Retired tutor Hezron Oyanda strikes gold in fingerling production

Mzee Hezron Oyanda

Mzee Hezron Oyanda, a 70-year-old former teacher, feeds fingerlings at his Rabisa Fish Farm in Rangwe, Homa Bay County.

Photo credit: George Odiwuor | Nation Media Group

If you are a white meat lover, you have probably tasted tilapia from Homa Bay. The county supplies more fish to the market than any other devolved unit.

Most of the fish produced in Homa Bay are from cages in Lake Victoria or ponds.

Majority of farmers who engage in aquaculture source their fingerlings from Rabisa Fish Farm in Gem East in Rangwe, which produces 240,000 fingerlings every month.

The farm is owned by 70-year-old retired adult education teacher Hezron Oyanda. He supplies the fingerlings throughout the country.

When Mr Oyanda worked as a civil servant until 1994, he had no idea that he would be a successful entrepreneur.  Fish production was never in his mind. “I was more interested in horticulture,” he says.

Some 29 years ago, while strolling in his village, he came across a piece of land covered with eucalyptus trees. The ground was waterlogged with a stream flowing nearby.

Mr Oyanda then thought of how he could make the land more productive. He decided to apply for early retirement from the Department of Culture and Social Services to engage in private business.  “I got a golden handshake which I used to buy the land for investment,” he says.

The land measures six acres and is currently occupied by 15 fish ponds (five for brooding, four sex reversal ponds and six nursery ponds).

One section of the farm has been turned to a small forest, which is used for beekeeping.

Between 1995 and 1997, Mr Oyanda engaged in horticulture. But the venture was not lucrative as his income was not sustainable.

The farmer later decided to uproot all the eucalyptus trees, which made the situation worse as the site became muddy.

Mr Oyanda says his farm assistant then advised him to invest in fish farming. However, he was hesitant.

For at least five years, the land was idle.

Later in 2002, he decided to take a risk by investing his last cash on 500 fingerlings on an eight by four metres pond. “I travelled to Rongo to buy fingerlings. They were supplied by the Lake Basin Development Authority,” he says.

By this time, he had no clue on how to take care of fish. At first, he gave them any feed he came across, including organic waste produced at home.

Miraculously, the fish survived to maturity, motivating him to invest more in the business.

Later in 2009, he dug his second pond measuring 10 by eight metres. Luckily, the government was then implementing an economic stimulus programme, and he became one of the beneficiaries.

Using the funds he got, he managed to dig two ponds, each measuring 300 square metres.

Mr Oyanda later got fingerlings from the Fisheries department.

Eight months later, he harvested 200 kilogrammes of fish, which opened his eyes on the potential of the business.

His success story made him win a scholarship to learn about aquaculture. He was taught by experts from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal.

In the two-year programme that ended in 2017, the farmer managed to learn about modern ways of keeping fish. “I studied hatchery management. I wanted to produce fingerlings to enable other farmers to start aquaculture business,” he says.

At the end of his course four years ago, Mr Oyanda decided to switch from fish to fingerling production.

He uses homemade hatchery at the farm. Pipes are fitted on the wall of a housing unit where the hatchery is. Water then flows from overhead tanks to pipes then to transparent jugs which contain fertilised fish eggs.

“Eggs are obtained from female fish which keep them in their mouths after mating. The eggs are taken to the hatchery for the process to begin,” Mr Oyanda says.

As water flows from the pipes to the jug, it circulates and in the process makes the eggs hatch.

Eggs take about three days at the hatchery before hatching.

Day old fingerlings then swim into basins that are put below the jugs.

“As water flows from an overhead tank, it fertilises the eggs before it drains into the ponds. Fingerlings swim to a holding container awaiting transportation into the pond,” Mr Oyanda says.

On the first pond, fingerlings undergo sex reversal where they are fed on harmonised feeds which contain male hormones.

For 28 days, the fingerlings feed on the meal which are given eight times every day at same intervals.

According to Mr Oyanda, he usually achieves 95 per cent sex reversal, with the fish becoming male.

After this stage, the fingerlings are usually one to two grammes and are sold at Sh5 each, meaning he can earn up to Sh 1 million if all the fingerlings are bought within the first month of hatching.

If no one buys the fish at this stage, they are transferred to the nursery pond, where they are given a different type of meal for development and growth. Beyond this stage, the fingerlings are sold based on their sizes.

At Rabisa Fish Farm, all fish feeds are imported from Egypt and Zambia. They include Ultra series which are sold at Sh4,400 per 10-kilogramme bag and Alfa Aqua, which is sold at Sh5,100 per 25kg bags.

At least 20 kilogrammes of either meal is used in sex reversal.

Despite the success of the business, Mr Oyanda says he also faces several challenges, key among them is the high cost of feed. 

“Imported feeds are heavily taxed,” Mr Oyanda says.

According to Mr Michael Omondi, the Aquaculture Business Development Programme coordinator in Homa Bay, quality of feeds is a major determinant of growth of fish.

He says fingerlings should be given certified feed to ensure they develop and become high quality fish. “Feeds should give the best conversion ratio. It means fingerlings should grow as they are being fed,” he says.

Mr Omondi advises farmers to also acquire basic knowledge on fish farming.

“If possible, they should attend workshops organised by the Fisheries department to acquaint themselves with knowledge on fish farming,” he says.