Contributions of Government fish farms in Kenya

In the 1920s, many communities in rural Kenya began to suffer from serious health issues as a result of inadequate protein in their diets. The Government of Kenya acted on this by promoting aquaculture as a subsistence activity, encouraging communities to breed and consume fish to supplement diets and reduce hunger.

Since then, fish farming in Kenya has grown significantly in popularity and has produced multiple social and economic benefits. These benefits can be traced back to the building of 15 Government-owned fish farms, which began in 1948.Professor Greg Leslie, Director, UNSW-GWI with Dr Paul Odwori, University of Eldoret

Dr Paul Okelo Odwori from Kenya’s University of Eldoret is familiar with these fish farms and has witnessed first-hand the multiple ways they have benefited many communities. A natural resource economist, Dr Odwori’s research interests lie in natural resources, sustainable utilisation, proper accounting and modelling of natural resources, and valuations of natural resources.

Dr Odwori revealed the significant value of these fish farms at the UNSW Global Water Institute’s latest seminar on 18 March.

Dr Odwori said that the Government fish farms were introduced to promote aquaculture in the country by producing quality seeds, providing training facilities to farmers, producing fish feeds, increasing fish production, offering extension services to farmers and enabling research opportunities.

However, over the past 50 years, the fish farms have far exceeded expectations.

Dr Odwori says, “It has been realised that, apart from the initial reasons why the Government implemented these fish farms, the farms have made a lot of additional contributions.”

The major contributions include creating employment opportunities, improving infrastructure, contributing to National food security, providing income to farmers and providing revenue to government.

The Government-owned fish farms are thought to have created over 2,200 new jobs, ranging from pond construction to monitoring, maintenance, management and research positions.

“One Government fish farm employs up to 1200 unskilled labourers and another employs up to 27 skilled labourers,” said Dr Odwori.

“These fish farms are greatly helping to reduce unemployment levels, especially in rural areas.”

Moreover, Dr Odwori says that infrastructure has also improved, impacting not just the farms but also neighbouring communities.

Tarmac, gravel and all-weather roads have been built or repaired, and electricity connected at all sites. Some neighbouring communities also now have access to tap water, improved schooling facilities and the internet.

With Kenya’s population set to rise to 55 million by 2020, increased protein sources are vital, and local suppliers have been struggling to meet demand. Fish farming has offered a solution, providing healthy sources of animal protein and even spreading to parts of the North Rift, Central and Eastern Counties, which were initially not fish growing areas.

These fish farms are greatly helping to reduce unemployment levels especially in rural areas

Dr Paul Odwori, University of Eldoret

Since the success of the Government-owned fish farms, Kenya has also seen a massive increase in the number of privately-owned farms. A Government initiative was introduced in 2009-2010 as part of Kenya’s Economic Stimulus Program, which saw 48,000 new fish ponds built across 160 constituencies, with local farmers invited to come and learn how to construct their own ponds. The increase in private farms has provided significant additional income to farmers, and many who were previously farming at subsistence level have turned into small-scale commercial fish farmers, earning as much as US$6,000 per acre of water surface, per year.

There are now over 7,790 fish farmers in Kenya who own aquaculture production units, and the total value of production for the year 2017 came to over US$2million. Dr Odwori says that some commercial farmers want to produce both for the local and export markets, and that it is likely that in the next three years aquaculture will make a significant contribution to both food security and foreign exchange earnings in Kenya.

While these fish farms have brought many benefits, there have been many challenges for farmers to overcome. To help address this, resources and centres at universities have been set up in order to help with challenges farmers are facing which include disease, water quality and access to fish feeds.

Dr Odwori said that the Government is also encouraging innovative approaches to help deal with these issues, such as farm integrations combining both poultry and fish that utilise poultry droppings for fish feeds.

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