Behind government funding to dig fish ponds, in an agricultural stimulus modeled on an Indonesian program, has come a Kenyan innovation set to make the East African scheme more productive than its Asian forebear - thanks to a farmers’ group now monitoring ponds by satellite from a control centre built to steer Kenya’s fish farmers to maximum productivity.
As a global first, the Liquari Fish Farmers Self Help Group’s pilot project could transform the output from the government’s Sh1.12 billion investment in aquaculture.
Kenya’s potential to produce fish, according to the Ministry of Fisheries, amounts to 1.4bn hectares of potential fish farming area, with a capacity of producing 11m tonnes of fish a year, worth Sh50 billion.
Yet, two years ago, the country was producing just 4,220 metric tonnes a year on 772 hectares.
It’s a sum that last year saw the Ministry pour Sh8m into each of 140 constituencies for the digging of 100 fish ponds per constituency. Progress reports suggest that many western constituencies have already reached the 100 ponds target, and most are now well advanced with the move into aquaculture.
But turning the ponds into profitable fish farms is now key to delivering the pay-back conceived by the Government.
Mr Sammy Macharia, the chief fisheries officer, has described the stimulus as a project that can spur the country’s economic growth. “In the next two years, we envisage that through the stimulus programme, the sub-sector will be contributing at least Sh 4bn annually to the economy. This is a gold mine,” he said in an earlier interview.
And such early results are borne out by the Indoneisan model. When Indonesia focused on funding its own expansion in aquaculture in 2004, it managed to increase fish production from 1m tonnes at start to 7m tonnes today. But with the Indonesian government having recently pulled out of the fish farming projects, Indonesian fish farmers are now struggling to maintain the farms, many of which are now falling into disuse.
It’s a future the farmers in Likuyani District of Lugari constituency in Western Kenya are determined to reshape, led by an ambitious local farmer Mr Zack Marete, who has driven the formation of the Liquari self-help group.
Likuyani has so far dug 50 of the 100 fishponds in Lugari constituency, but has also created a central resource centre for farmers now getting up-to-speed on commercial fish farming, including a pilot project, funded by NGO Voices of Africa, that has installed computers linked to GPRS satellite images monitoring the constituency’s fishponds close-up, and manned by the farmers themselves, in shifts.
The aim is to use the 24-hour monitoring to identify threats to the fish stock and capture early any shortfalls in pond management - so as to secure maximum yields from the start.
“We haven’t gotten there the way we would like to. The process is in its infancy, but it’s already working. Using the GPRS technology, we have, for example, managed to identify turtles feeding on the fingerlings, and were able to communicate with the farmer and look for a solution,” said Mr Marete.
The centre is also using Internet and data resources from the Ministry of Fisheries on how to best tend to the fingerlings. “One farmer came to inquire about algae feasting on his fingerlings, another one wanted to know if it is advisable to feed her fish with animal blood. These are the kinds of questions we deal with, either in person or through the phone, but we have been trained by officials from the Ministry to Fisheries to handle them. If it’s beyond our understanding we seek clarification from the District Fisheries officer,” said Mr Marete.
Mr Jackson Nabware is a member of the self help group who has already reaped the benefits of the project. He has constructed three ponds in his one acre plot in Likuyani and is farming ornamental fish, Nile perch, tilapia and African cat fish, generating an average of Sh5,000 a week, in a venture he says is more profitable than crop farming or keeping dairy cows.
He is selling a kilo of tilapia for Sh250, with some weighing in at 3kgs, while male fingerlings fetch him Sh10 each. “When I went to the resource centre to seek information on how to take care of my fish, I was impressed to see them monitoring the performance of my fish in the computer. It was very encouraging that they can always alert me when there is a problem through my phone,” said Nabware.
Mr Marete who decries the poor yields in the rural areas, which he attributes to the rudimental farming methods, insists technology is the way to go if farmers are to reap the full benefits of farming.
“Look at our project now. We have managed to save farmers through giving timely information that we get on the Internet and with our GPRS project we intend to source for more partners to help us map out all the fishponds in the district and maintain a 24-hour surveillance. I know the digital divide factor is ever alive here, but we are committed to fully embracing technology. It is our only hope,” said Mr Marete.
“The motivation behind all this is the fact that we want to continue enjoying fish farming even when the government pulls out from the project. We want to sustain ourselves for a long time, because we have seen how important fish farming can do for our people.”
The Likuyani farmers hope also to roll out the GPRS technology to other farmers, as part of packages that additionally connect them with outside markets to diversify their market opportunities.
Written By Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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