive Valentine Ogongo notes that the department has so far given 200 youth groups 1,000 fingerlings each.
He says the county has also helped the youths get 200 dam liners for building ponds to boost the aquaculture sector.
“We plan to acquire machines to help produce quality fish feeds to meet demand,” Ogongo says.
According to Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), the fisheries and aquaculture sector contributes about 0.8 per cent of Gross Domestic Product and directly employ over 500,000 people, and supporting over two million people indirectly.