The government has embarked on an ambitious plan to boost local fisheries through commercial fish farming as Covid-19 pandemic cuts importation.
The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that the country’s fish demand is about 600,000 tonnes against the national production of 150,000 tonnes, neccesating importation to plug the gap.
But the novel coronavirus outbreak which has frozen international trade and logistics has created a larger gap, forcing stakeholders to rethink ways of enhancing local fish production.
Most of the fish consumed in the country come from Lake Victoria but the catch from the continent’s largest fresh water lake has been dwindling due to water hyacinth, unregulated fishing and pollution.
The government believes that promoting fish farming among local farmers will go a long way in meeting the country’s fish demand.
Last week, the government received a Sh14 billion loan from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad) to support fish farmers to enhance their production. The government also released 16 new vehicles to support country government fisheries officers in the extension services to aquaculture farmers.
Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Secretary Peter Munya says part of the fund will be used in the provision of high quality fish feeds, seeds and in setting up of mini-processing plants in beneficiary counties.
The minister says that Aquaculture Business Development programmes whose first phase will cover HomaBay, Kakamega, Migori, Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Meru counties will not only raise fish production but will as well increase the country’s per capita fish consumption from 4.5 kilos per year to more than 10 kilos in the next 10 years.
“To increase the efficiency and profitability of smallholder farmers there must be the provision of quality fish, seeds, availabity of technical services and capacity building in fish processing and value-addition,” said Mr Munya.
Fish consumption in the country has grown significantly over the years due to increased nutritional value and population growth among other factors.
A few years ago, the government, through economic stimulus, started a campaign to promote fish consumption and aquaculture, recruiting more farmers to join the activity.
The project, however, failed years later due to what experts described as poor technical approach and lack of extension services.
Mr Munya is, however, upbeat that the government has put in place the right strategies to drive the sub-sector.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, the Kenyan fish market heavily relied on supplies from China to complement its local catch that has been dwindling over the years.
Every year, the country imports nearly 20,000 tonnes of fish from the Asian economic powerhouse amid disquiet from local fish consumers who are constantly weary of the quality of fish.
The rising importation of cheap Chinese tilapia into the country which began around 2013 has generated a lot of heat among local fish traders who see the imports as a threat to local stocks, which are better in quality but are slightly more expensive.
With Chinese fish products now troubled by coronavirus, a disease believed to have originated from teh country’s Wuhan, some local fish traders believe the virus is the last nail on the Chinese fish importation coffin.
“Before coronavirus, our customers really didn’t care about where the fish came from. Fish from China is cheap and easy to get compared to others.”
Wilfred Makoha, a fish trader at Sustainable Aquaculture Farming Enterprise (Safe) in Kakamega, reckons that the future looks bright for the local fish industry now that the Chinese fish is out of the way.
Generally, there has been huge demand for the locally produced fish, says Mr Makogha, adding that the demand has risen with the absence of the Chinese fish.
“Sometime we had to go as far as Uganda to look for fish to meet our local demand. But with the current lockdown we cannot travel to Uganda, therefore, we have been forced to close some of our retail stores due to low supply,” he said.
The trader pointed out that it will be harder for the Chinese fish to make a comeback into the market to compete with the local fish due to consumer preference.
“Poor investments in the aquaculture industry has been the biggest setback for the local fish farming. Fish ponds without standards are wrong investments. Fish are also sensitive to inbreeding and this is an area that should be looked into by fingerling suppliers,” noted Mr Makoha.
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