Lobster farming: How venture grew into five-star hotels supplier – Business Daily
Iqbal Abdallah is a content businessman. In his Kipini home in Tana River County, the lobster farmer has achieved what young men of his age can only dream of from a rare skill he learned from the Chinese.
“I was trained by a Chinese friend on lobster farming in 2007 in Tudor, Mombasa then I started working with them as I sharpened my skills until 2010 when I thought I should come back home and try it on my own,” he says.
He started with three cages, a boat, and a net.
According to Mr Abdallah, lobsters thrive in estuaries with salty water to induce spawning and fertilisation.
In Kipini, where fishermen traded only on dead lobsters, he introduced the business of live lobsters straight from the farm.
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.
Together with his business partner, they fed the young lobsters with bloodworms and tubifex worms.
“The Chinese came and looked at what we were able to do and they were impressed, so they supported us with another boat and offered us a market for our lobsters,” he says.
The trainers became their first clients, buying the most sought-after live lobsters for the five-star hotels in the country and the international market.
Over the years, the two have grown to acquire two more boats, employing 12 youth and have 10 cages on their sea farm.
But it has not been an easy journey with Mr Abdallah saying the venture requires a lot of vigilance to realise success.
“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, he reiterates that the enterprise pays well compared to what other fishermen fetch from other types of seafood.
Their clients, he notes, are exclusive and usually come for the product by themselves from the farm, making him a cut above other fishermen.
Whereas other dealers sell dead lobsters that fetch them Sh700 per kilo, Mr Abdallah and his partner earn Sh5,000 per kilo.
“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.
“We would be making a lot more if it were not for the high revenue charges from the county administration. Their levies are the thorn in [the flesh of] our enterprise,” he says.
Mr Abdallah notes that whereas Lamu County charges Sh10 as a levy per kilo of lobster, Tana River County charges Sh400. This has scared away fishermen, who now prefer dealing in Lamu.
Besides the levies, they also have to deal with thieves. “We have to hire four people to stay on watch on shifts, day and night, and that is costly,” he says.
The lobster feed has also become expensive, and the international market still suffers the effects of Covid-19, hence low earnings.
Also, he decries high licensing fees by the national government that charging Sh1,500 per year per vessel.
The county government, on the other hand, charges a movement permit and traders licence at Sh50 and Sh350, respectively annually depending on the vessel.
Nevertheless, Mr Abdallah says the venture pays and has attracted researchers who are curious to know how the enterprise operates.
“I hosted a French researcher two months ago, and I have a German researcher coming next month. It brings me joy to see what started with little faith gain such attention,” he says.
The lobster farmer wishes that the youth in Kipini can be empowered to venture into the business by equipping them with the necessary equipment.
He says this will create a wealthy society, hence ending the radicalisation of the youth and joblessness.
“One boat requires at least six people, if we can have organisations and more facilitating, we will have lots of young millionaires in the region and no worry about crime,” he says.
Mr Abdallah believes the blue economy has potential that is yet to be explored. Mwanajuma Hiribae, the Tana Fisheries executive says the county has brought on board several partners to complement its efforts in bolstering blue economy.
“We have the Italian development cooperation, and GIZ among others who are supporting beach management units and have been of benefit to the fishermen across the board.
The Marine Frame Survey Report of 2014 gives an estimate of 690 lobster fishers along the Kenyan coastline.
Lamu County has the highest number of lobster fishers with 511, which represents 74 percent of the total.
Tana River is ranked third after Kwale with 24.4 percent, Kilifi with 17 percent, and Mombasa with 7.1 percent.