The department of fisheries in Narok County is set to take a section of fish farmers in the county on training and benchmarking tour of counties in Central region to boost fish pond farming technology.
Speaking to KNA in his office on Tuesday, County Fisheries Director, Vincent Ireri Kinyua said Central region has some of the best and well established fish framers in the country some of whom have been farming fish for export.
“This means our farmers will have a lot to learn on this benchmarking tour and help increase fish production in Narok County,” he said.
Kinyua expressed concern that fish farming in the county had declined despite the increase in the demand and attributed this to various factors such as drought.
In 2009, the Government came up with the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) whose main objective was to create jobs for the youth, improve food security and reduce poverty levels in the country.
One of the programmes the government invested in as part of ESP was promotion of fish farming; this was after it became apparent that the existing fish sources in the country such as Lake Victoria was not producing enough as fish production had dwindled.
During implementation of the Economic Stimulus Programme, 320 fishponds were constructed in Transmara East and West in Narok County at a cost of Sh8million and the ponds were very vibrant producing a variety of fish for the market.
Production in these fish ponds has now reduced to only 160 currently which the fisheries department is planning to increase through training to the farmers.
Kinyua said there was also lack of ownership of the ESP fish ponds by farmers because they were constructed for them by the government and added this could have led to the neglect of the some of the ponds thus reducing them to 160.
Trans Mara East and West areas were chosen as it was found to have high potential for fish farming in the county.
Between 2009 and 2012, the government spent a whooping Sh5.69 billion to implement fish farming in 160 constituencies around the country by constructing 47,000 fishponds. This increased area under aquaculture from 722hectares to 14,076hectares and aquaculture production from 4,220 metric tonnes to 19,337 metric tonnes.
Kinyua however said the consumption of fish in the country is over 25,000metric tonnes annually leaving a deficit of over 5,000 tonnes which is imported from other counties and China.
The fisheries officer said most of the fish consumed in the county is sourced from fish farming which is practiced in Transmara West and East sub counties under intensive levels of management but fish is also sourced from uncontrolled fishing in rivers and dams in order to help meet this demand.
He commended the residents for embracing fish farming saying though the county is famous of livestock, they are slowly diversifying their way of life.
The director said his department has been holding numerous campaigns dubbed ‘kuza, kula,kuuza samaki’(rear, eat and sell fish) aimed at sensitizing wananchi on the nutritional and economical value of rearing fish.
Kinyua also disclosed that through this campaign, the Maasai and Kalenjin communities who initially did not eat fish had changed the perception and are now consuming fish which they have for a long time considered to be a snake.
He disclosed that to this end, his department had taken the ‘eat fish” campaign to schools where over 200 schools in the county have been equipped with fishponds which are now fully operational.
“I encourage residents to tap the rain waters in dams this rain season and use it for rearing fish; the climatic conditions in this area are conducive for fish than in most parts of the country where it is too cold making fish to grow slowly,” Kinyua said.
He however lamented that his department lacked enough personnel to give extension services to the farmers, as there are only two technical staff to serve the expansive county.
“Inadequate staff, poor and erratic climatic conditions, inadequate information and poor cultural perception on fish and fish products especially among the Maasai, low production of fish from farms, low adoption of fish farming technologies and lack of organized markets are, among others, the major constraints facing the fisheries sub sector in the County”, Kinyua said.
“Fish is the fastest growing sector in the food industry. It promotes social inclusion since women and youth can easily practice it as opposed to livestock farming that is owned by men,” he stated.
He observed that there is a high demand for white meat consumption by residents and tourists who flock the county.
In Kenya, fish consumption has a deficit of over 800,000 metric tones annually which the country has been importing in from China. In 2016, fish imports from China are said to have hit the 1billion metric tons mark due to this high demand or fish. Ironically, the fisheries department this year is to export its full potential in marine fisheries which can help meet this deficit.
Data from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics (KEBS) show that Kenya’s per capita consumption of fish has gone up to seven kilos from two kilos in 2008.
The country is yet to attain the full potential in fishing at the Indian Ocean. Under the Exclusive Economic Zones, Kenyan fishermen are allowed to fish up to 200 nautical miles from the shores but they are operating short of five nautical miles mainly due to lack of appropriate fishing gear to explore the deep sea waters.
Kenya has a large exclusive fishing zone with potential to produce 300,000 tonnes of fish annually estimated at about Sh.75 billion. However, it is yet to optimally exploit this potential.
This has given room to developed nations with advanced gear to exploit Kenya’s fishing potential. Illegal fishermen are also using the opportunity to exploit Kenya’s resources.
By Mabel Keya Shikuku