Fish farming in Kenya

What is aquaculture

The term Aquaculture is used to refer to the farming of water dwelling organisms in controlled or semi controlled environments to enhance productivity. The organisms are farmed or grown because they have value to man. These organisms include fishes, molluscs, crustaceans, aquatic plants etc. The farming activities may include stocking, feeding, protection from diseases and predators and harvesting.

Compared to conventional livestock and crop farming, aquaculture is much more diverse and varied. There are many diverse species cultured. The different species have different biology and therefore different ecological requirements. They therefore have different feeding, breeding and water quality requirements.

A brief history of fish farming in Kenya

Aquaculture industry in Kenya has greatly grown over the last few decades. Promotion of aquaculture started in the early 1920s as a subsistence means of supplementing protein sources in the rural areas. This was a non-commercial approach and it was promoted only as a family subsistence activity. This has however changed over the years with the government putting a lot of effort and resources in promoting aquaculture as a business. Many entrepreneurs s have  now invested in commercial aquaculture ventures.

Aquaculture activities in Kenya involve the production tilapia (mainly Oreochromis niloticus), the African catfish (Clarias gariepinus) and the Rainbow trout. The tilapines and catfish production is mainly done as mono or polyculture of the two under semi intensive systems using earthen ponds while the Rainbow trout production is done in intensive raceways and tank systems. The Tilapine species constitute the largest portion of aquaculture production in Kenya.

Although most of the productions target the food fish market, there has been an increasing demand for baitfish for the Nile Perch capture of Lake Victoria. Several entrepreneurs have started producing the catfish juveniles for this market.

Ornamental fish production is also gaining interest and several producers are engaged in the production of gold fish and koi carp among other ornamental species.

Aquaculture in Kenya can be divided into two broad divisions, i.e.

  • Marine aquaculture and
  • Fresh water

Although Kenya has a long coastline along bordering the Indian Ocean, and therefore great potential for marine aquaculture, this is yet to realise any meaningful development and the resources remain largely un used.

Fresh water aquaculture dominates fish farming in Kenya and can be divided into:

  • Cold water culture involving culture of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in highland areas and
  • Warm water culture involving the culture of Tilapine fishes, the African catfish, common carp and a variety of ornamental fishes in low land regions of the country

Any or a combination of the above can lead to attractive profits if well planned and thought out. For an investor to opt for any of these enterprises, it is important for the decision to be based on proven facts. This calls for thorough prior  planning.



 When starting aquaculture, thorough planning before any investment is made is very important. Planning will involve a detailed evaluation of both the biological and socioeconomic, aspects of the venture. The technical requirements for fish production must be satisfied for the fish farmer to harvest a crop that meets both his economic and social goals.

It is therefore essential to ascertain that your aquaculture business idea is realistic.

Ask whether:

  • There are adequate and profitable markets for proposed product(s)
  • You have a suitable site for the proposed production
  • You have enough resources to meet the projected targets
  • Your financial projections are realistic, robust and consistent
  • You have the expertise to produce
  • You can access adequate essential support services
  • Your proposed undertaking meets all the environmental, social and requirements as required by the government

All these should be answered in a well thought out BUSINESS PLAN and will provide you with a written document to serve as your reference for your business.

Business Planning Process

 Business planning is important to both new and established aquaculture enterprises. It enhances the chances for success by helping you identify and go over avoidable mistakes. The plan will be helpful when looking for financing, because many financial institutions require a workable business plan before providing the financing. For your aquaculture business to succeed, you need a business plan. This will provide you with bench marks for your business. It will be

your working document and it will need to be reviewed and updated at least on yearly basis.

A business plan is analysis of production, market and financial aspects of your proposed aquaculture enterprise. It consists of:

  • A thought out description of production technologies and strategies
  • A well researched and thought out marketing strategy
  • Financial analysis of the proposed venture A business plan will:
  • Be very instrumental when soliciting for financing
  • Explain to potential financiers that aquaculture is viable investment worth funding
  • Help the investor to keep on track during the course of the business
  • Help minimize risks associated with the market, production and financing

Basics Components Of A Good Aquaculture Business Plan:

  1. Marketing plan

 Where will I sell my fish? This is a question you should ask well before you go into fish production. Surprisingly, many fish farmers ask this question deep into their production cycle. Others will ask this question after they have harvested their fish. As a serious producer, you should ask and get answers to this question well before you go into production.

Many aquaculture entrepreneurs in Kenya overlook markets/marketing for their produce yet this is the essence their business. This is where profit should come from. They fail to take notice of the fact that for any enterprise to succeed, it must target specific and well thought out market/markets.

