Fishermen lose big on income as consumers lack vital protein on menus
Dwindling fish stocks in Lake Victoria is becoming a major problem for fishermen and consumers in Nyanza.
In Migori County, for example, which has the largest share of the lake in Kenya, fishers are now thinking of alternative economic activities in the face of diminishing returns from fishing.
The drastic drop in fish yields has been blamed on the invasive hyacinth weed, use of unstandardised nets and chemicals, piracy and harassment of fishermen by Ugandan security agencies. The Ugandans have been accused of illegally confiscating fish from Kenyan fishermen on flimsy charges of trespassing into their waters.
Brokers from outside the county also monopolise the industry and because they are mainly in the export business, local markets have been starved of fish leading to a rise in prices.
Mr. Peter Onyango, a fisherman and a member of Aneko Beach Management Unit (BMU), is worried about the changing trends in the business that has been his economic backbone for years.
“Fish from the lake has continued to reduce drastically. In the past two years, we used to get two tonnes per day but presently on a lucky day you can only get one or even half-a-tonne,” says Onyango.
Onyango believes that a solution to the fishermen’s problem now lies in the use of ponds to grow fish.
“There is a huge potential for fish farming in this region owing to the availability of land and water sources,” he says.
Many residents are now thinking of venturing into fish farming and groups have started forming to see the dream come true.
“But the investment required for this kind of venture is beyond the fishermen’s means and that is why they have to seek assistance from the government and donor partners,” he explains, adding that one needs about Sh500,000 to start the business.
A senior fisheries official at the Migori County government, Joseph Otieno, agrees that fish farmers can achieve the dream only with the intervention of the government.
“This is why we remember with nostalgia the now moribund programme — Fish Farming Enterprise Productivity (FFEP) — that tried to breed fish outside the lake waters,” he said.
Implemented under the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) during the Mwai Kibaki government, FFEP promoted fish farming with a view to easing pressure on the country’s major water bodies. However, the programme failed in the region leading to a blame game between farmers and fisheries officials on the cause of the failure.
The ESP was a multi-pronged project that aimed at enhancing food security, creating employment and healthy living.
From the fisheries ministry then, millions of shillings were directed to the grassroots to help farmers construct fish ponds. At least 200 ponds were to be dug per constituency in all the 140 identified electoral regions countrywide.
Farmers were not only assisted with the ponds but also supplied with fingerlings and feeds.
In Migori, hundreds of farmers were brought on board and within a few months they started to earn huge dividends due to increased fish stocks, healthy living and income from sales.
However, today the story has changed with no trace of the funded ponds in all the eight constituencies. A KNA spot-check within the region found out conflicting reasons from both the county government and the local farmers as to why the project flopped.
While the farmers claimed official corruption sunk the project, fisheries officials accused the beneficiaries of neglecting their ponds after benefiting for a short period.
“The farmers started behaving badly after they received huge profits and switched to investing into other businesses causing the project to collapse” said Mr. Otieno, who admitted that FFEP was an eye-opener and needed to be revived in the region and country at large.
Reliable water supplies from rivers Kuja and Migori means that farmers, especially in Nyatike region, can produce tonnes of fish from ponds all year round if the spirit is well embraced by the people, supported by both national and county governments, he added.