Sh120m fish factory resumes operations after a two-year lull

Workers wash fish before weighing, grading, descaling, gutting and sanitizing in Lurambi, Kakamega County. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

Kakamega Fish Factory constructed at a cost of Sh120 million has resumed operations after a two-year lull.

The development comes barely two days after the plant earned international standards certification, giving it the green light to process, store and export fish to the European market.

The factory closed shop following protracted wrangles among its directors over its daily running and management.

The factory was among several others initiated under Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) during former President Mwai Kibaki’s reign.

It was later handed over to the Kakamega county government and relaunched by former Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Swedish Ambassador to Kenya Caroline Vucini in June 2021 to process fish across the Lake Region Economic Bloc Counties (LREB).

The facility got clearance to serve as a fish aggression, warehousing, and international fish export centre on Tuesday after meeting stipulated European Union standards.

Meets standards

Aquaculture Business Development Programme (ADBP), led by Programme Fisheries Officer Susan Odinga, and International Fund for Agriculture and Development (Ifad), led by County Programme Coordinator Norman Munala, had earlier toured the factory located along the Kakamega-Webuye highway opposite Bukhungu Stadium on the outskirts of Kakamega town.

Ifad and ABDP have rated the facility as one of the best fish factories in Kenya in terms of compliance, and it has met all the standards locally and internationally.

The factory is one of the four facilities were constructed under the 2008-2012 ESP alongside other fish factories in Meru, Nyeri and Migori.

On Thursday, DAS Group Chief Executive Officer Samwel Ondieki told The Standard that the fish plant is operational.

“Two weeks ago, we were in the final stages of acquiring legal documents like licences and compliance certificate, and as we speak, we have attained all the required documents. The factory operations are going on smoothly,” said Ondieki.

Ondieki said they are now set to export at least 27 European Union countries which they are to buy from 14 LREB counties.

The factory has the capacity to process and export 20 tonnes of fish per day with the annual demand for fish projected to be 7,000 tonnes.

According to Ondieki, some 6,976 farmers from Kakamega County are to benefit from the venture, and there are about 9,988 fish ponds with the potential to produce over 1,798 tonnes of fish in seven months.

The county is expected to rake in Sh539 million from this initiative.

“We have the capacity to process and export fish to meet the export market demands. But to meet this demand, we are investing in technology and proper infrastructure, already we have three European countries, Italy, UK, and Netherlands, where we have secured a ready market,” said Ondieki.

He added that they are already setting up their outlet in Gikomba and that it would facilitate their business in the city and outside the country.

Ondieki said they are engaging small and large-scale farmers with requisite skills in fish farming and feeds for their fish.

However, Ondieki accused ABDP of not helping fish farmers and value chain actors in terms of production and market.

“ABDP has a lot of money, but they are not helping farmers with better farming methods and to increase their production, giving farmers fingerlings and pond liners is not enough without securing a ready market, “said Ondieki.

“We want ABDP to support the ecosystem by ensuring the cost of production is low and make an investment for fish farming resilient and sustainable by partnering with fish manufacturing companies,” he added. Ondieki said they resolved wrangles among the directors, and the company is working smoothly.

“We had some problems with shares and running of the facility where some of the board directors wanted to exit, and they eventually exited, and things are now in order,” said Ondieki.

DAS Group and Kakamega County signed a Memorandum of Understanding where the firm was to run the factory. DAS Group took over the possession of the premises after the county signed a lease agreement on November 3 last year.

Initial payment

According to Ondieki, the pact provided that the investor pays Sh100,000 rent to the county whereby the company paid the initial payment of Sh200,000 on May 22 last year.

Kakamega Deputy Governor Ayub Savula said the government is keen on empowering fish farmers with subsidised feeds in order to make fish farming attractive and viable.

“We had issues with directors, but it has since been solved, and the governor is expected to re-launch the factory anytime, but we are facilitating small fish ponds across our 60 wards, and the cost is under the county government, “said Savula.

He added: “We are going to give farmers fish feeds for free, they will not incur any cost, we are going to make the fish farming viable in collaboration with our partners, we have factored the money in our budget to mobilise farmers from cooperatives and aggregation centre for fresh fish for a ready market.”