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Farmers and the County Governments are targeting to expand aquaculture. Kenya currently produces about 500,000 metric tonnes of fish, much of which is caught in Lake Victoria. Chinese imports of Whole Tilapia – the most popular fish in Kenya – sells for around Kshs 250 per kg, compared with Kshs 350 or Kshs 400 depending on the size of fish. The imported fish are cheaper and smaller: so you can get fish at wholesale prices of as low as Kshs 200 per kg as opposed to fish from the local fisheries.

Kenya is forced to import more fish to meet the rising demand. According to the Principal Secretary State Department for Fisheries, Aquaculture and The Blue Economy, Francis Owino, “Kenya has a deficit of 400,000 tons of fish”. It is estimated that the value of imported fish has reached a value of over Kshs 1 billion with the known value of fish imports from China having dropped to 31% which is equivalent to Sh700 million last year amidst Covid-19 pandemic disruptions.

Speaking at Kiaga in Kirinyaga County, Dr Owino urged farmers to take advantage of the rising fish demand and rear more fish to generate income. The State Department for Fisheries has launched an aquaculture farming campaign in 15 counties to boost fish production. According to the PS, “fish rearing has more advantages over other farming practices since it is manageable and profitable.”

Empowering Fishermen and Fish Farmers

The PS encouraged Kirinyaga residents to develop a fish eating culture due to its nutritional value. He educated dwellers on the importance of consuming white meat to supplement their diets and help them curb lifestyle diseases.

Due to rising awareness of its nutritional value, population growth, and improvements in fish storage which have reduced waste, consumption of fish in Kenya has been growing. The huge gap between production and demand is due to low investment in fisheries, and near obsolete technologies deployed by local fishermen.

Aquaculture is a relatively new industry in most regions away from the Lake Region Counties. Its growth is in response to a surge in the demand for fish, an economical and increasingly popular source of protein for the region’s rapidly expanding population. This has led to overfishing and other counties have embarked on supporting ponds for fish farming.

This programme has been started in Kirinyaga, Nyeri, Tharaka-Nithi, Embu and Meru in the Mt Kenya region. An example is the Sagana aquaculture plant in Ndia. In Kirinyaga, farmers were given 292 fish liners and 38 predator nets while supervisors and extension officers were given motorbikes and laptops.

Kenya could only meet its demand for fish by investing in aquaculture, better and sustainable fishing practices on its lakes, rivers and seas.

Safeguarding Local Fish Market

Lake Victoria supports the largest inland freshwater fishery on earth. The satellite Lake Kanyaboli is part of the Yala swamp, which forms the mouth of Rivers Nzoia and Yala. This forms a large water basin conducive for fish farming.

Lake Region County Governments of Bungoma, Busia, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Kisii, Kisumu, Migori, Nyamira, Siaya and Vihiga must look at aquaculture as an industry that can improve livelihoods and help the country move towards middle-income status. We must harmonize fishing activities to stamp out overfishing and reduce the need to import fish.

“Compared to other ventures, fish farming is stress free. We want you to work hard in these projects as we continue supporting you so that we can meet the obligation of feeding the nation as well as helping you generate income,” said PS Francis Owino.

Kenya rolled out its programme to improve aquaculture and support fish farmers in 2009. In that year, the authorities mapped out what they called “suitable sites” for fish farming in Central and Rift Valley provinces as well as along the Coastline. According to the Kenyan Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, since then the total area covered by aquaculture has expanded from 220 to 500 hectares.

PS Owino said that, “the national government will also collaborate with the county governments in implementing fish rearing projects.” Farmers must also be taught value addition in order to profit from fish farming. For example, currently, the approximate price range for Kenya Fish fillet is s Kshs 420 per kilo. Tilapia Fillet is selling at about Kshs 900 per kg.

We not only need imports to take care of the fish deficit, but proper regulation and capacity building for local fishermen and fish farmers to balance imports and production, and for determining which products should be imported. It would be more sustainable if Kenya could produce what it needs internally or import from neighbouring countries; Uganda and Tanzania.

Author: ibrahim

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