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Nyandarua farmer risks it all for catfish

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By PAULINE ONGAJI
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How many would risk it all to rear catfish? Few would, especially if they come from an area that has no known water body or consumption of fish is almost alien.

That is a risk Catherine Mugambi has taken. The 50-year-old has invested heavily in catfish farming on her half an acre plot in Ngarariga, Laikipia County. She has eight ponds and about 5,000 fish.

“Only 553 fish from one pond are ready for harvesting. Breeding was at different times,” she says, adding that she faces challenges marketing the fish.

“I don’t want to sell the mature ones at retail price. I will sell to Sagana Fisheries Company, which offers Sh380 per kilogramme,” she explains.

Ms Mugambi wants every fish to be at least a kilogramme before selling them “as it will be easy to calculate profit”.
She rears mono-sex catfish to prevent breeding.

“They lose weight when they breed and this will have an impact on profits,” she says.

Ms Mugambi does not have a permanent employee. The farmer relies on a neighbour’s worker to feed the fish while she’s on other business.

“This makes it easy to keep track of the fish. Even if one dies, I have to record that down. The fish float when dead,” she says.

Ms Mugambi adds that rearing catfish has many advantages. She says they are not prone to diseases, as long as one takes care of them properly. They also grow fast.

Mr Alex Akidiva, a fish farm manager at Egerton University says compared to tilapia, catfish require less water and feed.

“They need very little space. One can have up to 10 fish per square metre. Only five to seven tilapia can live in such an area. Apart from that, catfish have few bones, meaning they have more meat,” he says.

FOOD PROPORTION DEPENDS OF FISH AGE

Though Ms Mugambi expects a handsome pay cheque after harvest, she says rearing the fish comes with challenges.

“It is a heavy investment in terms of finance and time. Building the ponds, buying fingerlings and ensuring that they are fed is an expensive and time consuming,” she says.

Apart from that, the ponds have to be cleaned every two weeks. “The catfish is a heavy feeder. That means their excretion level is also high. Their waste generate a lot of ammonia in the water and this could be toxic if cleaning isn’t done,” Mr Akidiva says.

Ms Mugambi says one should know when, what and how to feed the catfish.

“They must be fed daily. Their food is of different grades. These varieties could enhance or diminish the growth rate of fish. The portion of food depends on the age of the fish,” she says.

“Too much of it could rot and turn into waste, interfering with the amount of oxygen in the water thus making the fish sick.”

Laikipia is also cold. Frozen water, particularly at night, may kill the fish. Because of this, Ms Mugambi has built a roof over the ponds.

Mr Akidiva says covering the ponds prevents drastic water temperatures changes. This maintains the metabolic system of the fish.

Ms Mugambi learnt all this during a two-day training at Sagana Fisheries.

“I was shown how to take care, sort and count the fish. I was tricked by the person who was supplying fingerlings when I started the venture. I paid enough money to get 44,000 fingerlings but he delivering 5,000 only because I didn’t know how to count them. I lost a lot of money,” Ms Mugambi says.

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