Despite investing Sh99.3 million into fish farming by the Nyeri County government, residents are yet to embrace fish in their diet three years on.
Since the commissioning of a Sh61 million fish factory to the county government three years ago, the factory has only received and processed 758 kilograms of fish from farmers.
The facility was to serve as a sale outlet for day-to-day fish sales as well as protect farmers from exploitation from middlemen.
With a capacity to process two tons of fish per day, the factory only managed to process four fish per day as at last year.
“We are operating under capacity due to the quantity of fish we receive,” said the then Agriculture executive Robert Thuo.
High price of feeds, culture and lack of extension services, have been cited as reasons why farmers have abandoned the venture.
Some of the ponds have now turned into muddy patches with farmers saying they delved into fish farming after being convinced that the venture was more lucrative.
“Since I ventured into fish farming it was exciting and I loved it, but I don’t think I have gotten enough money from it,” said Mr John Wambugu, a resident of Mathira.
The farmers now blame the county government for not supporting them.
“We do not see any extension officer coming to guide. They give us fish and leave without returning to check how we are performing. I have never seen extension officers here,” he added.
In various reports, the department of agriculture has admitted suffering a shortage of extension officers.
The farmers’ claimed fish farming, being a new venture in the county, they needed constant assistance from the agriculture department, which never came forth.
Farmers have abandoned fish farming after realising rearing fish was not an easy task as they had imagined.
They said they thought that fish eats less than dairy animals meaning they required less to take care of them.
“Fish feeds are too expensive, it’s a costly business that we had not anticipated,” added Mr Wambugu.
A 20kg bag of commercial fish feeds retails at between Sh1, 400 and Sh2, 000.
Jackson Maina had his pond stocked with 1, 000 fingerlings in Mathira.
“Some of the fish that were stocked in the ponds were underdeveloped since they reproduced so fast and overpopulated the ponds. I harvested a number, the biggest being about 150 grams,” he said.
A kilogramme of fish is sold at Sh300.
The farmers said they experienced difficulties getting customers to buy the fish despite dozens of fish vendors peddling cooked fish in the streets of Nyeri.
“Nyeri people do not love eating fish, this hinders people from buying it and those who cook from the streets, prefer importing fish from the lake,” said Mr Maina.
Fish farming was introduced in the county through the Economic Stimulus Programme in the 2009/10 financial year.
Through the programme, a total of 1, 000 fingerlings were distributed to each farmer. The farmers also got free feeds after ponds were built and stocked in a project that lasted six months.
Once they were trained , the farmer were expected to move to the next stages on their own.
But some farmers could not make another move without the help they got from the programme resulting to a flop in the idea of popularizing fish farming in Nyeri.
In the 2015/2016 financial year, the county government invested Sh21 million in fish farming.
The county spent Sh3.6 million to buy fingerlings for framers to improve the quality of fish reared in the ponds.
The county had also bought deep freezers worth Sh800, 000 for fish storage in every sub county besides a Sh4 million refrigerated truck and fish processing equipment worth Sh1.5 million.
Currently, the truck lies idle at the Wamagana fish factory parking lot and the sub-county fish collection centres equipped with deep freezers are also not operational.
According to an officer in charge of Mukurwe-ini fish collection centre, the facility does not receive any fish as farmers opt to sell their own produce.
“We do not have farmers bringing their fish to the collection centre because they sell their own produce from their farms,” said Mr George Karanja adding that the only time the farmers make use of the facility is when they have a surplus that need refrigeration.
The collection centres were intended to receive fish from farmers. The refrigerated truck would collect the fish to from the sub-counties to Wamagana fisheries.
In June 2016, the county government bought tilapia monosex fingerlings, rehabilitated fish ponds and constructed 26 fish ponds in addition to 214 ponds which were restocked with 230, 800 fingerlings at Sh3.4 million.
Later a fish farmers’ validation exercise was conducted to improve data collection validation and revealed that some fish ponds had dried up.
For instance in Mathira, fishponds have reduced from 200 to less than 100.
Heavy rainfall experienced in the county towards the end of April last year, affected fish ponds that were flooded, dealing another blow to the fish farming project.
In the current financial year, the Nyeri County government has set aside Sh14 million for the rehabilitation of fish ponds, buying fingerlings and dam liners to boost fish farming.
County Agriculture Executive Henry Kinyua said they were reviewing the operations at the Wamagana factory from being run by a cooperative to a team of a professional board.
He said the factory failed because there was ready market for the produce.