Situated some 10km off the Nyeri-Nairobi highway in Karima village, Kirinyaga County, Samuel Ndegwa’s farm can best be described as a colourful wonder.
Ndegwa keeps a variety of ornamental fish that have become an attraction for farmers in the Mt Kenya region as well as those from the neighbouring Uganda.
They visit the farm not only to buy but also to learn how Ndegwa keeps the much-sought after fish.
A sea of ponds of various sizes hosting thousands of ornamental fish brooded from a hatchery some metres away welcomes Seeds of Gold team to the farm.
The varieties he rears include koi, gold fish, yellow comet, shubkin and fantail, which he mainly crossbreeds with goldfish. Each variety is kept in a different pond.
“This is my haven. It feels magical to live around all this beauty. I must say it is therapeutic,” says the retired chief.
Fish farming to him is “the most lucrative agricultural venture of our time”.
This is because one can make money at all the stages of fish growth, namely eggs, fries, fingerlings and when they mature.
His hatchery is made of wood and linen, where the eggs turn into fries in seven days and he then transfers them to the pond as fingerlings.
Inside the hatchery, he has three ponds measuring about three-and-a-half metres each. Each holds 400,000 fries,
He uses water stored in a pond in a greenhouse to propagate or breed the fish.
“The heat essentially helps in making the fingerlings grow faster. Most people rely on aquariums to breed ornamental fish but I prefer this method because it helps in reducing the mortality rate,” notes Ndegwa, adding the ideal water temperature should be 26-27 degrees Celsius.
At one week, Ndegwa and his team of five workers select the shooters, which are fish that grow faster, and put them in one pond to avoid cannibalism.
“Sorting should be done as frequently as possible. At least once a week to curb cannibalism and enhance the breeding process.”
The fish farmer is making a decent living from the ornamental fish as well as catfish and mudfish that he also keeps.
With ornamental fish, they are sold depending on various considerations, one of them being the length.
The longer the fish, the higher the price. He starts selling the fish at the fry stage, with each going for Sh10.
Fingerlings go for Sh15 to Sh20 depending on size.
The type of fish dictates also its cost. For instance, an inch of koi goes for Sh100, while that of gold fish and yellow comet is Sh30 while shubkin sells at Sh50 an inch. Fantail ranges from Sh400 to Sh600 depending on size.
Until recently, he also reared the lion head fish, a variety of gold fish, and black moor but he notes he stopped because of the fish short lifespan.
“The fantail has little survival chance in this region. So, I crossbreed it with the other fish types but mainly gold fish to ensure it endures the climate here,” notes Ndegwa, adding he sells catfish and mudfish fillets at Sh500 and Sh600 respectively.
A majority of his customers who buy in bulk for resale or rearing are in Kampala, Uganda.
Others buy to use for making aquariums to decorate their homes, hotels and offices.
“I produce the fish in bulk to take advantage of increased demand in the market. I breed the fish continuously in my small ponds, therefore, there is no time I lack fish to sell,” says Ndegwa, who notes he earns decently from his venture.
The former chief started fish farming in 2001 with tilapia but failed miserably after populating his pond with both female and male fingerlings.
“They overpopulated and filled the pond and I did not even make a single sale, leave alone cook one in the house,” he recalls.
But he did not give up and received a boost in fish farming knowledge from a Belgium researcher who was visiting the Sagana Fisheries in Kirinyaga.
“It was from the researcher that I learnt how to take care of fish and decided to revive the business,” says Ndegwa, who supplies his fish locally to farmers in Nyeri, Murang’a, Embu and Meru and helps them set up ponds.
He says farmers should constantly renew water in ponds to ensure fish gets sufficient supply of oxygen.
Although he is not struggling with market, Ndegwa says the challenge he has is mainly predators such as frogs and birds. He controls the invaders by covering the ponds with nets.
Henry Kinyua, an agricultural specialist in Nyeri, says ornamental fish are in the same category as flowers and are traded for their aesthetics. They are used to beautify rooms and just like flowers, they should not be eaten.
He adds that they offer a lucrative opportunity for farmers since they have a wide range of market both locally and internationally.