Kenyans take to an unlikely new crop: fish

Kenya: No pond? No problem. Kenyans take to an unlikely new crop: fish (Trust)

 Climate change can bring unpredictable weather and crop failure. But in this changing environment, Kenyan farmer James Muchangi thinks fish might be his crop of the future.

 Mr. Muchangi says, “I realized that one can actually rear fish in dry desert regions by investing in raised ponds, which I also realized don’t require much space.” Now he raises more than 400 fish in four ponds on his land in Tharaka Nithi County, eastern Kenya.

 Mr. Muchangi used his savings to build a raised pond. He installed a waterproof lining and a pump to circulate the pond water. Then, he added 2,000 young hatchlings to the pond. Finally, he stretched a plastic tarp over a wooden frame to make a greenhouse-like structure that protects the fish from predators and harsh weather.

 He explains, “In the greenhouse, the temperatures are regulated, ensuring that the water is always warmer—thus promoting the growth of fish.”

 Roy Kirimi manages a fish farm in neighbouring Meru County. He made the process of fish farming even more economical by building chicken houses over his ponds. Chicken manure falls into the pond and accelerates the growth of plankton and insect larvae—which the fish eat. This saves Mr. Kirimi money on commercial fish food.

 Alex Kimanthi also raises fish in Meru. He bought a piece of land far away from crop fields to avoid fertilizer and pesticide runoff that can kill fish. His pond is about one-tenth of an acre. Mr. Kimanthi’s fish eat cottonseed, wheat bran, wheat germ, and alfalfa. He monitors the water levels so the fish don’t spill out of the pond during the rainy season.

 Mr. Kimanthi sells his fish at the Kanyakine fish factory, in the markets, and on his farm. He also supplies a new fish processing facility in Meru County. The value of the fish depends on their size. Prices range from about 300 Kenyan shillings (US$3) for smaller catfish to 1,000 shillings (US$10) for larger ones.

 These days, Mr. Kimanthi earns more from his fish than any other crop. He keeps the fish in the pond until he has an order, to avoid spoilage. He says the process is less demanding than milking his cows every day.

 Moses Muithi is another fish farmer in Tharaka Nithi County. On Thursdays, he sells fish at a market run by the ministry of agriculture. The goal of the market is to inspire people to eat more fish. Buyers can learn new fish recipes, sample cooked fish, and buy raw fish.

 Mr. Muithi says, “Fish provides an alternative and affordable family income.”

 Not all his neighbours are used to eating fish, but he says the numbers are growing.