Nestled within Thika’s Golf View Estate, on the Thika – Murang’a Road, is a fish hatching farm named Jasa Fish Farm.
It is the brainchild of Jane Waruinge who decided to take the road less taken some three years ago.
Born in Molo, Jane first relocated to Thika and later to the United States where she spent 15 years.
However in 2012, she decided return to the country to venture in fish hatching business, having been lured into the lucrative trade in the United States by a friend in North Carolina.
Using her savings, she bought two plots of land in early 2013 on the outskirts of Thika town and started developing them, with fish hatchery in mind.
She pumped Sh3.5million into the development of her two plots, bought and erected the hatcheries, built the ponds and put up other numerous essential structures.
She then shipped in the brooders, with her monosex tilapia coming mainly from UK, and the gold fish and catfish coming from Jambo Fish Farm in Kiambu.
Her aquaculture farm now boasts of three types of fish fingerlings (tilapia, catfish and gold fish), with her specialty being in monosex male tilapia fingerlings.
The two plots now have nearly 15 fishponds of varied sizes and make. There are numerous portable ponds made of wooden planks and a thick polythene lining, earthen ponds with thick polythene lining, concrete ponds and plastic ponds made of big plastic containers.
FINGERLINGS FED ON ARTEMIA
Jane only keeps a few mature fish for brooding, seeing as her venture mainly deals in fingerlings.
The smaller of her two farms has nine ponds where the catfish and tilapia fingerlings are kept, with the ponds’ water coming from a borehole in the establishment.
The bigger plot uses water from the Thika River, which flows nearby. It hosts the hatcheries and the goldfish ponds, with the hatcheries capable of hatching 30,000 fingerlings at a time.
Water is pumped from the river into a huge tank in the farm, where it is decontaminated before being further pumped into the ponds.
The ponds are constructed in a way that makes it easy for the water to be easily pumped in and out after every two weeks to keep them clean.
Fertilised eggs are collected from the male brooders in the spawning ponds, then put in the hatcheries where they hatch after 24 days.
They are then put in the plastic ponds aptly built near the hatcheries, where they stay for up to two weeks before being transferred to the larger ponds within the farm.
After spawning, she feeds the fingerlings on Artemia for three to five days after which she introduces them to a wean mix manufactured in Netherlands and prime fish feed pallets that she buys from Jambo Fish Farm.
The fingerlings are then fed on the granular fish food pallets gauged in relation to the fingerlings’ ages, as they gradually grow.
“Most of the feeds are imported and are therefore quite expensive,” she says indicating that she spends at least Sh35,000 per month on the feed alone.
The different types of fingerlings are kept in different ponds, in relation to their ages, to inhibit the fish, usually the grown catfish, from feeding on the fingerlings.
CONSTANT WATER TEMPERATURE
These ponds are then covered using a net to keep away aerial predators and also flying debris and dirt.
So what drove her into this venture? “I love my country, Kenya and despite having settled in the US, I wanted to do something beneficial especially to the women and youth in the country due to the high prevalence of unemployment. That is why I started this venture, to educate and motivate them too.” She says.
On feeding, the fingerlings have no specific feeding schedule and the criteria used is that the feed is measured in grammes or kilogrammes, then distributed for the specific ponds depending on the size of the pond and the perceived amount of fingerlings the pond has then.
The feed is then sprinkled in the ponds numerous times per day until each of the pond’s daily ration of food is finished.
Though she has never experienced illnesses affecting the fingerlings, the major challenge she has to contend with is their mortality.
“The environment of the hatchery and ponds has to be kept at a constant temperature of 24-28 degrees centigrade and anything much lower or higher than that could prove disastrous to the fingerlings,” says the entrepreneur, adding that it is well possible for a farmer to lose more than 50 per cent of his/her hatched fingerlings due to temperature disparity in the hatchery and pond.
Prof Dickson Owiti from the Fisheries Department of Maseno University concurs with this, stating that there are a number of fungal, bacterial and parasitic infections and diseases that can adversely affect the fingerlings.
He adds that it is viable to practice any form of fish farming in all settings, such as in urban areas, given the good climatic conditions the country has for fish fingerlings farming, while also encouraging the focus on monosex male tilapia fingerlings due to their fast growing nature.
“Ensure there is plenty of circulating water, enough shade, balanced diet fish food and the right circulation of oxygen in the hatchery and pond,” he says adding that fibre glass tank ponds, concrete ponds and wooden portable ponds are the most advisable to use in urban and semi-urban settings.
To mitigate the fingerlings mortality, Jane has built sheds with controlled environment and temperatures, where the conditions are kept constant, especially for the catfish fingerlings which thrive best in slightly warm waters.
The market for the farm’s fingerlings include fish farmers throughout the former Central Province counties and as far as Nakuru County and other major towns countrywide.
“There are farmers from as far as Tanzania, who came to visit the farm a few days ago,” she says adding that she intends to tap into the Tanzanian fingerlings market too.
Farming organisations such as Farm Africa, also hold learning demos on fish farming in the farm occasionally.
In the farm, one month old fingerlings of tilapia and catfish sell for Sh8-10 each, while at two months they sell at Sh15-20 each, with the minimum number of fingerlings one can buy at a time being 100.
The gold fish fingerlings however come slightly dear, each selling at Sh60 at one month old.
Her two employees do the packaging of the fish fingerlings whenever a customer purchases. The customer can then pick the package from the farm or receive it via courier as decided during purchase negotiations.
A monthly profit of Sh50,000 is what Jane makes, putting much of it back into developing and expanding the venture.
- Aquaculture is among the fastest growing sector at an estimated rate of about 10 per cent per annum. Currently, most farmers want to be engaged in this business with an aim of supplying fish protein to the market and creating self employment.
- Central Kenya is the leading region in aquaculture in the country, supplying the highest amount of fish to the economy. Aquaculture in the region has thrived following the introduction of the economic stimulus programme by the government in 2009.
- Sagana and Mwea fish farms are known hatcheries supplying the region.
- Practicing aquaculture in earthen or liner ponds is an old tradition applicable in areas with enough land. This can be a challenge in urban settings where land is a limiting factor.
- In such cases unconventional means to culture fish are possible through the use of raised/hanging ponds and use of tanks. Raised /hanging ponds are constructed using offcuts which are built to take rectangular shapes into which a polythene sheets are laid to hold water. This system is economical since it takes small space of land and can be constructed from cheap locally acquired materials.
- Tanks are made out of concrete and can be rectangular or circular in shape. They economise on space.
CHALLENGES AND DISEASES
In fingerlings business, common challenges includes; diseases, parasites, water quality, feeds and predators. Diseases common includes; bacterial, fungal, parasitic and environmental mediated diseases.
However disease challenges can be alleviated by ensuring that the culture environment is clean free from disease causing organisms. a farmers should ensure clean source of water free of parasites. predators control through tough security and use of cover nets where fish eating birds are common.
feeds should be purchased from trusted dealers and where possible a farmer should have his own locally formulated fish diet on the farm using the locally available materials.
Perfect environment for fingerlings production and raising depends on the type of the fish in mind. In Kenya mostly warm water fish species — tilapia and catfish — are common with some regions having the cold water species — trout.
All in all, for a given species they will perform best within their environmental requirement range. There should be water of the right quality and quantity, the temperatures should be within the species performance range, free from predators, and to support their growth, there should be enough food of the right quality.
Akidiva Alex Amuyunzu and Felix Opinya, Egerton University