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Kenya: Greenthumb youth group casts their nets (IFAD)

When the Greenthumb youth group started their agribusiness in 2014, they started with cereal crops and vegetables. But after several years, they had to admit it wasn’t as profitable as they’d hoped, and they were ready to try something else. So they turned to fish – and farming.

Greenthumb now runs an aquaponics venture, growing crops and rearing fish with the same water, to give its members a good income.

James Maina is the chairperson of Greenthumb. He says, “Because of the high demand that is experienced in fisheries, where most of the people in Nakuru take their fish from either Lake Victoria in Kisumu or Lake Naivasha, we decided to start the fish farming venture.”

Greenthumb is an agribusiness group based in Kenya’s Nakuru County. Originally composed of 28 members, it’s now made up of 10 youths between 19 and 35 years old. They heard that Lake Naivasha was already overused. So, they decided to try raising fish in man-made pools.

There were plenty of challenges to starting fish farming. The supply of fingerlings was low, and these young fish are important as they are just the right age to start the farming cycle. In addition, the fish feed that was available was of poor quality. Nakuru County, as a whole, lacked the infrastructure to support start-ups like Greenthumb. And with no formal training in maintaining an online presence, they struggled to attract customers.

In 2019, a Nakuru County fisheries officer introduced them to the Vijabiz project, an initiative offering grants and training sessions for agricultural start-ups led by Kenyan youth. They were awarded a grant of $5,000 US to boost their business, plus fish farming equipment worth over $10,000 US.

The group set up a fish pond and seven aquaponics stations. Together, these elements form a closed loop that saves on costs and space, and conserves water. The crops take in water from the pond and clean it via root uptake, then it is released back into the pond. This is especially important for a group like Greenthumb, who, due to their lease agreement, have less space to work with than many other fish farming operations.

The Greenthumb members also received extensive training on everything from the basics of running an agricultural business, to the best practices unique to the fisheries sector, to the use of social media to boost sales. Mr. Maina adds that, individually, members of the group had many digital tools at their disposal, but didn’t know how to use them for agribusiness. Thanks to their social media training, Greenthumb now has an online presence that attracts customers and boosts sales.

Some group members also took a tour of a successful fish farm in Sagana, 200 km to the east of Nakuru, where they got hands-on practice in pond management and fish care. Meanwhile, leadership and entrepreneurship sessions helped Greenthumb learn how best to work together as a group.

Today, Greenthumb raises about 1,000 tilapia per cycle in just 70 m2 of water. At 14 fish per square meter, that’s much denser than most other fish farming operations, which average about three to four fish per square meter – but because of the extra filtration provided by their aquaponics stations, their fish are healthy and thriving. The stations themselves are used to grow spinach, kale, black nightshade, and amaranth – crops indigenous to the area. All told, despite their lack of space, they’re about four times more productive than the average fish farming business.

Once grown, the fish are harvested and processed into a variety of foods, and the crops are sold to various markets throughout Nakuru County. Mr. Maina says sales are high particularly from families with children and people who want to eat fish as part of a healthy diet.

They’ve kept the attention of the fisheries officers, too. Encouraged by Greenthumb’s success, the county government has decided to follow them as a pilot project in hopes of inspiring more people to take up sustainable fish farming practices.

“Agriculture is not a dirty job,” says Robin Nginyi, a member of the Greenthumb Youth Group. “You can do it even in a small space – and it is very profitable.”

This story is adapted from an article published by IFAD titled “The Greenthumb Youth Group casts their nets.” To read the full story and to learn more about IFAD’s work in East and Southern Africa, go to: https://www.ifad.org/en/web/latest/-/esa-highlights-greenthumb?p_l_back_url=%2Fen%2Fweb%2Flatest%2Fstories [1]

To see the aquaponics venture in action and to hear the voices of the Greenthumb Youth Group, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0w84tTQOE10 [2]

Photo: ©IFAD, Dhiraj Singh.