Fisheries Value Chain: Transforming Young Lives with Aquaponics in Umoja, Nakuru County.

Supported by the Vijabiz project, ten young members of the Greenthumb Community Based Organisation in Nakuru County set up a valuable fish production and value addition enterprise. The group set up a fish pond and seven operational aquaponics stations where they process and sell the fish. Though smaller in size, the stations are almost four times as productive as traditional fish ponds.

Umoja 2 is a peri-urban village, 20 km from Nakuru town, and 90 km from Lake Naivasha. This is the region’s only fishable lake and is the most overfished lake in the country.

Like other regions in Kenya, Umoja 2 has a high youth population, many of whom are unemployed despite the proximity to large tracts of idle arable land.

Through the Vijabiz project, the members of Greenthumb CBO, based in Umoja 2, have set up a viable fish production and value addition enterprise.

This experience showed that forming community based organisations (CBOs), such as youth groups, provides a platform for youths to engage with both governmental and non-governmental organisations.

Greenthumb’s aquaponic project sees the group rear more than 1,000 tilapia fish and grow indigenous vegetables in a small area of 120 m2, of which 70 m2 is the pond. This equals the production from 500 m2 of traditional fish and vegetable farming.

Members of the CBO had considered becoming fish producers but changed our minds when our first fish farming project failed, and half of the members lost their investments.

…then the group joined Vijabiz…marking the beginning of its  transformation…

A series of capacity building workshops followed, including a 5-day entrepreneurship workshop in April 2019 where the group learnt about marketing, management of group dynamics and business development and how to apply them to the fisheries value chain.

In a subsequent Vijabiz trade fair at Kagoto, Nakuru county in June 2019 and the Nakuru Agricultural Society of Kenya show in July the same year, the group met with various stakeholders such as government officials and private companies.

By increasing collaboration with government officials, the group managed to receive direct support, for example from the Nakuru county Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, which later supported the group with training, guidance, and provision of basic materials worth more than US$2,000 (€1,850).

These increased interactions also helped solidify the idea that government officers are interested in working with and supporting the youth.

In one month, the group set up a fish pond and seven aquaponic stations, as they started undertaking further research on fisheries value addition processes.

“Greenthumb then began to sell fish and add value to it. We managed to produce 1,000 fish in five months, and processed these into fish fillets, fish meat balls and fish sausages. It has led to an anticipated group income of US$5,000 (€4,600) for the first year. This is incomparable to the previous year, where the group lost all of their fish worth US$300 (€280)”-Greenthumb CBO group.

…of fish production and aquaponics…

The aquaponics approach uses little space to grow both fish and vegetables.

In the setup, water from the fish pond is pumped to a space where indigenous vegetables are planted. Nutrient uptake by the plants cleans the water by using the nitrate.

The water is then used by the fish again. The fish pond bears 1,000 tilapia fingerlings in 70 m2, which is 14 fish per m2.

Because the water is repeatedly cleaned, it is more productive than traditional ponds which can support three to four fish per m2.

‘Greenthumb also sells the vegetables it produces – spinach, kale, black nightshade and amaranth – to the local market and a local hotel. The group is the first to use aquaponics in Nakuru county, so the Fisheries Officer is using Greenthumb as a pilot for the region to inspire a county-wide drive for fish production’

At the start of the project, group members disagreed about how to finance the project, since many were unemployed, and the future success of the project seemed uncertain.

The group could have easily broken up, but leadership skills gained from the Vijabiz entrepreneurship training, and mentorship provided by Demand Link Business Solutions made the situation manageable.

Careful planning with the assistance of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries officer – who met the group members at the Nakuru ASK show – made it easier to anticipate challenges such as water and fish feed requirements.

The officer also provided materials such as a dam liner, tilapia fingerlings and outlets for cheaper and better feeds for the fish, as well as pumice for the aquaponic stations.

Such investments were welcomed, but with our current success Greenthumb will not need to be supported by outside investors in the future as the business will sustain itself.

…despite its successes…

 Greenthumb feels that it could have done more had it not been for our location’s lease agreement, limiting us to the existing 8 by 15 m greenhouse for both the fish pond and aquaponics stations.

