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Iqbal Abdallah: Tana River Farmer Making Up To Ksh 800,000 Monthly Profit From Innovative Lobster Farming Ventures

Within the heart of Kenya’s Tana River County, Iqbal Abdallah has defied the odds and created a thriving lobster farming business.

Iqbal’s  journey began in 2007 when he received training in lobster farming from Chinese experts in Tudor, Mombasa.

The knowledge he gained during this training laid the foundation for his future endeavors.

Rather than resting on his laurels, Iqbal decided to hone his skills and gain practical experience by working alongside the Chinese experts in the field.

For three years, he dedicated himself to learning the art of lobster farming, absorbing every detail of this intricate practice.

By 2010, Iqbal felt confident enough to return to his hometown of Kipini and embark on his own lobster farming venture.

Armed with just three cages, a boat, and a net, he began his journey to transform the local lobster industry.

He hired two more boats and established the farm in the sea where he started a hatchery with eggs he obtained from the Chinese.

“Many looked at us and said we were insane. The idea was indeed insane since it required more than what we had gathered as we had to start by fetching the lobster eggs and that meant we had to go deep-sea into the reefs,” he recounts.

One of the key insights Iqbal gained from his training was that lobsters thrive in estuaries with salty water, as it induces spawning and fertilization.

Armed with this knowledge, he introduced the novel concept of selling live lobsters directly from the farm, revolutionizing the local market.

The road ahead was not without its challenges. Many skeptics considered Iqbal’s endeavor insane, primarily due to the high costs involved and the risky process of harvesting lobster eggs from deep-sea reefs.

However, Iqbal and his business partner remained undeterred. They nurtured the young lobsters with care, feeding them a diet of bloodworms and tubifex worms.

Iqbal’s dedication and determination soon caught the attention of the Chinese experts who had trained him.

Impressed by his progress, they provided invaluable support by offering another boat and becoming the first clients of his live lobster venture.

This partnership opened doors to prestigious markets, including five-star hotels in Kenya and international markets.

Over the years, Iqbal and his partner have expanded their operation significantly.

They now own four boats and operate ten cages on their sea farm. While their journey has been financially rewarding, Iqbal emphasizes that lobster farming is not for the faint-hearted.

“It is expensive to start, one may need not less than Sh650,000 to start. We are fortunate we got help from people who believed in us and have been partners ever since,” he says.

However, the returns are equally impressive. Unlike other fishermen who sell dead lobsters for around Ksh 700 per kilogram, Iqbal and his partner command a price of Ksh 5,000 per kilogram for their live lobsters.

What sets Iqbal apart from other lobster dealers is his exclusive clientele.

Rather than taking his products to the market, his clients come directly to the farm to purchase live lobsters.

“The Italian and Chinese hotels go for fresh animals. They always come for the lobsters that are alive. We don’t take anything to the market, the market comes to us,” he says.

They harvest at least 300 kilos of mature lobsters from the 10 cages every month in a good catch, with the season running high in February and March. When the season is low, the harvest can dip up to 70 kilos.

Mr Abdallah makes not less than Sh800,000 after splitting profits with his partner, paying the workers, and taxes, and setting aside operation and maintenance costs.

Iqbal’s farm is not without its challenges, though.

He bemoans the high revenue charges imposed by the county administration, which stand in contrast to the more favorable rates in Lamu County.

Additionally, the threat of theft necessitates round-the-clock security personnel. Rising costs of lobster feed and the lingering impact of Covid-19 on the international market have also posed challenges.

Nonetheless, Iqbal remains optimistic about the potential of the blue economy in the region.

He believes that by equipping the local youth with the necessary skills and equipment, they too can become successful lobster farmers, fostering wealth and reducing youth unemployment and radicalization.