By Irungu Mwangi, KNA
The golden yellow, blue, or even pink fish in aquariums around executive offices is a remarkable sight to behold and some mistakenly believe they are animated lifeless objects.
Unknown to many the business of ornamental fish rearing is a multimillion-shilling industry that few farmers have ventured into and the small fraction involved in this trade are laughing all the way to the bank.
In Kirinyaga County, retired Kariti location Chief Samuel Ndegwa Karunditu has never regretted venturing into the uncharted territory of rearing ornamental fish a few years ago.
“This is the best investment since with a small portion of land you can invest and get huge returns,” says the Karunditu.
His proximity to the National Aqua Culture Research and Training Centro (NART) Sagana, which is about seven kilometers away from his farm, is one of the factors that made him consider fish farming.
Initially, he reared Tilapia and catfish but after some years, he got wind of how profitable ornamental fish were amid rising demand.
Karunditu narrated how he bought the first goldfish species from an Asian trader in Nairobi for Sh7, 000 and he has never looked back.
He has converted his four-acre farm on the banks of River Ragati into a fish farm with ponds occupying slightly over one acre.
Rearing ornamental fish is not for the faint-hearted, given that, unlike the ordinary fish that does not require so much attention, the colored water creatures demand utmost care.
From a single pond and a brooder seven years ago, Karunditu has grown big and boasts of four hatcheries currently and five ponds with an estimated one million fishes.
He has mastered the art and science of rearing the ornamental fishes to the surprise of the experts who frequent his farm to learn some new tricks.
“Breeding is the most difficult of rearing the fish as they require the right weather and conditions to lay eggs and unless you are very careful you may get no fingerlings,” he points out.
Mating is usually during the rainy season when temperatures are cool and the first step is to identify the fittest, male and female before transferring them to a brooder.
The ten square meter pond is covered with a net and the water levels as the mating process are among the most interesting for the species as they can easily jump out of the water and become prey to predators.
Karunditu has studied the behavior of the fish and he precisely tells when the female is ready to lay eggs, which is in thousands.
The tiny eggs are then relocated to the bigger rearing ponds where they are held afloat with improvised polythene gunny bags strands as they hatch into tadpoles.
Not every egg hatches but since they are laid in thousands at a given time over 50,000 survive to grow old enough to decorate the aquariums.
Among the species, he rears include goldfish, Subunk, Lion head, Coy, yellow comet, Orlando, and Sod tail whose demand is very high in both Kenyan and neighboring countries.
The returns never disappoint as for example an inch of coy fish goes for Sh100 and the buyer has to pay for the same depending on how old the fish is during the purchase day.
Subunk sells at Sh200 per piece regardless of the size while others like Orlando can fetch up to Sh300 per piece and the buyers are numerous.
To maximize profits, he has ensured he manufactures his own fish feed after discovering what is in the market is of low quality and expensive.
“I invested in a posho mill to locally manufacture fish feed from maize, sorghum, sunflower, and bone meal,” explains the farmer noting that even the color of his stock has improved.
He points out that since he started producing his own fish feed, he has saved a lot of money and in the process ensured the fish were healthy.
In a week, he earns Sh20, 000 from sales and employs ten young men to work around the fish farm that has been an attraction to many other prospective ornamental fish farmers.
Karunditu also supplies fingerlings to farmers willing to venture into this lucrative industry and the proceeds have helped him put up a bungalow on his farm.
In any enterprise, there are challenges, and one of his main problems is prey that includes birds, lizards and he has been forced to invest in nets to cover all his ponds.
The fence has been reinforced to keep away vermin and the gorgeous fish are secure as they color the waters of the ponds before they get buyers.
Transportation is made possible by special polythene bags that are filled with cold water, which is then pumped with pure oxygen to keep them alive for as long as three days.
For Karunditu, he has been a big fish in the unfamiliar waters he chooses to swim and the sky is the limit for the retired administrator who challenges youths not to wait for white-collar jobs.