Any serious entrepreneur will produce goods which match the needs and wants of the customers they wish to serve. Therefore, one must make a decision on what to produce based on what the market wants.

Therefore, to avoid uncertainties and eminent failure, the first questions that an investor must ask and get answers to, are:

  • What products does the market demand?
  • What quantities does the market demand?
  • What production resources do I have?
  • Can the resources meet the proposed production?
  • Which fish products am I capable of producing?
  • What quantities can I realistically supply?
  • When does the market want them supplied?
  • What quality does the market require?
  • Can I meet these standards?
  • Is it possible to get a bulk buyer?
  • Does the demand in the market justify the intended production?
  • What prices is the market ready to pay?
  • Is it cost effective to produce at the offered prices?
  • What competition exists in this field and how do I deal with it?
  • Are the existing physical infrastructure (roads, power telecommunication etc) sufficient to meet the marketing needs for the produce?

After answering these, the entrepreneur should be able to make a decision on whether to continue or abandon the proposed production. If the entrepreneur decided to go on, then, it is time to develop a marketing strategy.

2.Marketing strategy

A marketing strategy is a plan to achieve the financial goals of the entrepreneur. The strategy should address; the products, product prices, advertisement and where to sell as regards marketing. Ideally, the products must be sold for more than the production cost and quantities that allow the producer to make gains and remain in business.

Marketing strategy involves:

  1. Analyzing the market situation
  2. Formulating marketing goals
  • Evaluating and selecting suitable marketing alternatives

i.  Analyzing market situation

To do this, the entrepreneur should have a good knowledge of:

  • Potential customer
  • Modes of marketing (e.g. do you need to draw agreements, do you have to go through brokers etc)
  • Product prices and their seasonality
  • Product forms acceptable by the market
  • Product quality requirements including regulation governing this
  • Consumer preferences
  • Quantity requirements
  • Modes of payments and frequency
  • All costs involved
  • All competing products
  • Alternative markets
  • History regarding prices, demand, supply, product spoilage, product rejection etc

ii.Marketing goals

In formulating marketing goals, the producer must ask and be able to answer the following:

  • What is the targeted production?
  • Is this achievable?
  • What is the size of the target market in terms of geographical extent and consumer number?
  • Is it possible to reach this market?

The goals must be realistic and achievable; otherwise the producer will be groping in darkness without purpose.

iii. Marketing alternatives

It is important to consider marketing alternatives to avoid disappointment where a target markets collapse. For the marketing alternatives chosen or considered, product volumes and size preferences, costs associated with the marketing, and relevant legislations should be considered very carefully.

Markets for aquaculture products in Kenya include:

  • Hotels, restaurants, retail markets and fish shops including supermarkets: These could be out of reach of most small scale producers because they might not meet the frequency and quantity requirement of such outlets. However they can easily overcome this by forming marketing
  • Farm Gate Sales: Where local demand for fish is high, this offers a very good option. It removes the problems associated with taking the produce to distant markets. However it necessitates for proper storage facilities like deep freezers or cold rooms and some degree of processing and packaging.
  • Sales to whole sellers, fish processors and large institutions: The advantage here is that large quantities can be disposed off at once and terms of supply and payment are normally stipulated in a legal contract. But this is only suitable for large scale

3.Production techniques/strategy

 When      planning       for    commercial         aquaculture,          the      following      aspects        of production must be considered very critically:

  1. Fish to be produced
  2. Production site
  • Production technology

I. Fish to be produced

The choice of what to produce will be guided by:

  1. Market preference
  2. Ecological requirements of the fish
  3. Production technology of the fish
  4. Resources available to produce

The fish to be produced must not only be marketable but also suited for the climate and be produced cost effectively. Different fish require different climatic conditions to perform optimally. For example:

  • Nile tilapia and African catfish require warm water of more than 25°C.
  • Growth of these fish is quite slow at elevations greater than 1600 meters because the water temperatures are very low
  • For best performance, average water temperatures of about 28°C are best
  • In Kenya, such regions are to be found in low land areas
  • In areas where temperatures are lower than this, a larger pond surface area can compensate
  • High sunlight intensity is also preferred for tilapia culture under semi intensive production.
  • Trout require cold water of less than 18°C for grow out and below 10oC for hatchery production. Such conditions in Kenya are to be found in high altitudes areas. The water must be adequate, clean and fast flowing.

