Tharaka Nithi emerging as an unlikely supplier of fish
Kenya’s often parched Tharaka Nithi County might seem an unlikely place to take up fish farming.
But farmer James Muchangi thinks tilapia and catfish might be his crop of the future, as climate change brings more unpredictable weather, worsening crop failure.
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After a bit of research, “I realised that one can actually rear fish in dry desert regions by investing in raised ponds, which I also realised don’t require much space,” said the farmer. He now has 400 fish in four pounds on his two-and-a-half acre piece of land.
As farmers around the world look for alternatives to crops that are struggling as climate patterns change, some are settling on unusual – but potentially successful – choices.
Muchangi, for instance, had never even tasted fish until he began raising them in 2012 after talking over the idea with a farmer friend from western Kenya, who had already given it a try.
“Since I was born, I had never known fish to be a delicacy. All I had known was that fish are aquatic animals that survive in large volumes of water,” he admitted.
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But after digging into his savings, he built a wooden framework for a raised pond and installed a waterproof lining. He then hooked up a pump to circulate water through the pond, and added 2,000 young tilapia hatchlings, and later catfish as well. He also installed a plastic cover for the pond to protect the fish from both predators and harsh weather.
“In the greenhouse the temperatures are regulated, ensuring that the water is always warmer, thus promoting the growth of fish,” Muchangi explained.
Roy Kirimi, who manages a church-owned farm in neighbouring Meru County, has taken the process one step further, building chicken houses over the fish ponds so manure falls in and accumulates on the bottom of the pond, spurring the growth of plankton and insect larvae – food for fish.
Other farmers – particularly those living near rivers – also have turned to digging ponds to raise fish.
Alex Kimanthi, a fish farmer in Meru County, settled on a piece of land away from crop fields – to avoid fertiliser and pesticide runoff that could kill fish – and dug out a pond covering about a tenth of an acre.
During the rainy season – which has been heavy this year – Kimanthi keeps a close eye on the pond to try to avoid it overflowing and carrying away some of his 3,000 tilapia and catfish.
The value of the fish depends on their size – from about Sh300 for a smaller fish to Sh1,000 for a large catfish, he said.