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'How soldier flies have boosted my fish output'

 Steve Ken Black soldier fly farmer at his farm in Maara, Tharaka Nithi County. [Lydiah Nyawira, Standard]

In the lush green hills of Chogoria, in Tharaka Nithi County, one homestead stands out from the rest with its large fish ponds visible from the main road into the village.

Steve Ken Mugambi,30, a fish farmer, is gaining popularity in the area following his efforts to grow his Secure Afri farm through diversifying into black soldier fly (BSF) rearing.

Mugambi’s passion for farming started in 2019 after he had completed a short-term contract with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, as a census enumerator.

“I was very proud of my first job at KNBS and they paid me Sh23,500 which is what I used to set up my first fish pond,” he said.

With the capital, he constructed a pond, purchased cheap liner, 500 fingerlings and two bags of feed and still had some change left over.

Two years later in 2021, he was registered with the county department of fisheries which allowed him to become a beneficiary of the Aquaculture Business Development Programme (ABDP) and further supported him to expand his business.

“The programme issued me with a pond liner which increased my production, my first pond was small at 5 metres by 6 metres and with the new liner which was 20 metres by 15 metres for his 300 metres sq pond,” he said.

Mugambi continued with the aquaculture business by stocking his ponds with tilapia and catfish but by 2022, he was facing serious challenges in meeting his costs of production.

“Fish farming is good but close to 80 per cent of the production cost is fish feeds which can be very expensive and even at times unavailable or inadequate,” he stated.

Currently, a 25 Kg bag of fish feeds costs Sh5,300 and feeds required for different species of fish vary depending on the protein content which is key to sustaining the growth of the fingerlings.

Before giving up on the venture he started looking for ways to reduce the cost of feeds, in a bid to save his venture.

“Through the ABDP project, he travelled to Homa Bay for an exchange tour where he interacted with fish farmers who had found ways to cut the cost of feeds through supplementing with BSF,” he said.

Interested in the prospect, Mugambi returned to Tharaka Nithi with renewed vigour, purchasing his first BSF unit.

Feed constitutes 60-70 per cent of the total cost of aquaculture farming, of which protein alone accounts for 70 per cent. 

Commonly used protein sources in feeds include fish meal, soy meal, cotton cake meal, and sunflower meal which are very expensive,” he noted.

Therefore, feed produced from the black soldier fly (BSF) larvae, are considered a promising supplement to fish feeds.

“Soldier fly larvae feed on a wide variety of “waste” and low-value organic materials or by-products including; animal manure, to produce 50 per cent protein, vitamins, minerals, micronutrients and high-value oil,” he explained.

Mugambi’s efforts paid off and he has now managed to cut in half the period it takes for his fish to mature.

“I have enough protein supplement for my fish and have reduced the culture time for my catfish. Previously it would take six months to rear catfish to table size, now I can harvest at four months,” he said.

He has achieved the same success with tilapia which takes up to eight months or 1year to reach maturity, but for his ponds, hit tilapia weigh 500 grams in six months which is an adequate size for sale.

“I have managed to train both poultry and fish farmers on how to set up BSF units in their farms to supplement their feeds. It has been beneficial to especially fish farmers who sometimes cannot get feeds,” he noted.

He said that on some occasions, the fish feeds are unavailable in the market which is very devastating to farmers who have no alternatives.

“Per week he supplements his commercial fish feeds with 5 kilogrammes of dried BSF insects, which boosts his production as BSF has over 60 per cent protein content,” he said.

The BSF production has given him an advantage as a fish farmer as he can sell his fish more often than other farmers and earn better returns.

Mugambi’s main customers are sourced online with the majority being locals, he posts his orders on social media platforms at least a day before he harvests and often finds, his stock sold out by the end of the day.

“I find it is easier to market my produce online because I can get confirmed orders even before I harvest my fish, this helps me prepare the fish in advance, I gut and fry them ready to eat for my clients,” he said.

Out of an estimated 1,000 fingerlings, Mugambi can harvest 350kgs of fish from his ponds twice a year and then sells 1kg of tilapia or catfish at Sh650.

He said his BSF unit also addresses waste management on the farm as the larvae consume organic waste that is produced in the home and farm.

“The black soldier fly can be a solution to climate change as it consumes waste, to thrive, it is a form of recycling,” he stated.

Tharaka Nithi County Chief Officer in charge of Fisheries Anthony Kirunja said the county has a total of 2,500 fish farmers with 1100 benefiting from the ABDP program.

“We have received support from the program which has popularised fish farming in the county and we have seen growth in the aquaculture sector with a total of 681 farmers benefiting from various interventions,” he said. He said the county was supporting farmers by distributing 15 tonnes of fish feeds targeting farmers not benefiting from the program.

The county also supplied seven freezers to support the farmers when they were taking their produce to the market.

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