On the foot of the Aberdare Forest in Nyandarua County, David Ruhiu is carving a niche in fish farming in a region dominated by dairy cows.
Soon after retirement some 10 years ago, Ruhiu went into farming, starting with nine cows, which he reared on his one-and-half acres.
The venture, however, did not go well as he would only get 35 litres of milk from the four lactating animals.
“I never broke even despite investing so much in buying the animals, feeds and employing workers. The business turned out expensive and flopped.”
Ruhiu turned to fish farming after attending workshops and taking a three months’ certificate course at the Moi University.
“I was ready to start my fish venture after the course. I started it at the space the cows occupied and named it Avil Fish Farm,” says Ruhui.
His first pond was 20 by 15m in which he stocked 1,600 tilapia fingerlings he bought from Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), Sagana at Sh7 each.
After eight months, the fish earned him Sh97,000, a tidy amount for a beginner.
This encouraged him, with the farmer digging five more ponds and stocking in them over 70,000 tilapia.
He has set up a hatchery in a greenhouse from where he breeds his fingerlings that he sells at Sh15 each. He also restocks his ponds with the fingerlings.
The farmer also keeps catfish and ornamental fish like Gold fish and Koi, selling 2-3 inches of the produce at Sh15.
“I use cow and chicken manure to stimulate growth of algae in the fish ponds. Fish feeds on algae which make them mature faster,” he offers, adding he also gives the fish commercial feeds.
The 57-year-old sells tilapia to households and specific hotels in Nyandarua, Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Nakuru, with a kilo of the fish going for an average of Sh400.
The ready market has made him not worry about increased fish imports from China, which hit a record high of Sh1.7 billion last year.
However, the ready market is not the only reason he is not a worried fish farmer. Ruhiu makes sausages from fish filling a gap in the market flooded with pork and beef products. He has set up a mini-factory to process the sausages.
“I set up the factory out of frustration. I would wait for eight months to sell my fish at Sh400 per kilo but when I ate the same fish in a hotel I had sold to, I had to cough Sh1,700 for it. I realised I was not fulfilling my potential.”
An extensive research and training on ways to add value to fish led him to sausages and smokies.
After getting his catch from the ponds, he cleans it, and descales from the head to tail before filleting.
He then freezes it for up to 10 degrees Celsius to kill all pathogens before processing, with the machine offering him 150 sausages per hour.
“The demand for fish sausages is high that I cannot satiate the market. I have been supplying to three major supermarkets in Nyahururu Town every day and customers want more,” he says, adding he sells a kilo of fish sausages at Sh700.
To run the farm and make the products, he has licenses from the county government, Ministry of Health and the Kenya Bureau of Standards.
Domitila Kyule, a research scientist at KMFRI, Sagana, says for one to venture into such business, they must have knowledge in aspects of production and value addition.
“It is a new venture and has great potential because people are looking for white meat products. Fish has several nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for growth and development, besides being a source of protein.”