Susan Thompson, biologist, Fish4Kenya; six months in Whitehorse; six months in Kakamega, Kenya
In 2005, Susan Thompson, 51, a Canadian fish biologist, started a journey where she travels to Kakamega in Western Kenya to create and implement a training program for rural fish farmers. By working with a Kenyan, Hussein Wechuli, Ms. Thompson created Fish4Kenya and has trained almost 100 small fish farmers to build and maintain economically viable fish farming operations that provide affordable, good quality fish protein and valuable income to families and communities, especially the poor and vulnerable who live in rural areas.
Once I gave $2,000 to a local fish hatchery that was to supply all our farmers with fingerlings after they had constructed their ponds. With the deal in place, I left to return home to work. When the farmers went to get their fingerlings, the owner refused and basically cheated me and the farmers out of fish. When I returned to Kenya, I tried to get my money back but he refused.
Word of mouth, neighbours living beside current farmers who see their success, and we do go looking for them because we hear about individuals or community groups who have fish ponds, etc. The requirement for all farmers to attend the training course and be assisted is that they construct their own fish ponds without my financial support. This is their contribution to the program. Their training is paid for along with transportation to town; they receive pipes, fingerlings and feed, and can borrow nets to use for harvest.
One farmer just harvested last week and he netted out 541 fish and sold them for 50 Kenya shillings each and got 19,000 shillings or $237. Most Kenyans live on less than $1 a day so to have a harvest like that every three months is excellent.
Hellen Wanguba heard about the training and asked if she could come get trained. I went to visit her home one weekend and found a pond that was excellent. She had done it by herself. When I went back to visit, 10 neighbours had constructed a pond of 10 x 30 metres and were ready for training.
How the program works
Training covers fish biology, fish health, history of aquaculture, pond construction, pond design, stocking density, how to stock, when to stock, fertilizing, feeding and feed requirements, composting and how to make fish feed, record keeping, marketing, micro-finance, etc. The classes go from Monday to Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. As many students do not read or write, everything is done verbally. We teach in Kiswahili and English. The class numbers are small to have lots of time for discussion. I try to get equal half male, half female, and I also mix them up from various rural locations so they don’t know each other. I also have new, inexperienced farmers with older, experienced farmers so they can share successes and challenges.
$20 provides a training manual, pipes, tilapia or catfish fingerlings and a small amount of fish feed. Then we stock. Most ponds get about 500 fish.
I had to leave my career in the Yukon to pursue my passion in Kenya. I weigh this against being able to put my skills and knowledge into a project that provides families and communities with the necessary skills to improve their lives, and the sacrifice seems small when I look at how the program has improved their lives. I would say close to 500 people have been impacted.
What keeps you going?
Ninety-eight farmers have been trained in the program and out of that number, over 80 are still working hard and harvesting fish and selling them in the market. Lydia, a single mother, has built two ponds and harvests enough fish to sell in the local market so she can put her oldest son through college.
George Stroumboulopoulos. He is a UN ambassador and a leading voice against hunger. My project is all about families having a better food source and income.
I swim, boat and scuba dive as much as I can.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Farah Mohamed is president & CEO of the G(irls)20 Summit. Send suggestions for Action Figure to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: The original newspaper version of this story and an earlier online version used an incorrect photo of Susan Thompson and misstated the location in Africa of Kakamega, Kenya. This online version has been corrected.