Joseph Mbatia, a fish farmer in Kenya


GAIN’s Marketplace for Nutritious Foods programme is designed to foster innovation, strengthen local networks and offer financial and technical support in order to bring affordable nutritious foods to market. The programme focuses on two key elements: the Communities of Practice (CoP), which are forums for discussion among local networks of entrepreneurs, investors and institutions; and the Innovation Accelerator, which helps to actively scale promising ideas through packages of support including technical advice, business planning and financial investment.

The Gatundu Fish Farmers’ Cooperative was selected for support as part of a call for proposals for the Innovation Accelerator. The group benefits from technical and business support delivered by Kenya Women Holdings, a local development organisation which focuses on female entrepreneurial empowerment and which was contracted by GAIN to support the cooperative. 

Joseph Mbatia is a member of the Gatundu Fish Farmers’ Cooperative and has benefitted from training in financial management, aquaculture and entrepreneurship, as well as ongoing technical support. Mr Mbatia has been quietly developing his own innovative approach to fish farming since the Marketplace programme selected the cooperative to receive support. He currently has three ponds, one already stocked with tilapia, from which he plans to recycle the wastewater to irrigate his 0.9-acre plot where he farms livestock and grows crops.

While Mr Mbatia’s story may end in the water, it starts on dry land. Specifically, a stretch of farmland in a town called Kiganjo in the Kiambu County, a region just north of Nairobi and populated by some 1.5 million people. Despite being a member of the Gatundu Fish Farmers’ Cooperative, Mr. Mbatia says he didn’t initially farm fish – or even eat it. "Horticulture has been my main area of interest”, said Mr Mbatia in a conversation with GAIN. "I grow cabbages, capsicum, kale, tomatoes and tree tomatoes which are in high demand locally. I also have bananas, arrow roots and sweet potatoes which I sell in the local market. At first, I wasn’t much involved in fish farming because personally I did not eat fish, but I was inspired by people around my area who sold out in one day, as the demand is so high."

His interest in fishing only developed into a solid business idea following visits to Sagana and Mwea model fish farms, organised as part of GAIN’s support to the fish farmers’ cooperative through its Marketplace for Nutritious Foods programme. "Fortunately, through the cooperative, I learnt more about fish farming", said Mr Mbatia. "When we visited the model farms in Sagana and Mwea, I developed much interest in fish farming."

Joseph Mbatia in his tomatoes garden

Joseph Mbatia is a member of the Gatundu Fish Farmers’ Cooperative and has benefitted from training in financial management, aquaculture and entrepreneurship, as well as ongoing technical support. © GAIN

The visits to the successful fish farms inspired Mr Mbatia so much that he started working on four new fish ponds straight away. "I have dug three fish ponds, which I never had before. One of the bigger ponds has fingerlings which are 1.5 months old. I intend to put more fingerlings in the other ponds and recycle the wastewater so that I can use it to irrigate my farm. I learnt that water from the fish ponds contains nutrients that are good for the plants, which will increase production of quality food for the market."

At first, I wasn’t much involved in fish farming because personally I did not eat fish, but I was inspired by people around my area who sold out in one day, as the demand is so high.

Joseph Mbatia

Such an innovative, integrated way of thinking fits perfectly with Mr Mbatia’s existing approach to farming. For example, he uses waste from his pigs to fuel a biogas plant which generates energy used for cooking. He also hopes to build a greenhouse, replace his current coffee plantation with more ponds, and even start his own hatchery, helping to address one of the biggest challenges facing small-scale fish farmers. "The cost of getting these fingerlings is really high and that drains my finances", said Mr Mbatia. "I need cover nets for my ponds so that I can prevent predators from feeding on the fish."

"An extension officer made me discover that dimensions were not right for the ponds. I have learned a lot not only from the training, but also from the extension visits. With that, I am now an expert in digging ponds. I have dug ponds for two families and got paid for it." said Mr Mbatia.

In Kenya, fish farming is an increasingly popular option for farmers trying to supplement unreliable incomes from poor soils. An initiative from the Kenyan government has been pushing aquaculture to support both farmers and fish stocks, which is an important source of food in many parts of the country. "You can never go wrong with fish farming in this area", said Mr Mbatia. "We had farmers who had fish but could not meet the demand. The number of people who own ponds is limited and the production rate cannot match the consumption rate."

Never could the old adage about teaching a man to fish instead of giving him a fish be truer than in his case. Thinking about his future, Mr Mbatia said: "I am now able to plan for the next step and I can venture into many other things besides fish farming. Before I started, I never used to keep records of my expenditure and income. Through the integrated aquaculture training, I can tell how much I have used, how much is required and how much I need to put into the business in order to succeed."

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