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Counties out to lease factories as clients keep off pond fish

Workers at a fish hatchery near Meru town. [Courtesy]

Efforts to encourage Central Kenya residents to consume more fish reared locally appear to have hit a snag with Nyeri and Meru counties now seeking to lease out two of the largest fish processing plants in the region.

Wamagana processing plant in Nyeri and Kanyekine fish factory in Meru were both inherited from the national government under the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) during President Mwai Kibaki’s tenure.

One of the main challenges is fish reared in ponds face stiff competition from those from large water bodies such as lakes, rivers and seas. According to Beth Wangui, a fish trader in Nyeri town, most of her stocks are sourced from Kisumu because of the size and preference of her customers.

“The fish produced in the ponds are smaller than the ones I get from Kisumu, and many of my clients complain when I source my fish locally,” she said.

In Nyeri County, Wamagana processing and bulk factory has the capacity to process 21,000 metric tonnes of fish daily. The facility had been leased to the Nyeri Fish Farmers’ Cooperative by the county government but has been operating below capacity for over six years.

Wamagana factory was handed over to the county by the national government to hold in trust for local fish farmers, but with the facility often lying idle or running below capacity, plans are underway to find a private investor to run it.

Seeking investors

Last year, the county government failed to renew the lease for the farmers’ cooperative as it explores plans to privatise the facility. Nyeri Agriculture Executive James Wachihi said the county was in the final stages of seeking investors after the proposal was approved.

 “The fish farmers do not have the capacity to market and process their produce, a private investor who is specialised in this area is the best option,” Wachihi noted.

He said the investors would ensure the facility was utilised, leaving the fish farmers to focus on production. “It is best to let farmers focus on what they do best which is production and leave the marketing and processing to private entities,” the county official explained.

This plan comes even as the county has used over Sh50 million in rehabilitation of the over 225 fish ponds, restocking of dams, purchasing of dam liners and also purchasing of fish feeds.

Wachihi noted that the tilapia fingerlings will ensure the farmers earn money after their maturity in eight months.

However, the plan to privatise the facility has left farmers uncertain about their future as their lease is yet to be renewed.

Meru County Investment and Development (MCIDC)  is also trying to hand-over the Sh50 million Kanyakine processing plant to a private investor because it has largely remained idle.

With 2, 500 fish farmers in Meru, the 162 tonnes of fish produced annually are consumed locally and need not pass through the South Imenti-based processor.

Kenneth Ruteere, MCIDC CEO, said negotiations were in top gear with an investor who had shown interest in taking over the factory on lease basis.

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