KISUMU: After years of neglect, several investors are now pumping millions of shillings into Lake Victoria’s cage fish. This positive shift has created jobs as well as ensured food security.
Fish caging is also expected to bridge the gap in fish production as demand continues to outstrip production. Figures from the Fisheries department show fish production from Lake Victoria has slumped by about 50 per cent, resulting in shortages that have driven prices up.
It is this deficit that has forced some companies in Kisumu to start importing cheaper fish from China. The Standard established that former East Africa Legislative Assembly MP Ochieng Mbeo and Bondo legislator Gedion Ochanda are among the latest investors in fish caging in the lake.
The two leaders have injected close to Sh90 million. Mr Mbeo, through Lakeview Fisheries Kenya Ltd, has invested Sh50million on Mfangano Island in partnership with the Homa Bay county government.
“We have signed an agreement with the county government to find lasting and sustainable ways of exploring the massive Lake Victoria fisheries,” said Mbeo. His company is engaged in mass production of fingerlings, some of which are sold to other fish farmers across Homa Bay.
Mbeo disclosed that they had harvested close to 11,000 metric tonnes of fish in returns from the investment, expected to stir the hitherto dormant economy of Mfangano and Rusinga islands.
“We are also talking with Siaya and Migori counties, which have indicated a willingness to work with Lakeview, the pioneer and single largest investor in cage farming in the lake,” he said
Lakeview has now partnered with Farm Africa to train hundreds of youth and the fishing community on viable ways of investing in fish caging as an alternative source of income. So far, more than 300 youths have been trained and are now helping upcoming cage fish investors by producing seed for stocking natural waters in cages and building nursery ponds.
Mr Ochanda has also put Sh40 million in the fish caging project through the Constituency Developments Fund and formed Bondo Aquaculture Development Company to run it.
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He explained that the fish proceeds were used to feed a population of 62,000 school children drawn from 140 primary schools in his constituency.
“With the establishment of an aquaculture company to allow professionals to manage the cages, we are sure of being self-sufficient in fish production today and in years to come,” said Ochanda.
The MP disclosed that they had also built a floating Administration Police base in the lake to protect the multi-million shilling cages being put up through public-private partnerships initiatives.
He claimed the Bondo aquaculture company was looking at a return on investment of close to Sh120 million by the time they begin harvesting fish later in the year.
“This is why we have been forced to take security precautions as more investors troop in to catch the lake surface still available,” said Ochanda.
He disclosed that the fish caging projects had created employment for over 1,000 youths in Bondo who were either engaged in welding the cages or helping to sew the caging nets. The MP also revealed that they had set up fish multiplication units to restock the lake to avoid depleting the fish stocks and make the project sustainable.
And they are not alone; many other local and international investors are rushing into cage fish farming after President Uhuru Kenyatta assented to the Fisheries Management and Conservation Bill that will regulate fish imports and exports.
There have been complaints that the Chinese are importing cheap fish to Kenya, but Mbeo argued this would soon be history.
Marine experts disclosed that fish caging was the sure way to go as both local and global investors are finding the business very lucrative. A cage measuring about 2x4 metres can cost Sh80,000. That would be more than the annual returns of most fishermen.
“The good news is that you can get your money back in less than a year,” said ecological expert Stephen Agong’.