How to hatch fish as a business
Kenya is a country that is synonymous with food insecurity due to the high cost of food occasioned by insufficient investment in agriculture. Besides government efforts to try and stem the perennial food crisis, few farmers have also dared to invest heavily in agriculture to make the situation better while minting tons of money along the way.
Aquaculture is considered to be a very lucrative farming practice in Kenya because of the attendant demand for fish both in the rural and urban areas. However, few farmers have ventured into the labor intensive side of aquaculture which is managing a hatchery.
It demands knowledge of the science involved, complex arithmetic and business acumen to master the trade. For one lady in Kakamega County, it is not only something she loves but a subject she is more conversant with than most people.
Joyce Makaka is one of the handful owners of fish hatcheries in the country. Her nursery ponds supply fish to the entire Kakamega County and other neighboring counties in Western Kenya. She established her business of breeding fry in 2010 with an initial investment of sh. 4.5 Million.
“The business of hatching fry has more money compared to breeding grow outs. For one, the demand for fingerlings is enormous. Also, unlike the six months it takes for bigger fish to mature, fry only need between 14 to 21 days to be ready for sell to fish farmers,” said Makaka.
The mother of four produces fry in their hundreds of thousands every month and sells to the government and other private farmers. Out of the seven nursery ponds that she has in her farm, she harvests up to 30, 000 fry from each.
Although some of the young fish die during handling or fall prey to frogs and monitor lizards, she is able to make a tidy profit from the business at every harvest. One live fry goes for sh.5 at current market rate.
Although she has separate tanks for breeding catfish, tilapia is the major fish species that her farming is concerned with. Farmers in the markets she sells to prefer tilapia because it is a hardy species plus most consumers prefer it to other ‘strange’ species.
“At the beginning of the hatching process, I stock each nursery with 450 female and 150 male adults. What you want to put in mind is that the males are polygamous by nature which means one male will service three females,” said Makaka.
The females are introduced into the nursery ponds first for four days after which the males are added. The males proceed to make nests where they entice the females to lay eggs. The males fertilize the eggs laid in their nests and leave the females to stuff them inside their mouths for an incubation period of 7 days.
Once the fry hatch out of their eggs, the real work of nurturing them starts and it is a delicate job. Caretakers have to be on hand to watch over the development of the young ones for about two weeks.
“When the water becomes too cold, the fry will die so the temperature has to be regulated. Also, when algae build up inside the ponds over time it makes the pond lack sufficient oxygen because of the demand for it from the fry and the parasites,” says Makaka.
She says feeding is another job that demands experience and knowhow, and that she has earned over the two years she’s been running her aquaculture business.
According to Ms. Makaka, the fry should be fed after every two hours. The main course of the nutrition programme is milled shrimp while sunflower cakes and potato vines are mixed in to add to the food value.
“At least 45 per cent of the feed should be protein because the young fish need plenty of body building nutrients at this stage of their lifecycle where the body is developing rapidly. I mix the feeds with testosterone hormone solution to ensure they all grow up fully as males,” said Ms. Makaka.
Kakamega County Fisheries Officer Mr. James Mahaja advises farmers to use hormones to produce male only tilapia because they are more profitable and also because mixing both sexes in one grow out pond tends to overpopulate the fish ponds leading to less yields.
Kakamega County alone has a total of 5, 300 fish farmers but surprisingly, Ms. Makaka is the sole supplier of the fingerlings they rely on for their trade. Most of these farmers were brought on board to practice aquaculture by the government through the economic stimulus plan that established a fisheries department in every county to sponsor farmers to dig and stock fish ponds as a poverty alleviation plan.
A trilateral project that brings together the governments of Kenya, Germany and Israel has seen the establishment of a fish processing factory in Kakamega County at a cost of sh.58 million because of the demand for fish in the county coupled with low supply and lack of preservation facilities.
“The government has invested a lot of money in this sub-sector and the reason is that we want to turn fish farmers from practicing it for subsistence to making it an economic activity to alleviate poverty. Like Nigeria, Egypt and Israel, Kenya has entered the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) list of fish producing countries and we are excited,” said Mahaja
However, education on the significance of fish to the economy is still at its infancy stage. According to Mr. Mahaja, education stakeholders and the ministry of fisheries development are currently deliberating on introducing aquaculture as part of the school curriculum in Kenya to be covered comprehensively.
At the moment, only Moi University and Maseno University are engaging in training students on aquaculture. According to Ms. Makaka, Masinde Muliro University has showed interest in what she does and has indicated their interest in partnering with her and other farmers in the region to develop knowledge around the subject in the country.