* In Kenya, a county supports farmers in building fish ponds

* Fishing can increase water supply for agriculture

* However, changing attitudes during a drought can take time

Caroline Wambui KIBINGO, Kenya, Jan 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When farmer Ilyas Murithi grew bananas in the 1980s and 1990s, central Kenya’s increasingly erratic weather meant he could rarely earn a steady income from the dehydrated crop.

Prolonged droughts killed Muriti’s young plants, and long, intense periods of rain led to an abundance of bananas, forcing him to lower prices to sell on the market. Even when switching to coffee, which requires less water, the farmer still struggled to produce a reliable crop.

But that changed in 2021 when he added an unusual product to his farm: fish. The farmer explained that the fishpond, stocked with more than 1,500 tilapia, now allows him to harvest rainwater during heavy rains and use some of it to irrigate his crops during dry seasons.

Now, rain or drought, he makes a decent living by growing coffee and vegetables year-round and selling fish to earn extra income. “It’s really benefited me,” he said, explaining that regularly draining water from a 10×25 meter fishpond he built just above his coffee plantation allows him to irrigate other crops on his 1.25 acre (0.5) plot. -hectare) farm in Kibingo, about 130 km (80 mi) northeast of Nairobi.

Since starting fish farming in April last year, Murithi said his coffee production has more than doubled to 2,000kg a year and his gross income has tripled. As the East African nation grapples with climate change that has adversely affected crops and reduced incomes — including the current drought, the worst in four decades — some farmers are discovering that adding fish to their farms can help conserve water, making their diets more nutritious. and increase profits.

Since 2019, the Kirinyaga county government has been helping farmers build fish ponds as part of an economic stimulus program. The fisheries department said it has so far supported about 20 farmer groups and more than 1,350 individuals. He did not give any information about the cost of the initiative.

The county covers the cost of a pond liner and pays for the first year of fingerlings (also called fingerlings) and enough fish feed to sustain them until they reach adulthood. Kirinyaga’s government said in October it was working to increase annual fish production from 29 tonnes – worth 12.8 million Kenyan shillings ($104,000) – to 62 tonnes.

Harrison Mwangi, chairman of the 26-member Kamwaka Self-Help Farmers Group, said at first most farmers were against the idea of ​​raising fish in the often-dry region.

He said the prospect was foreign to many of the members, who thought they would get better results by raising chickens instead. But after county officials provided training on how to raise fish successfully, as well as help with basic costs, many farmers gave it a try.

Ultimately, Mwangi said, he decided to convert a napier grass field on a farm owned by one of his group members — an area that produces less and less fodder, especially during the dry season — into a fish pond in early 2021. For the rest of the year, farmers sold 17,000 shillings ($137) worth of fish to people visiting the farm or local markets, Mwangi said, adding that sales were “quite encouraging” for the first crop.

“The group couldn’t have found a better way to use the farm,” he said, explaining that raising fish is easier than managing other livestock. According to Mwangi, Kamwaka farmers, who earn between 100,000 and 150,000 shillings ($807 and $1,211) a year each, should see higher returns from fish farming in the future.

John Wilson, manager of Mwea Aquaculture Farm, which breeds tilapia and catfish and offers training to farmers, said fish farming is not only good business but also an alternative source of protein for Kenyans. EAT MORE FISH?

Apart from the challenge of convincing drought-stricken farmers in Kenya that fish is a realistic future crop, the project still has several other kinks to work out, Murithi and Mwangi said. Although ponds can act as buffers against drought by holding rain to be used for irrigation during the dry season, farmers, especially those suffering from prolonged drought, may struggle to find ways to fill them.

Murithi said he sometimes fills his pond using the agricultural water ration provided by the county to help farmers during dry periods. Meanwhile, Kamwaka farmers have to pump clean water into their ponds from nearby rivers weekly during the dry season, using a generator that is expensive to run, Mwangi said.

Another challenge facing fish farmers, according to industry insiders, is how to deal with the glut of fish that is flooding local markets now that more people are involved in raising them. “Farmers should be aggressive in seeking markets for their produce and not wait for the county government to do the marketing for them,” said Michael Manyeki, a finger grower in Sagana, a small industrial town in Kirinyaga.

For Ntiba Micheni, a professor of marine and fisheries biology at the University of Nairobi, the solution to overproduction is more Kenyans thinking of fish as dinner in a country where eating fish is not common everywhere. “Without a strong ‘Eat More Fish’ campaign for young children, schools and communities, fish (eating) will always be a problem,” said Micheni, a former official in the government’s fisheries department.

Originally published: https://www.context.news/climate-risks/crop-of-the-future-more-climate-hit-kenyans-count-on-fish-farming

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and was automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)

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