Hopes for the revival of the stalled Sh60 million fish factory in Kakamega are dimming fast on the back of a protracted legal tussle involving directors of a company, which has signed a contract to run the facility.
It emerged during a meeting convened by Agriculture Executive Benjamin Andama on May 16 that plans to kick-start operations could not proceed due to a dispute filed at the High Court.
Two directors of the firm, DAS Group, attended the meeting that was convened to establish reasons for the 21-month-long shutdown of the factory following its commissioning close to two years ago.
County projections of the potential in fish farming were optimistic, citing the over 5,000 fish ponds alongside water pans, dams and rivers. The annual demand for fish was projected at 7,000 tonnes in the 14 member counties of the Lake Region Economic Bloc (Lreb).
The county government reportedly asked the investor to prepare a comprehensive report on the plans to kick-start operations in the subsequent meeting.
The meeting was attended by officials from the Departments of Agriculture and Trade alongside the Kakamega County Investment and Development Agency chief executive, the county attorney, members of the County Assembly Agriculture Committee and Kakamega Fish Farmers Cooperative officials.
The factory is located near the Bukhungu stadium and was considered as a key investment in the county’s economic plank, targeting to grow the aquaculture sector as an alternative source of income for farmers.
Farmers have expressed disappointment with the manner in which the project is being implemented.
They said the administration of former governor Wycliffe Opranya had promised them that the project would change their livelihoods through improved incomes, but that had not happened.
“We have been informed that the dispute is currently in court and I do not want to go into the details. We are waiting for a full briefing from the management of DAS Group on May 16 so that we can chart the way forward,” County Fisheries Director Norman Mulama said.
The project has the capacity to process 20 tonnes of fish daily and was launched on July 11, 2021, in an event presided over by the Swedish Ambassador to Kenya and Lreb governors.
The Kakamega County Government signed a memorandum of understanding with the DAS Group to run the factory.
According to the project brief, the investor carried out major renovations and installed equipment imported from China. The renovations were meant to ensure compliance with local and European Union standards.
DAS Group chief executive officer Samuel Ondiek told Nation in an interview that the initial delay in kick-starting operations was linked to challenges relating to finalising the lease agreement with the county government.
He said that full operations would kick off after the county government had handed over the lease agreement.
But, according to records from the county government, DAS Group took possession of the premises after the county government signed a lease agreement on November 3, 2021.
DAS Group was given a grace period of six months from January 2020 for payment of rent to the county government.
The memorandum of understanding provided for the payment of Sh100,000 rent by the investor to the county government.
DAS Group made an initial payment of Sh200,000 for rent on March 22, 2021.
On April 7, 2021, the International Fund for Agricultural Development facilitated a visit by members of the Aquaculture Business Development Programme steering committee members to the factory to establish the level of preparedness to start operations.
Nevertheless, to date, the project appears to have stagnated with fish farmers saying they were considering alternative income-generating activities.