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Cage fish farmers push for policies to guide the sector

Sunday January 20 2019

harvest tilapia from cages

Workers at Victory Farm harvest tilapia from cages. The farm has over 50 fish cages at Sindo Beach in Homa Bay County. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

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Cage fish farmers operating in Lake Victoria have said they have a strategy that could help generate enough resources to end exploitation by middlemen.

The plan, they said, will market their produce, improve sales, empower youth and women, and lock out middlemen who they accuse of fuelling ‘sex for fish’ in various landing sites in Lake Victoria.

The steps include pushing the government to fast-track establishment of guidelines on cage fish farming, setting up of an exclusive fish market for their produce, marketing it and providing an opportunity for millers to cash in by providing feeds.

Mr Dave Okech, chairman of a newly created Cage Fish Farmers’ Association of Kenya, told the Sunday Nation that women and youth stand to benefit as well as traders and processors.

“There is a huge opportunity and potential in cage fish farming. Deficit created by ban on tilapia fish imports is an opportunity for us to grow our trade as alternative fish producers,” said Mr Okech.

They are planning to move away from the two by two metres cages which are said to be ‘not commercially viable’ since they are small to the five or six metres, which produces up to eight tonnes of fish.

The association currently comprises 55 farmers from the four counties of Kisumu, Siaya, Migori and Homa Bay forming the larger Nyanza.

Mr Okech said the last census revealed that there were 4,500 cages on the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria.

“As at 2018, it is estimated that the cages produced 5,000 tonnes of fish, but if all challenges are dealt with, the farming has a potential of producing 500,000 tonnes every year,” said Mr Okech.

The farmers’ representative indicated that cage aquaculture is still facing policy hiccups with lack of laid out regulations to guide its activities.

He is, however, optimistic that establishment of guidelines will be expedited.

“Ministers from the East Africa Community (EAC) states should meet and come up with guidelines that will ensure the farming is carried out in a sustainable manner that doesn’t harm or pollute the lake in any way,” he said.

Mr Okech said the farming had not been recognised by the EAC. Aside from the regulations, the fish farmers are at the moment piling pressure on National Treasury to scrap taxes on equipment.

The farmers called for support from both national and county governments to help them bridge the deficit in fish production following the dwindling fish stock in the lake.

According to Mr Okech, who is also the founder of Rio Fish Limited, about 20 per cent of the cash they use to buy fish cages goes to taxes.

“For instance, I imported my fish cage at $7,000 (Sh707,000), but 21 per cent of this is import duty levied when bringing it to the country. This should be removed to make importation easier,” said Mr Okech.

He added: “If these duties are removed, we would save a lot of production costs and use it elsewhere. The government also stands to gain more by getting taxes from proceeds of cage farming in the country.”

The farmers are proposing that county governments should partner with them and help import the cages.

Apart from high import duty, Mr Okech pointed out that lack of technical training by farmers, marketing and lack of cool storage facilities also pose a major challenge to the success of the type of fish production.

He stated that sourcing for quality input is a major hurdle. This involves getting quality feeds for the fish. It is also an opportunity for millers to produce in large-scale fish feeds that will cash in on the demand by farmers.

“Finding a consistent supplier of fingerlings and fish feeds with floating capability is difficult since they are very few producers. When fish cage picks up, this is one area that millers will really benefit from,” said Mr Okech.

He added consumers are not aware of the places they can get their fish. Rio fish is in the process of constructing the first exclusive fish market strictly for the produce from the cages.

“This market will be specifically for fish from cages, so that every consumer knows where to find us,” he said.

Another challenge they have is lack of a storage facility, which they intend to incorporate in the fish market.