It is also important to know whether the species selected for production is adaptable to intended culture conditions and there is adequate knowledge of the reproductive biology, nutritional requirements, common diseases and parasites of the species. Also important is to ascertain that the species proposed for production is being profitably produced at commercial levels by other producers.

Other issues to consider, which are equally important are:

  • Is there a reliable supply of good quality juveniles at a reasonable price, for stocking?
  • Are you capable of establishing your own seeds (juveniles or ova) production capacity?
  • Is there quality feed for the species and are the prices cost effective?
  • Do you have a reliable and affordable source for specialized production supplies and equipment?

A good species should have the following characteristics:

  • Adaptable to culture conditions
  • Fast growth rate, from egg to market size
  • Simple and inexpensive dietary requirements
  • Hardiness and resistance to diseases and parasites
  • Producer can have full control over the life cycle processes in captivity
  • Easy market acceptability
  • Availability of advanced and proven production technology

II.Production site

The proposed site should have the following characteristics:

  • Be located in a region suitable and allowed for aquaculture production
  • Have a climate suitable for the species intended for production (preferably indigenous to the area)
  • Be well drained and protected from floods
  • The topography and the soils should be suitable for the construction of the proposed production system
  • Have adequate and preferably free flowing good quality water This is the life line of aquaculture and is a must.
    • Water is the key to a good site
    • Water should be available throughout the year
    • Water must be free from pollution e.g. pesticides & other detrimental chemicals
  • Accessible throughout the whole production cycle and have easy access to services and technical assistance
  • Have adequate space for intended function and possible future expansion
  • Located on site acceptable under local and environmental management legislations
  • Have good Infrastructure like:
  • Roads to bring supplies to the farm and take the products to the market?
  • Air or water transport where export markets are the targeted
  • Power where intensive production systems are proposed
  • Telephone service may be needed to run the enterprise efficiently
  • Have good security

III.Production technology

 Aquaculture, compared to crop and animal farming, is much more diverse and varied. There are many different species that are cultured each with different ecological requirements. They therefore have different feeding and breeding requirements as well water quality. Aquaculture production is done at different management and intensity levels. Production systems have therefore been

developed to meet both the economic needs of the producer and the requirements of the species to be cultured.

The choice of the production level will depend on:

  • The species of choice
  • Availability of the needed technology
  • Prevailing prices of fish
  • Available capital
  • Availability of essential inputs for example feeds, power, skilled labour, professional expertise etc.

Depending on the planned level of production and the resources available, the producer will make a choice from the following:

i). Extensive systems

In these systems little or no input is used in the production. Fish are stocked in cages, still water earthen ponds and other water impoundments (for example reservoirs) and left to fend for themselves. Low stocking densities and thus low yields characterize the systems. The main cultured species are Tilapines (e.g.

Oreochromis niloticus), Clarias gariepinus and Cyprinus carpio. These are low input–low-output production systems. Majority of the small scale, subsistence fish farmers in rural Kenya fall in this category.

Production in these systems ranges between 500 and 1500 Kg/Ha/year.

ii).Semi-intensive systems

These systems form the bulk of aquaculture production in Kenya. In these systems still water earthen ponds and cages are used as holding units for fish culture. Still water pond culture uses the natural productivity of the water to sustain the species under culture. However to enhance productivity, the ponds are fertilized using both chemical and organic fertilizers at varying proportions to enhance natural productivity. Exogenous feeding using cereals bran and other locally available feeds is done to supplement pond productivity. Polyculture of Oreochromis niloticus, Clarias gariepinus and Cyprinus carpio is practiced with various combinations of species.

Commercial production in these systems ranges between 1 to 3 Kg/m2/year depending on the management levels individual farmers employ.

There are Tilapia/Catfish producers in Western Kenya who have achieved productions between 6-10Kgs/m2/year

iii).Intensive systems

In these systems water flows in and out continuously (flow through). This allows higher stocking densities. The systems require good supply of good quality water. Less land is required to produce the same quantity of fish as compared to extensive and semi intensive systems.

The systems employ mainly raceways, various types of tanks and floating cages as holding units. In these systems, more fish are produced per unit area by complementing or substituting the natural productivity in the culture units by exogenous feeding using complete feeds (the feeds are specifically manufactured for the species under culture) and water aeration. Such operations require high initial capital investment and high operational cost. They are mainly suited for high value fish. There are very few such operations in Kenya and most of them produce Rainbow trout.

Production in such systems in Kenya range from 10 to 50 Kg/m2/year. This depends on the management levels employed by individual producers. This production can go higher with better management and quality feeds.