It’s a cold morning when Seeds of Gold visits John Mbiriri, a fish farmer in Tetu, Nyeri County.
We find Mbiriri standing next to one of his fish ponds, checking if everything is fine.
It has not been easy for the farmer who ventured into fish farming in mid 2011.
For the last two years, he has been struggling to earn money from fish but things have not been working.
Mbiriri went into fish farming under the government-run Economic Stimulus Package, and he expected huge returns after six to eight months, when fish normally mature.
He invested Sh200,000 in digging five fish ponds, buying the pond liner and a generator.
However, while doing all this, Mbiriri made two mistakes, which have cost him huge losses. The Ministry of Agriculture supplied him and other farmers with mixed sex tilapia fingerlings.
“I followed every advice I was given in terms of feeding them. But after six months, I could not believe it when I harvested my fish. They were too small. I gave them to my neighbours.”
The farmer continued to keep the fish for another season hoping things would improve. However, the fish continued to multiply but gained little weight, which is crucial when selling.
“After my second harvest, I went for training at Mwea Aqua Fish Farm in Kimbimbi and learned that tilapia cannot do well in cold weather.”
He was advised to keep catfish, which do well in high altitude areas. Another mistake he made was that he was keeping mixed sex fish. “The tilapia fish would spend a lot of their energy reproducing, instead of gaining weight,” says the farmer, who lost over Sh70,000 in the venture. Armed with the information, he started keeping mono sex tilapia and catfish.
When time came for harvesting, Mbiriri was happy that his tilapia had improved, however, the catfish had not attained maximum weight because he was underfeeding them.
“I again sought advice from the farm in Kimbimbi and was told to put the catfish in the same pond with the tilapia. The catfish would feed on tilapia eggs and their young ones and this will help them mature faster,” says the farmer, who keeps 2,000 fish.
Mbiriri had his first best harvest early this month, where he got over 900 mature fish earning over Sh60,000 when he sold them in Nyeri.
His feeds consist of wheat bran, fish meal, sunflower and maize germ. He makes the fish feeds to cut costs.
Due to the cold climate in Mt Kenya region, farmers harvest their fish in eight to 10 months, instead of the average six to eight.
Dr Joyce Maina, a lecturer at the Animal Production Department at University of Nairobi says many fish farmers were not given proper information when the government rolled out the stimulus programme.
“Farmers, for instance, were given mixed tilapia fingerings, thus, instead of the fish growing to maturity as expected, they were reproducing.”
Maina notes that tilapia has a unique way of reproducing. The fish carries the young ones in the mouth interfering with feeding.
For farmers in high altitude and cold areas, she advises that they should keep catfish.
“Farmers rearing mixed sex tilapia should introduce in the pond catfish in the ratio of 1:8 to reduce the reproduction rate of tilapia.”
Prof Paul Mbuthia from the Fisheries Department at the University of Nairobi says fish farmers must maintain good hygiene in ponds to reduce chances of parasites and protozoa breeding in them, leading to diseases.