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Women's struggle to alleviate poverty

A self help women group has embarked on a unique fish farming project that is bound to change the lives of some residents in a rural town in Kenya.
Zachary Ochieng

The group, comprising 38 women, was spurred into activity by the desire to alleviate poverty and protect the environment. Rangwe township in, Homa bay District, Nyanza province, situated some 30 km East of Homa Bay town in Nyanza province is one of the poorest regions in the country.

"Due to high levels of poverty in this area, we decided to start income generating activities and give a new face to our environment", says Mrs Judahyaah Omanya, the group's chairlady. The group's history dates back to 1995 but it was registered in September 1997 as a self- help project under the Department of Social Services. " The prime objective of the group is to produce fish for farming and marketing, create job opportunities and initiate revolving funds for member"s, says Mr. Cosmas Ochieng, the group's patron.

According to him, the community has also benefited from the project as a result of the limited assistance the group offers to Aids orphans and widows within Rangwe Division. Upon its inception in 1997, the group started off with three small fish ponds, each stocking about 500 fish. However, lady luck smiled the group's way mid last year when the World Bank- funded Lake Victoria Environmental Management programme (LVE P) gave a grant of Kshs 500,000 for the excavation of bigger ponds.

The three additional ponds - measuring 13 x 11 metres can each hold up to 3000 fish. The species the group rares are tilapia and fingerlings. Harvesting is done after every six months when the fish are expected to be fully mature. According to the group's technical expert Mr. Erastus Genga each fish weighs about 500g upon maturity and is sold at about Kshs 70. At that rate, each pond is supposed to generate about Kshs 210,0 0 after every harvest. The ponds have been shaped to have top, inside and back sloping.

According to Genga, the top sloping enables visitors to walk and see the fish without causing any damage. The inside sloping is for preventing soil erosion near the pond area while the back sloping prevents the excavated soil from falling back to the pond. The ponds have an inlet that pumps in fresh water to the ponds and an outlet, which is used to drain out water during harvesting. The project fully relies on the spring water, which is readily available.

Apart from blood meal, the fish are fed on a simple diet of kales and yam leaves. Dry cow dung is also scattered adjacent to the ponds to provide manure, which facilitates the growth of other plants eaten by fish. In the spirit of gender sensitivity, the group has also welcomed men to the fold. Of the 38 members, 10 are men. And living to their motto of " Be the mark of excellence," the group has also embarked on a tree nursery project as well as poultry farming.

To fully realize their objectives, the group members work in close liaison with the District fisheries, livestock and environmental officers. Early last month, Nyanza P.C. Mr. John Nandasaba toured the project site and had this to say: "I am happy to note that you are struggling to alleviate poverty and plant trees when others are busy destroying the forests". The group currently boasts several tree nurseries containing both indigenous and exotic seedlings.

Apart from raising the group members' standards of living, the project has also created employment to about 100 youth who were previously idle. "At least I can now fend for myself with the Kshs 150 a day I earn from this project. I used to be so idle before I got this job", says Moses Otieno (21) a casual worker at the project site. In its determination to succeed, the group has come up with innovative and ambitious future plans which include the installation of power to enhance poultry farming and the establishment of a resource centre which will incorporate a demonstration centre on fish farming, a conference hall and a hotel.

Although sky seems to be the limit for this group, a few constraints stand in the way. Top on the list is lack of cold storage facilities for unsold fish. The fishing nets are also inadequate and the technology used is not far from rudimentary. All in all, the group's efforts are commendable in so far as poverty alleviation in the rural areas is concerned. With adequate funding, this project is sure to go a long way.

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