Katoloni is one of the fastest growing suburbs on the outskirts of Machakos town.
The settlement has attracted people from all walks of life as business thrives, with gated communities also sprouting all over.
Seeds of Gold team arrives in the area to meet Robin Kyallo and Maurice Matheka, the directors and founders of Kisumeo Organics.
They are supervising a group of workers harvesting fish from a pond using a net.
"We keep crayfish inside the ponds depending on the stages of development," says Kyallo, a graduate of information technology from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
Kyallo teamed up with Matheka, a therapist in Nairobi, to start the business in 2019 after developing interest in fish.
A friend had introduced him to recreational fishing, where they would visit lakes such as Naivasha and Baringo for the fun of it.
It is through this that he learnt of crayfish. "I did research online and learnt that crayfish require less protein in their diet as compared to tilapia. Having known protein as the most expensive ingredient in livestock feeds, I realised keeping them would be pocket friendly," he says.
In the project, the duo invested Sh40,000 that they used to buy breeding troughs.
They sourced their initial crayfish stock from Kiboko River in Makueni County, getting over 200 females.
Initially, Kyallo, who is in-charge of the day operations of the farm, offered the fish pellets, but has since developed a feeding regime of vegetables (cabbages, spinach and collard greens) supplemented with black soldier flies.
"We do not need constant water supply in the production cycle; the water in our six ponds is changed twice before the crayfish matures," he says.
From an initial stock of 200 crayfish, the duo now have over 10,000 that weigh an average of 55-100 grams each.
According to Kyallo, taking care of crayfish is easy. The fish are paired with one male to five females.
"We let the females get to the spawning stage and once they hatch, we remove the males," says the agripreneur, adding that the fingerlings are constantly fed with algae and azolla and after two months transferred to the juvenile pond and later to the grower pond.
Cray fish, according to him, are the strongest of all the native fish species. They have claws, bumps and stronger spines.
Like catfish, they are predators, easy to breed and keep for beginners. They thrive well in temperatures of between 22-25oC.
“They thrive in a warm climate which helps to speed up the rate of reproduction. In addition, the fish do well in ponds that are filled with fresh water,” explains Kyallo, adding that the depth of water should not be more than six inches as the deeper it is, the less the oxygen.
In a week, Kisumeo Organics harvests between 15-25 kilos, selling each at Sh1,200. The fish matures in four months.
Besides keeping fish, the duo works with other farmers who keep the fish in ponds, reservoirs or dams, buying about 100 kilos weekly at Sh850.
Towards the end of 2021, the duo toyed with the idea of adding value to the fish to prolong the shelf-life.
Matheka says they visited the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC) in Machakos, which assisted them to come up with a mechanism to dry the crayfish.
They bought an oven and a grinder that cost them Sh100,000.
Once they dry the crayfish in the oven, the fish is crushed into powder and packaged, a delicacy that is used to season foods.
The enterprise makes plain crayfish powder, salted crayfish powder, salted lemon crayfish powder and salted garlic crayfish powder, selling 100g of each which costs Sh900. The products are certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs).
"Unlike other farm produce, a kilo of crayfish loses only 30 per cent of its water content,” says Kyallo. Their main customers are Chinese and Nigerians, particularly in Kilimani, Nairobi.
Kyallo says that they are in the process of scaling up production as the market is growing faster.
Matheka observes that there is still untapped potential in crayfish farming, as most farmers only rear catfish and tilapia, the common fish.
“The global demand for fish is rising yet the sector is largely underdeveloped. This calls for intensified efforts to boost the industry as well as reduce water pollution for fish to thrive.”
In five years’ time, the duo see themselves working with more contracted farmers.
They also want to develop other products from crayfish that can be blended with herbs and spices.
Kelvin Nguyo, an agribusiness analyst and marketer at KCIC’s the innovation hub in Machakos, says crayfish farming is still underdeveloped in Kenya.
He says that there are a lot of standards to meet before one decides to take part in the value addition business, such as getting Kebs certification, good record-keeping techniques and having food handling trainings.
"One should also consider how big the market of their products is. If they decide to take part in the export market, there also factors to consider," he says noting that good rearing practices of crayfish determine the end products.
According to him, crayfish has calcium and magnesium, which help to strengthen bones and for brain development.
“The presence of Omega 3 fatty acids, found in crayfish protect the skin from ultra-violet rays of the sun and this prevents the skin burn," he says.