The absence of a solar pump, finances to install a larger greenhouse and the fact that the intensive fish stocking is a new innovation in the region have also restricted the group from higher levels of fish production.

Learning and growing together Five of the youth group members received extensive training in fish farming activities at Sagana, about  200 km to the east of Nakuru, during a learning tour organised and facilitated by Vijabiz.

They visited a fish farm, that also adds value to the fish, and received hands-on training on fish pond construction and management, fish feeds formulation, feeding patterns and the production of fish sausages, fish fillets and fish meat balls.

After this, they trained the other group members. After interactions with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KeMFRI) at the Kagoto Polytechnique Trade Fair, also organised and facilitated by Vijabiz, Greenthumb is set to receive more training at the KeMFRI facility in Naivasha.

“thanks to Vijabiz, working as a group helped Greenthumb grow”-the CBO…

“We communicate through digital means, making collaboration easier. Through the ICT training, members learnt to keep each other updated on daily group activities, through the group’s Facebook account and WhatsApp group,

we share information when members have attended a training course to share learning, and set up duty schedules for fish and pond management,

synergy within the group, created after Vijabiz training, allowed the members who are employed with steady incomes to financially facilitate group activities. In turn, the other group members provided labour for the project,

in the past, members would provide similar financial contributions and participate equally in group activities, which introduced friction between those who were employed and the rest of the members,

this latter approach was a major benefit from the entrepreneurship trainings. When members work together, there are opportunities to participate in programmes that are not available to individuals – like the training by Vijabiz,

some members have also started setting up individual fish ponds to motivate more youth to become engaged in fish production. Greenthumb has seen increased interest in its activities, leading to the recruitment of three new female members in two months,

recruitment of new members was made easier because people could witness the group’s success, and because of the opportunities for free training offered by Vijabiz,

the project leader also attracted people to the group by being vocal about the group’s experiences and vision,”

One of the new Greenthumb recruits, Vannesa Wanjiru, a student at a local university said about the project:  “I did not know that there were so many free and affordable resources in the local government, and without the Vijabiz programme, I probably would still not know.”

…of value addition…

After the learning tour, Greenthumb began value addition activities. Five group members have attended a total of 120 hours’ worth of theoretical and practical training in value addition, organised by Vijabiz, with a further training course planned with the KeMFRI.

In its first attempt, the group produced three packets of fish sausages, ten kg of filleted fish and five packets of fish meatballs. After the first trial members realised that they would not make profits immediately.

They produced less than 40% of what was anticipated, due to a lack of appropriate equipment. The manual processes of filleting and preparing fish sausages took up much more time. Nevertheless, the first trial was a step up, where none of the members had any knowledge on value addition and group dynamics would have resulted in disagreements about responsibilities.

The trained group members did take up their roles as trainers in the group, training the rest of the members and increasing the group’s capacity.

They pooled financial resources to buy more fish for processing and Greenthumb is raising funds to be able to purchase adequate equipment through Vijabiz project grants.


Youth in Umoja 2, in Nakuru county and indeed, the entire country, can be unproductive and have little faith in each other and local government authorities in matters around farming.

Greenthumb however has found that with innovative fish farming methods and capacity building efforts by local government and private organisations, youth are eager and willing to realise their dreams in agribusiness.

The entrepreneurship and ICT training and learning tours continue the transformation of the youth group to a fish production and value addition enterprise.

And so…

“As Greenthumb continues to develop its fish processing activities, we will provide a market for fish farmers in the region who struggle to sell their fish,

as we wait to harvest our own fish,we can add value to bought fish. Greenthumb will also expand our fish production capacity by introducing cage farming in a larger pond, that will be harvested on a monthly basis. This will maintain a steady stream of income and enable other youth from the region to participate,”-Greenthumb

..word of advice from Greenthumb members to fellow youth?…

“The youth must increase their commitment to work together and take advantage of opportunities availed by local government authorities and organisations such as the USTADI Foundation and CTA. This way, they can build their capacities in the areas of operations and innovations that they are interested in,”