Over 60 per cent of fish farmers has been forced to shut down, while others are struggling to stay afloat due to the rising cost of feed and other challenges bedeviling the industry.
The development, according to stakeholders and other sector players, is a setback to efforts aimed at bridging the demand fish deficit gap, which currently stands at about 2.5 million metric tonnes yearly.
Few weeks ago, the Director, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), Dr. Ime Umoh, during a stakeholders dialogue in Abuja, revealed that Nigeria’s current fish production stands at 1.2 million metric tonnes yearly, while the demand has risen to 3.6 million tonnes, leaving a deficit of about 2.5 million metric tonnes.
According to him, the deficit is being supplemented by frozen fish importation, adding that intensified efforts by the artisanal, industrial and aquaculture value chain players are capable of bridging the gap.
But the National President, Tilapia and Aquaculture Developers Association of Nigeria (TADAN), Remi Ahmed, who regretted the misfortune of the industry in recent years, said, “It is not possible to bridge the deficit gap. Even, from the wild where most of these fishes originate, they are reducing drastically. Local production too cannot even get closer because of the high cost of feed. Many farmers are getting out of business because they can no longer cope.
“From the aquaculture point of view, we cannot get nearer bridging the deficit gap. The feed we were buying at the rate of N3, 500 and N4, 000 that we were crying that the price was too much, is currently sold for between N11, 000 and N13, 000. What are we going to produce with it? Unfortunately, the catfish value chain seems to be the worst hit. The market women buy at ridiculous prices from farmers but sells at exorbitant rates to consumers.
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“Honestly, more than 60 per cent of farmers are out of the business, but the Tilapia fish farmers are still managing because there are lots of things that can be used to feed tilapia fish, though you may not get the desired result on time, but in six to seven months, you’ll get your 500grams using water weeds. It only costs you the stress of going to the river to get them harvested for your fish. And those of us producing the fingerlings of Tilapia, we could see that there is a lot of promises, that’s why we are still in business.”
Aside the challenge of high cost of feed, Ahmed listed dearth of farm hands, lack of incentives and unfavorable government policies as other limitations impeding the progress of the industry.
He said: “Farm hands are no longer available anymore. I went as far as Benue State to get farm hands, but maybe we overpriced them or we over pampered them, we are currently regretting sourcing farm hands from there. They wanted to steal the entire farm. And when you go to Badagry, those from there are drunkards – no plans for their life.
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“Even the government policies are not helping at all. The Federal Government prefers to give foreigners financial support – single digit interest rate than Nigerians. When you are giving billions of naira to a single farmer, you overlooked Nigerian farmers, even if you want to give them double digits, you must offer them support too…”
The Founder of Homeland Farms and Agricultural Services, Birnin Yero, Kaduna, Aliyu Mohammed, who also confirmed that the deficit gap will be difficult to bridge, said no matter how serious and determined the government is in its policies to close the gap, if there is no security in place, the deficit will continue to increase.
The problems hampering the production of fish in Nigeria are numerous; they include high cost of feed; low water quality; shortage of improved seeds (fingerlings and Juveniles etc.); inadequate technical management; lack of structured market for the farmers (negative activities of middlemen); and insecurity of life and property in areas where farms are located.
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“Insecurity has been hampering farming generally in the country. So, even if it were possible to address the first five problems in the short run, insecurity has been a major setback to farming in Nigeria.”
The National Chairman, Fisheries Cooperative Federation of Nigeria, the apex body of fisheries cooperative societies, unions and federation in states, Evang. Anthony A. Ashagye, listed high cost of feeds, problem of sourcing fingerlings, acquisition of land, inadequate training, lack of financial support and lack of modern fish markets as some of the major challenges.
While noting that the sector can solve 70 per cent of the country’s problem, he said the high cost of feeds, is caused by total dependence on feed importation, adding that about 80 per cent of the feeds are imported. “This is one of the things government should have done, by establishing feed mills. We have raw materials for the establishment of feed mills, but it was not considered by the past administrations. So, the cost of feed is taking the highest budget in aquaculture.
“The second one is the challenge of acquiring fingerlings, it starts from the grow stock, the present system relies on the little effort of our fish farmers because if you don’t get a good fish breed, the fish will not grow and at the end you may not get anything at all, the supply of fingerlings is a big problem to the industry. Acquisition of land is another problem, except you want to go into fish culture, which we have not started in Nigeria, except you want to use surface tank, if you want to establish fish pond you need land, land acquisition is a major challenge.”
Ashagye stressed that adequate training on fish breeding for farmers, will assist them to be self sufficient in fish breeding and management of their farms.
“Taking a critical look at Agriculture, one can easily access a rice farm if it’s 10 hectares of land or more, it could easily be ascertained. That also goes for livestock, the number of the animals can be counted, but for aquaculture, the fish grows in the water and nobody sees it, fish farmers are underrated, that’s why we don’t get assistance in terms of loans.