Over the past 17 years, Laban Mwanzo has embarked on a journey of wealth creation that has seen him become one of the leading fish farmers in Western Kenya. He transformed his business into one that supplies the region with fingerlings and fish. When he is not on the farm, he offers training or lobbying to improve the well-being of other farmers in the association he chairs.
But without his friend, he probably wouldn’t have taken the first step of the journey.
“My friend Dr Harrison Charo (then Director of Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri) visited me and saw the huge potential of my farm which is located in a swampy area with plenty of water stream, enough space for expansion and encouraged me to try fish farming,” he recalls.
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Not one to think twice before getting his feet wet, he took up the challenge and said “since then, I’ve never looked back”.
Today, he owns Labedcash Marine Enterprises, a fish farming and fingerling production business in Malava, Kakamega County. It has 200 fully stocked ponds, each carrying an average of 500 fish. Its fingerling hatchery has the capacity to produce 1 million fingerlings in three months.
“I started with a hatchery during the 2009 Economic Recovery Program, a spending plan initiated by the Government of Kenya to stimulate economic growth and lift the Kenyan economy out of the post-election crisis of 2007-2008. I was one of those people who had the privilege of being helped by the government,” he adds.
Under the direction of agents from Kemfri and the Department of Fisheries, Laban ventured into fish farming and mainly into fingerling production because at that time Kakamega fish farmers sourced their fingerlings from as far away as Nyeri County.
At the time, the demand was not high and therefore there was sometimes a lack of market. But rather than feeling discouraged by the situation, he would then “cultivate” them in his ponds, which would lead him to have the many ponds he has now.
However, since fish farming is not widespread in western Kenya, he has had to limit his fingerling production to control costs.
“We normally produce fingerlings when there is a market or according to customer demand,” explains the farmer who employed 50 workers, including 20 women to sell the fish on commission.
Because fish farming is a sensitive business, his company only sells fingerlings to farmers after extensive training, noting that “it’s one thing to dig a pond and buy fingerlings, but storing and feeding them is one thing.” any other ball game”.
“Training takes time because we have to teach the farmers how to dig the ponds, do the restocking and feed. It’s quite involving because a farmer may want to raise fish only to find that the feed is not readily available in the market and when it is in stock it is very expensive,” says Laban, who is also president of the Kakamega Fish Farmers Cooperative Society which has a membership of 1,400 farmers.
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To minimize food costs, Laban says he had to opt for local foods. His association is currently drafting proposals to the county government and other donors to fund the construction of their own fish feed processing plant, as ingredients like soybeans, corn bran and wheat bran are available. locally. They hope this will help them overcome the challenge of high food cost and quality.
“We are also encouraging farmers to grow crops like soybeans which is a key ingredient in fish feed and in this way they will also benefit from fish farming.”
Laban says there is huge potential in fish farming.
The demand for fish has increased as awareness of the nutritional benefits of white meat, especially fish, grows.
“There is a lot of market for fish because people eat fish. You can’t go wrong with the fish trade,” he advises.