By Phares Mutembei
For all his adult life, Nur Juma, has known cattle rearing as the only lucrative venture that a family can rely on for sustenance.
Even when growing up, he woke up to herds upon herds of domestic animals roaming around his neighbourhood of Burat of Isiolo County.
Juma, just like his peers and neighbours, was accustomed to this way of life being from a pastoralist community that rears animals for their daily upkeep.
But with the changing of dynamics world over, Juma has found himself in an unfamiliar territory. He is among the pioneer fish farmers in the predominantly pastoralist Isiolo county.
And he is not regretting diversifying and embarking on this venture.
Juma is among residents who have been dependent on livestock rearing in the semi-arid Isiolo County to embrace a new culture of fish rearing.
Just like neighbouring Samburu and Marsabit, a big chunk on the population are into pastoralism, moving their livestock from one place to the other, to graze and find water.
But now, groups are departing from the over-reliance on livestock, and are now keeping fish as they diversify means of earning a living.
For 15 years, Irene Kanana has worked as a boda boda operator-cum livestock keeper in Isiolo County, as her husband worked as a matatu driver.
Kanana divided her time on taking care of her cattle, goats and sheep as well as ferrying people and goods on her motorcycle. She says it was no walk in the park.
She had to work hard together with her husband Paul Nkuja to feed and educate the children and take care of the family’s other necessities.
The two are part of the group that have ventured into fish farming after the venture was introduced by the local county government.
For the last four months, governor Mohammed Kuti’s administration has been working in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), under a programme dubbed Sustainable Food Systems Project (SFSP), to introduce and strengthen fish farming.
A section of the pastoral community is gradually taking up fish farming, as it offers an alternative means for improved lifestyles.
Juma is a member of the Nasibu youth group who have also embraced the project and now own three ponds, with 630 fish each.
The 10 members who started the venture in November 2019 share roles and are keen to expand it.
Juma says his colleagues understood that a big part of the population shunned pork (for religious reason) and fish because of the smell, a sizeable group also loved white meat.
“But residents could not find easily available and affordable fish. When the government and WFP came, we saw the project as an opportunity to break new ground. We had wanted to start earlier but we had no input because there was no hatchery, nor a reliable source of water,” he said, adding that the training from the county government had immensely benefited them.
He added: “We had no input but the biggest challenge was that we had no training on successful fish rearing. Now we are continually being trained and WFP gave us fingerlings, lining and other materials to get us off the ground.”
The members constructed two raised ponds, and one sunken one and stocked them with the tilapia variety.
“Our aim is to provide to local consumers and even those in Meru and other places.”
Juma says because they are the first group to go into fish farming, they are putting entire focus on it, to improve their economic status.
“We have a poultry and tree nurseries projects in Burat. We have divided roles in our fish venture. There are members who do marketing, feeding and other functions,” Juma said.
For Kanana, a resident of Kambi ya Juu, the perennial drought in Isiolo ravaged her livestock and she was used to counting losses in her livestock rearing.
“During drought we usually lost our livestock, setting as back badly. Fish farming is a better option, the reason I could not let the opportunity go,” she said.
Then along came the Isiolo Government and the World Food Programme who dangled an opportunity for those interested to take up rearing of fish, as an additional income generating activity