By Evance Odhiambo

Kenyan fish farmers will now benefit from a program aimed at increasing the profitability of their farms through a data-driven integrated ecosystem approach.

The program, worth over kshs.100 million (about USD one million), is the first of its kind in the country bringing together all the stakeholders that a farmer needs during the fish farming process to the point of purchase.

These stakeholders include one feed manufacturer and supplier, two fingerling suppliers, an aquaculture training institution, two microfinance institutions and a buyer.

“We realized that fish farmers in Kenya struggle to make their businesses profitable. This is due to a lack of access to finance and markets, poor inputs and insufficient technical skills. This program tackles all those challenges ensuring that fish farmers have a chance at not just a profitable business but a sustainable one as well,” said Lattice Aquaculture East Africa Regional Head, Julie Muyela.

Julie Muyela at the launch in Kisumu

The program will first have the farmers trained on best aquaculture practices that will enable them to appreciate both the technical and business angles of their fish farming. They will then be linked to input suppliers who will deliver high quality feeds and fingerlings in addition to doing farm follow ups to ensure the farms are efficient. The quality of feeds and fingerlings are important elements when it comes to a fish farm’s profitability potential.

Two financial institutions have been included in the ecosystem to cater to the farmers’ aquaculture financial needs. The project adopts the “take aquaculture to the banks” strategy, where the institutions will receive training on aquaculture value chains and trained on aquaculture business scenarios.

This will enable them to tailor-make products that are palatable to fish farmers. The farmers, on the other hand, shall be trained on the requirements of financial institutions to make them credit-ready.

On the market side, the buyer will buy at least 80% of the fish produced by each farmer at a competitive market price.

“We have partnered with Aquarech who will provide market linkages to absorb 80% of the fish, leverage on its mobile app to provide viable data on farmer locations, production, sales and prices for smallholder farmers in targeted regions among other things,” Muyela said.

Collection and analysis of data is a key aspect to this end-to-end program because the data will be used by all stakeholders to ensure the successful commercialization of these fish farms.

“Data will provide farmers with insights into efficiency and profitability, such as feed costs throughout the cycle, feed usage, feed conversion ratios, cost price, revenue, good business practices among other things,” said Lattice Aqua Technical Project Manager, John Erick.

“Farmers can analyze this data to assess where improvements can be made as well as when to access financing. The financial institutions in the program will also use this data to continue to build a business case for aquaculture financing in Kenya.”

John Erick at the launch of the program in Kisumu

The program which has been designed by Lattice Aquaculture Limited alongside its funding partner, the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) will begin as a two-year pilot project with 50 smallholder farmers across Western and Eastern Kenya with the possibility of rolling it out to more farmers across the country at the end of two years.

“The fisheries and aquaculture sector in Kenya is underdeveloped with great unrealized potential. We are committed to accelerating the sector’s growth through various initiatives, one of them being this integrated program. This program will build inclusive supply chains in which outgrower schemes will be established as successful profitable business models for fish entrepreneurs now and in the future. This approach will be replicated and upscaled to ensure the industry continues to grow,” said Muyela.

This project aims at bridging the deficit in terms of fish production and consumption in Kenya. According to Beth Wagude, the Program Manager Aquaculture Kenya, Kenya needs 900,000 metric tons of fish annually. However, the country is able to produce about 600,000 metric tons.

“It is ironical that Kenya has one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world and potential fish farmers yet we rely on imported fish. We must stop this,” says Wagude.

Beth Wagude during the launch in Kisumu

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, aquaculture has great unrealized potential in Kenya given its numerous aquatic resources. The country has over 1.14-million-hectare potential area suitable for fish farming with capacity to produce over 11 million metric tonnes of fish worth 750 billion Kenya shillings, an amount that can greatly contribute to Kenya’s economy if farmers are well supported.

According to a fingerling producer from Homa Bay County, Enos Were, there are key barriers hindering fish farming that the project will address including paying for services and buying inputs which are often challenging for smallholder farmers.

“Fish farming needs a huge chunk of capital and most of us are unable to afford. I know with this program, we are going to get incentives and market for our fish and fingerlings,’’ says Were.

Faith Elly who is practising catfish and tilapia farming in Machakos said that the county is in one of the driest parts of Kenya hence making fish farming an uphill task. She is optimistic that the project will bring on board experts that will bring in skills that can make aquaculture lucrative in the semi-desert regions of Kenya.

“This project will create more impact on fish farmers as it is designed to address specific challenges such as improving farmers livelihood, market inclusion, climate resilience, food security and nutrition,’’ says Elly.