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Investing in data will help unlock our aquaculture sub-sector’s potential

OPINION
By Ally Jamah | September 10th 2021
Cage fish farming in Luanda Kotieno beach in Rarieda sub-county. [Isaiah Gwengi, Standard]

As Kenya strives to realise the enormous potential of fish farming in strengthening food security, improving livelihoods and growing our economy, the need for a data-driven and sustainable industry has never been more compelling.

Developing the sub-sector is a feasible pathway of meeting Kenya’s rising demand for fish and related products, as supply from traditional capture fisheries stagnate or decline. Continued reliance on fish imports from distant regions of the globe to meet the fish deficit comes at the expense of local jobs, the economy and environmental health.

A range of challenges are holding back Kenya from maximising on enormous opportunities in the aquaculture, among them being lack of adequate, credible and timely data to inform critical decisions on policy, planning, investments, environmental health, disease control and others.

For instance, the country is estimated to produce 30,000 metric tonnes of farmed fish annually, but industry players indicate that the actual figure could be much higher since available production data is not the most reliable. Such a scenario makes planning and decision-making challenging for the government, potential investors and other aquaculture actors.

Kenya’s aquaculture sub-sector is among the fastest growing in Africa, and a systematic and transparent approach to data collection, analysis, and dissemination would enhance its competitiveness, attract more investments, reduce costs, improve regulation, and increase profitability. It would also help the country become a model for sustainable aquaculture production on the continent by guiding methods, thresholds and areas of intensifying production without causing adverse environmental and social impacts.

It’s therefore greatly encouraging to note that aquaculture stakeholders recently launched an initiative to develop the country’s first online aquaculture data management platform to promote availability of quality and relevant data to enhance evidence-based decision making in the sub-sector.

Led by environmental non-profit Conservation International in partnership with the Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), the initiative is building a platform to host a wide array of new and existing aquaculture data sourced from government, private sector, research institutions, academia and other industry players.

The envisaged platform is expected to have comprehensive data on key aspects of the sub-sector such as production (species farmed, yield, disease prevalence, systems), environmental health (water quality, ecological impacts), economics (input costs, profitability, market share), livelihoods (salaries, job creation, gender) and governance (laws, policies, strategies).

Data types will range from remote sensing analytics and tailored modelling applications to input from the ground from farmers, cooperatives, and supply chain stakeholders to maximize data usefulness. Availability of good data would not be enough if it’s not being used to make decisions.

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