Cage fish farming is gaining popularity in several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Victory Farms in Kenya, for example, now produces an average of 200 tonnes of fish per month. “The productivity of cage fishing is enormous.”
Hundreds of square frames made out of pipes and blue barrels are floating in Lake Victoria, in the green, hilly bay near Roo village, in western Kenya. Attached to these metal constructions, giant closed nets are inside the water, holding 5,000 fish fingerlings each. These are the fish cages of Victory Farms, founded by Joseph Rehman and Steve Moran who previously worked at a cage fish company in Ghana and then became cage fish farming pioneers in Lake Victoria in 2016.
Large gap between supply and demand
Due to overfishing and pollution, the fishermen in Lake Victoria have seen their wild catch of tilapia drop by a whopping 93 per cent over the past two decades, yet the Kenyan population has doubled. As a result, the country currently produces only 200,000 tonnes of fish against an annual demand of almost one million tonnes and now imports for US$7 million tilapia from China per year. “There’s an enormous supply-demand gap that offers giant opportunities”, Rehman tells.
However, instead of digging fishponds in the ground – which is a more common model of fish farming in Kenya – the two entrepreneurs ventured into commercial cage fish farming. “You can produce significant larger fish quantities with cage fish farming than with pond fishing”, the CEO tells who explains that while you need deep waters to absorb the nutrient production of the fish, you don’t need that much space as strong currents flush fresh water through the cages. “For the amount of fish that you can breed in just one cage, you would need one hectare of pond fishing area.”
The company is scaling up very quickly. While the first fish were put into the water in June 2016, the company currently produces 200 tonnes of fish per month feeding about 500,000 meals per month into the lowest income markets, Kibera slum being the most important area. “The productivity of cage fishing is enormous”, Rehman states who plans to grow his production from 1,000 tonnes last year to around 4,000 tonnes this year.
Starting a cage farming company comes with risks and challenges, though. “Theft is a major risk, as one’s entire investment is out in the open,” the co-founder tells who adds that fish can also die due to stress or disease. “It’s also a capital-intensive business as fish feed is expensive and you need funds to carry you for ten months before your first harvest”, the American entrepreneur says.
Making protein available to the mass
Cage fish farming gains popularity in other African countries as well, including Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In Ghana – where around six commercial companies and dozens of individual entrepreneurs are already active in cage fish farming – the government hands out grants to local people to start cage farming. “The government wants to stimulate local people to go into cage fish farming instead of letting Chinese companies import fish to Africa, gaining market share at the loss of Kenyans trying to make a living”, Linda Bonah-Yeboah from Ghana tells who nowadays is the hatchery manager of Victory Farms in Kenya. “Africa needs cage fish farming”, the Ghanaian hatchery specialist believes. “We need protein. We need food. And with cage farming we can make protein affordable and available to the mass and simultaneously provide employment.” Victory Farms currently employs 250 people on a permanent basis and another 150 flexible employees.
The Kenyan government is also keen on cage fish farming and has started to promote initiatives. “For example in Nyeri County, where the local government has invested US$10.000 in a cage fish-farming project at Chinga Dam.
Creating food self-sufficiency
"Victory Farms wants to also start an outgrow program for individual entrepreneurs to be able to start cage fish farming by offering them affordable fish feed and letting them sell through Victory Farm's customer base." We can bring thousands of people into this industry”, Rehman says who believes that cage fish farming could create food self-sufficiency for Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in the foreseeable future. “This is how we are going to feed the people.”