Aquaculture refers to the cultivation of various aquatic organisms such as fish, molluscs, crustaceans, aquatic plants, algae, and other organisms.

Fish farming in Kenya

Kenya exports fish, primarily Nile perch and its by-products from Lake Victoria, to various countries such as the Netherlands, Israel, Portugal, the UAE, Australia, and China. Locally, in Kenya, the most consumed fish and fish products are Omena, Nile Perch, Tilapia, and Catfish. These are sourced either from wild capture fisheries, mainly from Lake Victoria, or from fish farms (aquaculture). However, in the market, many customers hold the belief that wild fish is tastier than farmed fish, resulting in a preference for wild fish over farmed fish.

There is a growing demand for freshwater fish, which is recognized for its role as a safe and healthy source of “white” protein, contributing to approximately one-fifth of global animal protein intake. Many fish species also provide essential micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acids that are crucial for promoting normal development of nerve cells and visual functions in infants, as well as reducing the risk of heart diseases.

Fish farming is predominantly practiced in Kenya’s Central, Nyanza, Western, parts of Rift Valley, and Coastal regions. This has significantly contributed to rural development by enhancing food and nutrition security, generating income, and creating employment opportunities.

Fish production in Kenya.

Fish production in Kenya is achieved through two main methods: wild catch, which involves capturing fish from lakes, rivers, and the ocean, and farmed fish, which is produced in various types of farming systems such as earthen and lined ponds, fish farming in dams, tank fish farming, cage fish farming, and integrated fish farming.

The primary fish species produced from Kenya’s inland waters include Omena (Rastrineobola argentea), Nile perch (Lates niloticus), Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), Catfish (Clarias gariepinus), and Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio). Among these, Tilapia and Nile perch are the most traded fish in terms of value and are highly popular with customers. The demand for Tilapia and Nile perch exceeds the current supply, presenting a favorable investment opportunity in aquaculture.

Kenya has vast potential for fish farming due to its abundant inland water resources, including Lakes Victoria, Turkana, Baringo, Naivasha, Chala, Kanyaboli, Jipe, and others. The country is also blessed with major rivers such as the Tana, Athi, Nyando, Nzoia, Gucha, Migori, Yala, and Mara. Additionally, Kenya boasts approximately 600 km of coastal shoreline, along with an exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles, which holds great potential for enhancing aquaculture. Inland water bodies cover an area of 13,400 square kilometers, with Lake Turkana (6,405 km2) and Lake Victoria (4,128 km2) being the two major lakes, along with numerous seasonal and perennial rivers that ultimately flow into the western Indian Ocean.

Kenya’s fish processing sector is highly developed, and it has quality assurance laboratories that primarily focus on exporting Nile perch products to Europe.

The aquaculture sector in Kenya is broadly categorized into freshwater aquaculture and mariculture (ocean-based). While freshwater aquaculture has made significant progress over the past decade, the mariculture sector is yet to be fully exploited.

Aquaculture Systems in Kenya

Earthen and Lined Ponds:

The utilization of earthen ponds for fish farming has been promoted as a means to develop cost-effective food resources in developing countries.

Dams fish farming:

The construction of dams is encouraged not only to provide water but also to facilitate communal fish farming activities. Dams have also been utilized as sites for housing fish cages.

Tank fish farming:

Tank farming serves as a viable alternative to ponds or cages. Experimental studies have demonstrated that fish can be successfully raised at high densities within the controlled environment of tanks, given proper management practices.

Cage fish farming:

Cage fish farming involves confining fish within cages placed in existing water bodies such as ponds, rivers, lakes, dams, and oceans. This setup allows for natural water exchange while ensuring containment.

Integrated fish farming:

This approach entails integrating agricultural systems with fish farming in a design that enables the utilization of waste from one system as input for another. Farmers often employ chicken and cow manure for pond fertilization, showcasing impressive results in certain regions.

Challenges facing the fish farming

  1. Inadequate and cost-effective farm-made feeds for different stages of fish development. The availability of suitable fish feed is crucial in fish farming as it constitutes a significant portion (40-50%) of the total variable production costs on fish farms.
  2. Insufficient availability and quality of fingerlings for stocking. The availability and quality of young fish (fingerlings) for stocking purposes are crucial for establishing successful fish farms, but there are challenges in meeting the demand for suitable fingerlings.
  3. Limited knowledge and awareness of aquaculture investment. There is a lack of comprehensive understanding and information regarding investments in aquaculture, which can deter potential investors from entering the sector or making informed decisions.
  4. Insufficient information on the economic performance of different fish farming systems. The lack of data and knowledge regarding the economic viability and profitability of various fish farming systems hampers decision-making processes and hinders the growth and development of the aquaculture industry.

The forecast for aquaculture in Kenya is largely positive. By 2025, the estimated population of Kenya is projected to reach 56 million people. Assuming an average consumption of 4.3 kg per capita, it is estimated that the total fish consumption in Kenya will amount to 241,000 tons in 2025.

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