Omena, dagaa, and Silver cyprinid are names given to this delicacy that cannot miss in most Kenyan homes mostly served with ugali. The delicacy, if well cooked, can leave you licking your fingers.
In Kenya, omena is found in Lake Victoria, which occupies the western part of the country.
In Luo Nyanza for example omena business has been booming for decades and is a staple food as well as a source of income as big fish like tilapia become scarce.
In Uyoma Kagwa, Rarieda and Siaya county, the locals make a living out of the fishing business. The business entails having boats go overnight fishing. The business people, especially women, would buy from the fishermen and sell.
We meet Judith Onyango, a mother of three, outside her boma drying the omena she bought that morning from a fisherman.
Dressed in a blue apron, Judith is busy spreading the omena on a drying net with a broom. The broom also serves as a weapon that chases birds that try to have a feast.
“I started this omena business in 2013,” she says as she scares the birds away.
Early bird catches the worm
When the fishermen arrive at around 6 am, the women would rush and buy.
“We get the omena from them, so if I buy one crate at Sh1,800. When dried it becomes more so I get one crate and 14kg more. Meaning one crate and 7 gorogoros (2kg containers),” she says.
They would sell the crate at Sh1,600 and the 2kg containers at Sh120 each.
“Sometimes I can get two crates from the fishermen that means when dried I can have three crates and that is how we make our profit,” she says.
Judith dries her omena on her own land, however, other businesswomen pay a daily fee to dry their omena on borrowed land.
They pay because their land is far from the lake or they are just visitors in the area and do not own land. A big net that covers half an acre would cost Sh100, while smaller nets would cost Sh20 or Sh30 per day.
Depending on the weather condition it can take more than a day to dry.
“We sit here the whole day, we even carry our lunch because if you move the birds would eat the omena,” she says.
The weather also plays a big part in getting customers.
“If the sun is out, you can sell everything because nobody is planting and they can only access omena, but when the rains come they would opt for vegetables that they have planted or easily available in the market,” she says.
Judith says for the past decade, the omena business has become her main source of income.
“I pay school fees with this business. This is where I get my daily bread and this is where I clothe myself and my family,” she says.
Health benefits of Omena
Experts say regular intake of omena can save you from chronic diseases because they are rich in vitamins, proteins and minerals, iodine and omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fats help in preventing heart disease and stroke.
Vitamin D helps with strengthening the bone.
The side effects include the fact that omena can be quite acidic hence affecting people with ulcers or stomach acid complications.
Other ways to use Omena
Apart from cooking them, omena can be ground mixed with maize or millet and used to make porridge.
However, there those who prefer omena flour on its own and would add it in stew.
Ochong’a is a type of fish way smaller than omena that is mostly used to feed poultry, pigs and dogs because of its great source of proteins and omega 3.
Judith says apart from omena, there are seasons where they would get Ochong’a. However, there are seasons where they would have both omena and Ochong’a.
“We buy one crate at Sh400. When dried, one crate can produce three crates and sell each at Sh250,” she says, adding that most of their Ochong’a customers are factory owners.