Huge greenhouses welcome one to Elgon Fish Farm in Trans Nzoia County.
Seeing the structure, one may not understand why Alfred Kiboi, the owner of the farm, has named it a fish farm yet it appears he grows crops in the greenhouses.
However, the former accountant who retired in 1996 from the civil service practises mainly aquaculture on seven of his 130 acres.
“I started with five wooden greenhouses where I was growing tomatoes, bell peppers and eggplants but after four years, I dropped the project after failing to find someone with the technical know-how to manage crops in the structures,” he says, noting that he has invested a good amount of money in the business.
He then developed interest in fish farming and made a small pond where he put in fingerlings obtained from the river.
After six months, the fingerlings were still small, weighing an average of 130g, he recalls.
“I travelled to Tororo, Uganda, to visit farmers who had hatcheries. I invited one of the farmers who later travelled to Kenya and he helped me establish fish ponds,” he says.
In Uganda, he says, fish farming is vibrant, with a place like Tororo having over 20 hatcheries. “Their government has also put more emphasis on fish farming. I learnt lessons on how to utilise greenhouses to keep fish, manage a large-scale farm and utilise water properly.”
Kiboi now keeps catfish and tilapia and their fingerlings, with his hatchery mainly being inside the greenhouses.
He has 12 ponds measuring eight by 50 metres each and he is working on raising the number to over 40.
“I currently have some 400,000 fingerlings for both catfish and tilapia. The brooders normally number 5,000 – 7,000 at any given time.”
He has also employed two workers, one with a master’s degree in aquaculture and another with a diploma, both of who provide technical advice.
During the visit, the Seeds of Gold team finds Kiboi in a white dustcoat feeding the fish with his workers. He throws some food into the water and a school of fish suddenly scrambles for it before diving back into the water.
Kiboi picks a net, dips it into the pond and pulls out a 10kg catfish and then puts it in a container with fresh water.
“I sell the fish fresh, that’s why I put them in water, and this is why customers keep coming back because they buy what is still live,” he says, noting the 10kg fish goes for Sh4,000.
Mercy Chepkorir, 28, a graduate from Moi University and the manager of the farm, says fish needs good management to thrive.
"We go through all the ponds every day to check fingerlings before we start the feeding process at 10am. After that we remove eggs and fingerlings from the hatchery then do sorting and grading," explains Ms Chepkorir.
Kiboi’s target market is county governments in the North Rift and western Kenya.
Late last year, the farmer supplied 200,000 fingerlings to the Vihiga county government and 180,000 fingerlings to Kakamega.
Kiboi says the secret behind successful fish farming is investment in feeds and controlling breeding of tilapia by keeping it alongside catfish.
He obtains feeds from the Kenya Forestry Research Institute and also imports from an organisation in Egypt.
He introduces the fingerlings to feeds as soon as they are hatched, offering them rations that have 60 per cent protein content for a month.
“We then reduce the protein content to 40 per cent, then to 28 per cent until the fish matures. This enables us obtain healthy fish weighing 250g,” he points out, adding that he sells a kilo of fish at Sh300.
Kiboi is one of the three farmers in Kenya whose fish farms have been selected for the introduction of the pond recirculation technology to improve production. The other two are in Central and Nyanza.
The Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation project is sponsored by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Bank and is also being implemented in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Ghana and Zambia.
The chairman of the National Aquaculture Association of Kenya Domiciano Maingi notes that farmers across the country should embrace the technology as it is aimed at increasing fish production.
Trans Nzoia county director of fisheries Jamlek Njeru says there is great improvement in fish farming in the region because of availability of a good market but most farmers lack training and funds to expand their business.