After discovering the gold in aquaculture, David Ruhiu ditched dairy farming and horticulture. He sold his eight cows and invested the money into the business, a decision that brought him a lot of fortune. Today, he is a decorated fish farmer with both national and international recognition.
His clientele spread as far as Panari Hotel in Nairobi and the venture has enabled him to transform his life and that of his family. He has gone from hawking the fish from his bicycle to owning two vans.
Here is the story of the founder of Avil Farm in Ndaragwa Constituency, Nyandarua County as told by WoK.
Ditching Dairy Farming
More than 15 years ago, the Nyandarua native stocked over 2,000 finger-lings in a 20 by 5m fish pond at his home in Kiriita village. Eight months later, he reaped a wholesome reward that encouraged him to take the business seriously.
While on the verge of retirement in 2009, he bought eight cows for dairy farming. This was all people in the area were doing. For him, however, the returns weren’t as promising. He told The Standard that despite feeding them, the cows were not producing enough.
It is this dissatisfaction with the cows that got him interested in fish farming. When he sold his first batch of fish, he made nearly Sh100,000. He realized dairy farming could not compete with aquaculture. After adding up all the costs, it was out with the cows and in with the fish.
Venturing into Aquaculture
His very first pond cost him Ksh170,000 to set up. The cost included construction and purchase of finger-lings from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI).
Building a successful business
The business became a success and by 2020, he had expanded to six small ponds, two medium sized ones and six large ones.
In a segment with the Nation, it was revealed the ponds could carry up to 150,000 kinds of fish, from tilapia, ornamental to mudfish.
He sells the fish to different people, such as the county government, Non Governmental organizations and hotels. The price depends on the size of the fish.
After attending an agribusiness training organized by KMFRI, he started value addition in 2015. Apart from selling the fish, he started making fish balls, fish sausages and fillets. The decision was inspired after he sold a lot of fish to a five star hotel.
After selling the fish, he decided to order ugali and fish from the same restaurant. The bill was Sh1700 yet he had sold the fish at Sh300 each. He realized just by cooking the fish (adding value to it), the price had shot up. This inspired his value addition business.
He ventured into making sausages which became a favorite in Nyahururu town.
“They are a new product, but have the capacity to compete effectively with other varieties of sausages, but they sell faster because they are healthier than beef and pork,” he told the Standard in 2019.
Fish sausages goes for Ksh1,000 per kg while raw fish only goes for Ksh400.
“My facility has a capacity to make 150kgs of sausages per hour but for now we are making 300kgs a day because we are doing it by hand. However I have ordered a sausage making machine which will allow me to do more,” Ruhiu says.
According to the entrepreneur, processing fish into sausages is that he has no competition in the market.
“Nobody else is doing this. So most of the time they fly off the shelf when placed next to beef and pork sausages because they are healthier options,” he told the daily.
At the beginning, it was not easy to break even. He needed specialized equipment which was hard to come by.
Expansion and providing opportunities for others
In 2019, he spent about Sh1.2 million to import the needed equipment from Germany and China. The equipment not only signified a new dawn for him but for other farmers as well. One of his machines needs about 160 kilogram of fish an hour.
As he can’t meet this demand, he contracts and trains farmers whom he later buys fish from.
The demand is too high to be met by Nyandarua fish farmers alone. He, therefore, reached out to others in Kiambu, Nyeri,Laikipia and Western.