Maurice Odhiambo Shikuku ventured into fish farming after he failed to secure a job in 2019 when he graduated from Kisii University with a Diploma in Procurement.
The 29-year-old, a father of three says he realised fish farming and agriculture could boost his income to support his family.
Shikuku feeds his fish at 10 am and 5 pm.
“I built my first standard pond in a three-quarter acre of land measuring 10-by-10 feet in 2013 along River Oyani, Migori,” he said.
“I stocked it with 800 tilapia fingerlings, but in less than a month, a water intake point nearby was closed. This caused flooding and I lost the entire business.”
He said he suffered a 100 per cent loss on labour, investments, fingerlings and feeds which saw him lose Sh45,000.
Shikuku said he joined the Double Edge Environment Change youth group that planted and sold eucalyptus, pine and bamboo tree seedling to the Migori county government for an environment upgrade project.
“We were nine people, five of us invested in the venture and since I provided the seedlings after payment I made Sh600,000. This helped me go back to my fish farming business,” he said.
“I created two other fishponds measuring 30-by-50 feet and 20-by-30 feet which I stocked with 1,200 and 1,000 tilapia fingerlings and added 200 catfish.”
Shikuku says there are two types of fish ponds. One is built using a dam liner or concrete on any soil type while the other is fend by underground or river water in a swampy area.
He works on the second one because his land is swampy.
To build a pond, a farmer should first sample the soil type and topography of the land to ascertain surface runoff which can silt ponds and risks of flooding for stock to be swept away.
“A standard pond measures 10-by-10 feet. While digging, the deeper end should be about 4.5 feet lower which is often the lower side of a slope, and the shallow end on the other side is 3.5 feet,” Shikuku explains.
“After digging the pond, fill it with water for three weeks to stocking then add agricultural lime to kill insects and other pests in the water.”
He says, in a standard pond, one adds half a kilo of normal commercial fertilizer to help build planktons and algae which are fish feed. By the end of three weeks, the water turns green ready for stocking.
Fingerlings always come in tight polythene bags and a farmer is advised to sink it in water first before opening it.
“If your fingerlings are mono sex, all are either male or female, then feed them after three days. If they are both female and male then start feeding after three hours,” Shikuku said.
He said fish is best farmed alongside chicken farming, as chicken waste placed in gunny bags and dipped in the ponds help in algae and plankton formation.
“The gunny bags containing chicken waste are placed in two opposite sides of the pond away from any overflow point and feeding is done in the two other areas without the bags,” he explains.
Shikuku says chicken wastes helps in propagating planktons, a key fish feed that gives them healthy gills and turns the water dark preventing predators like fish eagles and cats from stealing.
“Fish is harvested twice a year, after every six months. I feed them fish starter for two months before I move to growers mash until they are ready for market,” he said.
A pond can get him Sh63,000 for catfish and Sh240,000 for tilapia which he sells to hotels and institutions which.
“The government talks about the blue economy with flowery policies which should be implemented but we should not look at lakes and oceans for fish, those are already stretched,” Shikuku said.
“A plate of fish in Nairobi costs Sh120, while around the lake a piece goes for Sh150 which shows that we still have demand for fish even around Lake Victoria.”
To meet this challenge, Shikuku said he got skills from One Vision which has made him start building a third fish pond which he will use to get quality eggs, fingerlings and fry, which are fully formed and functional young fish.
“A fish stocked by both male and female tilapia takes time to mature and after six months the biggest fish can cost Sh120-150 since they start reproducing almost immediately and the pond gets overstocked,” Shikuku explains.
“I plan to sell at least 3,000 fingerlings in two weeks as we are currently sourcing them from Kisumu city, a fingerling costs Sh10.”
A pond with a mono-sex stock can see a fish fetch Sh600 as they are bigger which is better for sales.
To keep costs down, Shikuku said he uses freshwater shrimps locally called Ochong’a, roasted soybeans, sunflower seedcake and maize to formulate feeds.
“Chicken feeds on almost the same things as fish, most often feeds wasted by my 200 chicken end up in ponds,” he says.
Milton Oboka, One Vision Kenya director says there is still a gap in fish production in the country because of a lack of skills by farmers and networks.
“Business opportunity in agriculture comes when existing demands in the market are met with skills and partnering farmers with opportunities to meet them,” Oboka said.
Migori agriculture executive Valentine Ogongo said the county government has offered 200 youth groups 1,000 fingerlings each and helped 200 acquire dam liners for building ponds to boost the aquaculture sector.
“We plan to acquire machines to help produce quality fish feeds as we are already strained from Lake Victoria which can’t meet fish demand in Migori and the country,” she said.
Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute said the fisheries and aquaculture sector contributes about 0.8 per cent of Gross Domestic Product and directly employ over 500,000 people and supporting over two million people indirectly.
Kenya, however, has far greater capacity for fish farming, with over 1.14 million hectares potentially available to enable a production capacity of over 11 million tonnes per year.