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Farm Africa changes fortunes of fish farmers in Western Kenya

Life has changed for a former taxi driver in Kisumu and the mother of his children after he ventured into fish farming and opened an aqua shop as an outlet for the produce. Saul and wife, Janet hardly made ends meet from the taxi business until the couple heard about Farm Africa’s project that trains local farmers to take up fish farming.

The non-governmental organisation encourages enterprising farmers with some capital to set up aqua shops to provide fish farmers with all the equipment, baby fish and fish food they needed.

The couple opened Funyula Aqua Shop after receiving Farm Africa’s business training. Janet said: “Business is good and life has changed. We plan to open another aqua shop in Butula and employ someone to work there. We will train them in all the things we have learnt from Farm Africa”.

Saul now regularly provides fish farming supplies to 300 local fish farmers and also offers a popular advice service. With more and more local people learning how to become successful fish farmers, his customer base is growing. At harvest time, Saul arranges for an aqua culture merchant to collect the farmers’ fish.

Farmers are paid in cash on the day of collection. The best price Saul has negotiated for farmers so far is Sh180 per kilogramme. After just a year, Saul bought some land of his own on which he has constructed three fishponds.

He is now raising tilapia and catfish and plans to build at least 10 ponds. Farm Africa has also trained him to process fish to make it more valuable, and he is considering venturing into gutting the fish to increase their value.

The guts are used as natural fertilisers. To counter rising fish prices and falling fish stocks in Lake Victoria, the Kenyan government under former President Mwai Kibaki started a scheme to help fish farmers set up their own ponds. This helped hundreds of farmers to start fish farming businesses.

But many still lacked the equipment, feed and technical knowledge that they need for their ponds to thrive in the long term. Farm Africa has been supporting this scheme by establishing a network of aqua shops and training Kenya’s new fish farmers so that they can provide local smallholders with inputs and technical advice on best aquaculture practices.

The project has grown significantly since it was set up in 2011, with 56 shops set up in five years, benefiting over 7,500 farmers and increasing their incomes by 63 per cent. Sales of fish have increased through a partnership with digital platform, Esoko, which connects farmers with traders online, and is also used to send technical tips to farmers via text message.

According to Nadia Martinez who has been at the helm of Farm Africa, they are also working with agro-dealers and traders to make sure that fish farmers can get expert training and that there’s a market for their produce. “Studies have shown that most Kenyans prefer wild fish to farmed fish, but we’re working to change this perception.

“We are helping traders to sell larger volumes of farmed fish, which will take the pressure off sites such as Lake Victoria,” says the Farm Africa Country Director, Kenya. She saysbuilding on their success, Farm Africa recently received a new grant from the Ford Foundation to allow them expand their network of aqua shops to new areas, providing a further 3,000 farmers with training and the technical and financial support they need to set up sustainable fish farms.

Added the financial support offered by the Embassy of Netherlands in Nairob, the new grant will enable Farm Africa’s aquaculture programme in western Kenya to expand and help more fish farmers to develop their businesses rearing fish in government-dug ponds. “In recent years, overfishing and pollution in Lake Victoria have led to a 64 per cent decline in fish stocks, and the price of fish has rocketed,” says Martinez.

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