Aquaculture in Kenya

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Fish exported from China are due to arrive in the country over the course of the next two weeks.  According to media reports, a vessel ferrying 48 containers of fish from the Chinese territory will be docking at the port soon. The vessel will be among 47 other ships also expected in due time.

Fish farming in Kenya is fairly recent, dating back to 1910 when European settlers imported trout, black bass and common carp and stocked them in various rivers and lakes for sport fishing. Currently, aquaculture is practiced as part of other farming activities and production is low and erratic.

The fish export is seemingly meant not just for local consumption, but also serves a venue through which imports from China can be grown. This is owing to the shortage Kenya is presently experiencing in terms of home grown fish. The shortage, in turn, serves as an advantage of Chinese fish producing firms which have swooped in and are now enjoying the market.

Back in 2016, the then ailing Kenyan aquaculture sector got a boost after the country was allowed to export fish produce to the European Union. The deal, under the EU US $14m project dubbed Standard and Market Access Program (SMAP), sought after the sensitization of  Kenyan farmers on how to produce fish fit for the international market.

Kenya has 13,600 square kilometers of inland lakes and 640 km of coastline. Ninety five percent of the fish landings are from fresh water lakes, 3% from marine sources, and 1 % from aquaculture. Ninety two percent of fish landings from inland lakes are from Lake Victoria, while 6% comes from Lake Turkana. Other lakes and Rivers contribute 2%.  The most commonly farmed fish species are Nile tilapia, which accounts for about 75% of production, followed by African catfish which contributes about 21% of aquaculture production.

Lack of efficient quality and compromised farm made feeds are currently the biggest challenges facing Kenyan aquaculture. As such, the government has since been forced to initiate efforts to establish national standards for fish feed.

Currently, capture fisheries earn fishermen approximately US $69m. On the other hand, fish exports earn the country about US $49m in foreign exchange annually.  Unfortunately, Kenya marine waters have not been sufficiently exploited. This has been mainly attributed to lack of technology. Marine fish of commercial value support the economy and livelihoods of the coastal residents.

Unfortunately, inland lakes continue to face several challenges which hamper both commercial and subsistence farming. Some, like Turkana are experiencing a downward spiral on account of over fishing. Lake Victoria, on the other hand, has hyacinth which hampers navigation. Fish have also since migrated or died due to the same.

Research conducted on the same indicate that formulated feeds had higher levels of bacterial and fungal contamination. This is in comparison to commercial feeds. The former is thus unsafe because of the mould formation, high moisture, storage facilities, and poor handling and preparation methods.

Furthermore, the water from river sources contributes to Zoonotic diseases in fish. This is also implicated in human and animal populations. As such, if left unchecked, the same poses a great risk of a potential outbreak of serious fish diseases in farms that are poorly managed. This also applies to those that use contaminated river water and feeds for fish farming.

Some of the floated recommendations include frequent laboratory analysis of water limits. Borehole water is also considered a safer alternative source of water. This is after it was discovered that farms utilizing it have minimal infectious agents.

There should also be proper preparation, packaging and storage of formulated and commercial feeds. As such, farm workers should be trained on sourcing feed, raw materials, handling and processing procedure of these raw materials and how to store them.