As the country looks to reap economic growth from oceans and lakes, Kilifi is already making waves by not just consuming but growing seafood.
At the International Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi, delegates are for the third day discussing innovative and sustainable ways to exploit a sector that generates Sh150 trillion to the world economy.
But Coast is where the action is, and Kilifi is claiming its piece of the pie through crab farming. There is high demand for crabs in the world, and this can only be tapped through farming instead of wild fishing, which could threaten the species in the ocean.
A Kenyan of British origin in Magarini has set up the first crab hatchery and outgrower farm at the remote Che Shale near Ngomeni, which will probably be one of the largest blue economy projects in East Africa.
Justin Aniere, the owner of Che Shale Mud Crab farm, also owns a tourism business, the famous Che Shale resort. But after the 2007-08 post-election violence, he thought of diversifying to set up the crab farm.
Aniere is among the delegates attending the IBEC conference in Nairobi. He wants to show the world how crab farming can be a major income-generating activity.
HOW HE STARTED
When he started out six years ago, Aniere’s idea was to have an alternative business of hatching crabs, selling the crablets to a local community, then buying them at maturity stage for export.
With little knowledge of crab farming, Aniere began on a low note with a small farm, which he used to produce the crabs for sale at his Che Shale restaurant, located at the pristine beach island near Ngomeni 23km from Malindi town.
He bought some crabs for his restaurant. Inside the bag there was a very big crab. He took it for his own personal consumption, expecting to get a lot of meat. He was, however, disappointed at his dining table.
A Crab in a hatchery at Cheshalle Mud Crab farm
in Kilifi county. /ALPHONCE GARI
“I cooked the crab but once I opened the shell, I noticed it had no meat inside. I started doing some Google research to seek answers as to why the crab had no meat,” he said when we visited his crab farm recently in Che Shale.
His Google research established that the crab had no meat because of the moon face. He says for crabs to grow, they need to molt or shed their skin, after which they develop a new shell that is completely soft. They pump water through the body and expand from there to a bigger size, about 60 per cent.
“At this point, once the shell goes hard, it is known as a water crab. Now that crab, because it has gained space, needs to go and eat and refill the space that it has gained,” he said.
From that day, Aniere began taking the water crabs, putting them in boxes and feeding them for 20 days a time, after which they would be full of meat and ready for the market.
After some time, the Fisheries department contacted him and later the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
“They asked me if I would like to help Kenya get into crab farming. So of course I said yes. The only way I suggested to them was to have a hatchery so we could breed our own crab to be able to provide to farmers,” he said.
With the help of FAO, the Fisheries department and the Kenya Costal Development Project, he managed to get Sh6 million equipment.
Currently the project is at an advanced stage and is set to create jobs for thousands of residents.
HOW IT WORKS
Journalists toured his farm and Aniere took them round the entire process of how the crabs are produced.
At the farm, there is a Recycling Aqua System, where Aniere purifies seawater pumped from the Indian Ocean. The purified water is then used to raise crab larvae to get them to the crablet stage.
Aniere set up six tanks, each with a capacity of 5,000 litres, which all go through a process of cleaning.
“The protein schemer goes through bio chambers to get pure oxygen pumped into it. Ozone is taken out of the water to kill any living bad bacteria. One bad bacteria can kill a whole batch of crablets,” he said.
The RAS system will be used for the whole purpose of the hatchery. “My prediction is with this set-up, I will be able to produce up to 6 million crablets a year. All will go to the outgrower farmers,” he said.
In the plan, the average outgrower farmer will have a pond of about 20,000 crablets in boxes.
The Recycling Aqua System (RAS) at Cheshalle Mud Crab farm
in Kilifi county. /ALPHONCE GARI
“For six million crabs, that’s a lot of farmwork for people and a lot of income for the community. It will provide a lot of jobs, and that’s my aim,” Aniere said.
In one of the tanks of purified water, he showed us one female crab that was carrying eggs. Aniere said he expects her to hatch in 45 days, after which the process of producing crablets begins.
“Once the eggs have hatched then it becomes complicated. They are very small and require a microscope for one to see the larvae,” he said.
The larvae are fed with rotifers, and the rotifers also feed algae, which have to be created. At a certain stage, the larvae require bigger foods, which have to be created from a type of crustacean called artemia.
As they grow, they are also supposed to be fed with chopped-up fish or snails to get them to crablet stage, a process that takes 18 days.
“It’s very intense, but once you get on the hatchery, you have the possibility of getting a lot of crabs,” he said.
Before the process begins, there is a brood stock tank, where the crabs hatch. Aniere puts 10 females with two or three males to mate.
“Once they have mated and the females fertilised, they are separated from the main brood stock tank and put into the tank, which is run through the RAS system’s purified water to create the correct parameters for the crabs.
ALTERNATIVE TO TOURISM
Aniere says crab farming was the only alternative after he realised he could not depend on tourism. Currently crab farming is more important than anything he does.
“It’s a big business for outgrower farmers, for the country, for myself. I am still working in tourism but crabbing is what helps me look after my tourism business. The two work nice and happily together,” he said.
From the hatchery is a nursery pond, where the crablets are taken once they have gone through the larvae process in the RAS system.
In the nursery pond, the crablets are fed to get to the size of about 50-100g, after which outgrower farmers will take them to their farms.
Ronald Kalu a worker at
Cheshalle Mud Crab farm
in Kilifi county feeds crab lets in pond, Each crab let stays in a seperate box. /ALPHONCE GARI
Aniere and the county government will help set up the ponds for the farmers and train them on how to breed them.
“People sometimes ask me where I got my knowledge from. It’s curiosity. When people are curious and you want to know about something, it’s easy to get the knowledge,” he said.
Aniere said he Googled about crab farming and went to Thailand. He worked at a big crab farm for a whole week to learn. Each pond had 40,000 boxes and there were seven ponds. The Thai man was expecting tonnes of crabs a day.
“When I saw that potential, I knew this could be done in our country, Kenya,” he said.
Aniere then went to Malaysia and did a full study of five days, which was being taught by a professor. There he learnt the process of crab farming, how they feed breed and their life cycle.
He returned to Kenya and started the strategies of setting up the crab farm.
“I have also done a lot of other studies myself, a lot of reading. Other professionals come here to visit me and explain a lot of things. At the moment, I am still very much at the beginning of it,” he said.
If well harnesed, crab farming could be a major economic activity in Kilifi county.