Groups of farmers who were supported by the Kirinyaga government to venture into fish farming have started earning proceeds after the fish matured.
This comes in the wake of rising consumer demand for fish in the Mt Kenya region that has seen the farmers reaping big from their first harvest.
Fish farming and consumption, more common in communities in the Lake Victoria basin and the Coast region, is gradually being embraced by residents, pushing up demand.
Governor Anne Waiguru's administration helped farmers to build fish ponds and stocked them with fingerlings.
The farmers were also given free fish feeds for seven months, the period it takes for fish to mature and be harvested.
Two of the groups harvested their fish on Tuesday and the catch was sold out immediately.
Twenty community groups were selected after applying for funding from the county government, which has been helping farmers to diversify their agricultural activities with the aim of increasing their income.
The governor said the fish farming project is one of the components of the Wezesha Kirinyaga economic programme that has supported farmers to improve their incomes.
“Fish farming will provide alternative livelihoods and give direct support to women and youth who will be involved at various stages of the project value chain, which includes cooking, selling and transportation of fish. Others will be employed at fish eateries which have now become very popular in our county,” Ms Waiguru said.
Though Kirinyaga is known for cash crops such as tea, coffee and rice, fish rearing is a new stream for farmers to diversify their income.
“The project was also informed by the huge deficit of fish which makes Kenya import fish since lake fishing cannot sustain the demand,” Ms Waiguru said.
“As such, half of all the fish produced in Kenya comes from aquaculture, while the other half comes from ocean and lake fishing.”
The beneficiaries have testified that integrating fish farming has turned out to be a game changer in their farming practices.
“We are very happy that our fish is now mature and we have started making sales and getting some for our families to consume it,” said Caroline Wambui, a member of the Great Star Youth Group in Gichugu constituency.
She said that her youth group was grateful to Governor Waiguru for initiating the programme, which she noted would empower young people. She said they were given free fish pond liners and fish feeds and all they had to do was to nurture the fish to maturity.
Elija Karari, chairman of the Kiamurugu Tissue Bananas Group, said 25 members benefited from 1,600 fingerlings that they are now harvesting and selling.
He said that once they sell the harvest, they will use the proceeds to restock their fish pond and buy fish feeds and sustain the project on their own.
He said fish farming is less time-consuming and production costs are manageable compared with other farming activities.
He thanked Governor Waiguru for the support that will uplift the living standards of farmers who have embraced the project.
Susan Kagio, another member of the group, said that they will also plough back the profits into their group table banking initiative so as to expand their capital base and make more money out of lending to members.
“We also want to introduce the fish project at the individual level even as we continue with the group project, because we have now gained valuable experience on how to manage fish farming,” she said.
Fishmongers have opened shop in most major towns across the county while fish eateries have opened in almost every street.
In Kagio, selling cooked fish has become a lucrative business for both men and women and customers buy raw fish and wait in a queue for vendors to deep-fry it for them.
“The demand for fish in this town is very high; I am surprised. I started it as a trial business but now I am in it fully. People come in big numbers to buy cooked fish,” said James Bundi, a fish seller in Kagio.
“The only problem is that the supply is low. We have to go for kilometers to the Masinga dam or down the river Sagana to get the fish.”
Hellen Atago, another fishmonger in the town, said the fish business has enabled her to meet her basic needs, including educating her children.
She was happy about Governor Waiguru’s initiative. She said getting fish from the Masinga dam or Naivasha had become difficult as a result of rising fuel costs.
She said demand for fish in the county was high as more families incorporate it in their diet.
“People have discovered the value of consuming fish and those growing fish locally have a ready market.” Ms Atago said.
Ms Waiguru said that her vision is for Kirinyaga to get a fair share of the fishing potential given that it is endowed with favourable aquaculture conditions that include fresh water and a ready market.
She wants to increase annual fish production from the current 29.4 tonnes worth Sh12.8 million to 62 tonnes that will fetch farmers around Sh30 million per year.
After being re-elected, Ms Waiguru reiterated her support for farmers through the expansion of the Wezesha project to benefit more households.
“As we are all aware, agriculture is the backbone of our county’s economy. Through our Wezesha Kirinyaga programme, we have [worked] to increase agricultural productivity with the aim of putting more money in the pockets of our farmers,” she said.
Ms Waiguru has over the years urged residents to embrace routine fish consumption as a way of boosting their health and growing the county’s economy.
She said consumption of excess red meat has been blamed for the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney diseases among residents, noting that fish provides a good source of the recommended white meat.