The dusty road that snakes to Matasia in Kajiado North does not prepare first-time visitors for the wonders in the region dominated mainly by cattle keeping.
At Matasia, along the Ngong-Kiserian Road, one comes across the Fish Point, a white meat only café, which signals that fish is reared in the region.
We meet Alex Kango inside the café and soon, we are engrossed in banter. We have been referred here from the Aquacultural Association of Kenya (AAK) headquarters in Nairobi. Kango wears many hats in the aquaculture sector.
He is the AAK Kajiado North branch vice-chairman. He is also a fish farmer, who rears both tilapia and catfish. Besides, he owns the Fish Point Café, where he sells exclusively fish and chicken meat.
His main market is at the outlet where he cooks fish in different styles to fit customers’ tastes and preferences. He also sells to locals but would like to expand market both locally and internationally.
In 2015, Kenya was given a nod to export aquaculture products to the European Union, creating a wider market for fish farmers in the country.
Currently, AAK has 50 members in the region, but Kango and other officials are striving to recruit more to boost production.
To be able to continuously meet demand especially for the export market, AAK advises small-scale farmers to work in groups and ensure uniformity in quality production.
Besides, they would have a steady supply and can bargain for better prices, thus, earning more.
“I have embraced the style of adding value to my own produce because this way, I reach my consumers directly and avoid middlemen,” says Kango
On his farm, Kango sells each piece of tilapia for an average of Sh150. However, he fetches Sh250 for the same piece while fried at the café.
As we walk to his farm, about a kilometre away, he shows us a fish pond at a nearby school. Kango helped the institution establish the pond to be able to produce healthy fish for students as well as for sale.
“I am trying my best to influence more people to embrace aquaculture,” says Kango, adding, “Most people in Kajiado North are pastoralists and they have not yet embraced fish as food or aquaculture as an agribusiness venture.”
On his farm, Kango has two ponds. He had harvested tilapia the previous day and drained the first pond, ready for another supply of fingerings.
He has catfish in another pond, and hopes to harvest around December, and take advantage of anticipated high sales during the festive season.
He manufactures his own feeds and supplies to other farmers in the region to save on cost and ensure high quality feeds.
Within his farm, Kango has a small plant where he mixes raw materials such as maize germ, sunflower seeds, cotton seeds, vitamins and minerals supplements.
“I mix the ingredients, and process them into pellets which I feed to my fish,” he offers, adding that he feeds his fish twice.
He, however, supplements the pellets with Silver Cyprinid (omena) or Fresh Water Shrimps (Ochong’a), which he has learnt have high protein content.
Proper feeding was among the topics which featured during SMAP trainings supported by UNIDO in the aquaculture sector that Kango attended. Other topics were transport, ponds sanitation, value addition, market access, proper fish and fish products handling, recordkeeping and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP).
To ensure he follows his products to the end, and monitors his investment versus income, Kango keeps records from when he brings a new lot of fingerings, to when he sells his fish.
Besides, like every farmer should do, he sources fingerings from a certified breeder.
Being a perishable product, fish must be kept under cool temperatures, preferably frozen right from harvesting time.
Kango transports his fish from farm to the café in a cooler, and keeps them frozen at the hotel.
Although he can make more products like balls, sausages and samosa from fish, Kango has realised that such snacks are yet to gain popularity in the area and only prepares them by order.
“I am also often invited in food or agriculture-related forums where I showcase different ways of value addition for fish,” he says
Back at the hotel, it is a rather slow day. Being mid-week and a public holiday, most people like to eat at home as they relax, he says.
However, he still has some orders especially of maize meal (ugali) and whole tilapia.
“I like coming here for lunch because the fish is always well-cooked and fresh,” says Wambui Kiura, a guest from Kiambu as she enjoys lunch.
The best thing is that Kango has safely preserved the raw fish and can always prepare some for customers as they arrive and order.