Aqua shops, a new initiative
In Western Kenya, almost 60 per cent of households are dependent on fish as a source of income, Lake Victoria providing over 90 per cent of Kenya's fish. But stocks have been dwindling due to overfishing and pollution and, with demand outstripping supply, the price of fish has risen, hitting the poor hard.
As part of a plan to stimulate economic growth, the government has begun to promote aquaculture as a source of food and income. Over the last two years the Kenyan Government has funded the construction of 46,000 fish ponds in 160 of the 210 constituencies in the country. The government has also provided catfish and tilapia fingerlings and fish feed as a start up measure, but many farmers have little access to basic extension services or long-term access to inputs.
To complement and enhance the government's extension services in aquaculture, FARM-Africa has established six franchised Aqua Shops in western Kenya to provide smallholders with inputs and technical advice on best aquaculture practices. The hubs also provide market information and teach fish farmers how to link their businesses with markets to generate additional income. Over 600 farmers have also been trained and equipped to set up and run viable fish farming businesses.
A new business venture
"By providing information on best-practice to fish farmers, Aqua Shops are taking a leading role in helping build profitable and sustainable aquaculture enterprises," explains Susan Otieno, Aqua Shop project coordinator. "The Aqua Shops act as hubs, supporting new fish farmers with essential materials such as fish feed and manure as well as technical advice so they can develop their businesses."
Each person chosen to run an aqua shop has had to demonstrate that they have relevant business and technical experience, that they have enough capital to invest in the shops, and they are willing to undertake a two week intensive training course in agribusiness and aquaculture run by FARM-Africa. Each Aqua Shop was then linked with key input suppliers and farmers. "When we started fish farming, we had so many problems, including getting feed, until the aqua shops started," explains Jackson Kanani, a fish farmer from Samia district. "Now we can get feed easily and at reasonable prices."
In 2010, Saul Odenyo gave up a taxi business in Kisumu to open an Aqua Shop. With his profits, Odenyo has been able to purchase land on which he has constructed three fish ponds and a hatchery shed to propagate catfish. "Business is good and life has changed," his wife Janet explains. "Now we can manage to pay for our children to go to school and I look forward to the future. We plan to open another Aqua Shop and employ someone to work there. We will train them in all the things we have learnt from FARM-Africa."
In order to underpin the long-term viability of the project, FARM-Africa is also working towards helping 1,000 smallscale farmers to enter the fish farming market. One way has been to organise fish farmers into clusters of up to 15 people and then provide regular refresher courses for representatives of each group, ensuring that knowledge and skills are shared throughout the community. "We have had courses, seminars and so many useful workshops," says Kanani. Fact sheets on fish pond liming, fish diseases, pond management, pond fertilisation, pond stocking and harvesting have been produced and distributed to farmers to address poor husbandry practices.
"Initial training for farmer groups was provided by FARM-Africa in order to stimulate demand for Aqua Shop services," Otieno explains. "Most farmers had no technical know-how so had to be exposed to the requirements for successful fish farmers and be sensitised on how Aqua Shops can provide for all of their farming requirements. Many Aqua Shops, however, are now offering their own training for a fee and the plan is that all training services will be handled by Aqua Shops in the future."
"Fish farming is a viable business venture with the potential to enhance food and nutrition security by providing high quality protein," Otieno states. "What FARM-Africa has done is to bring essential services closer to the fish farmer and it has worked as an incentive for farmers to stay on in fish farming. This intervention through Aqua Shops is really the way to go for the sustainability and continuity of fish farming in Kenya," she adds.
With support, FARM-Africa has also been able to champion the development of a National Aquaculture Policy to improve the environment within which aquaculture operates and address the challenges facing the sector. Objectives of the policy include developing seed and feed technology, implementing certification procedures, promoting marketing and value addition, facilitating training and extension, and encouraging investment in the sector. The policy has been finalised and is now available at the Ministry of Fisheries, awaiting approval from the government.
Due to the success of the project, FARM-Africa intends to scale up the project nationally and then regionally throughout East Africa. But Otieno warns that expansion of the sector is currently limited by a lack of funding and the availability of resources. "Private sector investment is required for the expansion of this sector," Otieno adds. "This is why we have supported Jewlet Enterprise to expand its hatchery operations in order to supply up to 1.2 million fingerlings per month, reducing waiting periods for many farmers. Affordable feed supplies are urgently required to ensure the sector grows," Otieno concludes. "Interventions that are business oriented and involve the private sector have the possibility to be self-sustaining in a shorter period of time. Private sector involvement also drives competition and efficiency, which is essential if the sector is to survive."
Written by: George Kebaso
Date published: November 2011
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