By Jimoh Babatunde
At the recently held National Council on Agriculture meeting held in Katsina state, it was reveled that inventory of inland aquatic resources of Nigeria conducted by the National Special Programme for Food Security confirmed that there are about 950 medium_sized to large_sized lakes and reservoirs in the country.
It was noted that these water bodies are suitable for producing fish using water based culture systems including fish cages, fish pens, and fish enclosures.
The vast wetlands in Nigeria are highly under_utilized and under developed for fish production. The estimated potential for fish production through various aquaculture systems in Nigeria is 2.50 million tonnes.
But, like many African countries, Nigeria imports large quantities of fish—more than $200 million worth of fish each year. To counter these imports, the Nigerian government has supported local fisheries through research, stocking reservoirs, and training for farmers. Still, national production has yet to regain its high of 538,000 metric tons in 1983.
At the Katsina meeting, it was agreed that accelerated increases in fish production could be achieved by: improvement of culture techniques to enable more intensive farming; development and utilization of new technology, and wider application of known technology among others.
One agency that has come up to assist Nigeria and Nigerians in provision of improved technology and farming techniques is the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded Maximizing Agricultural Revenue & Key Enterprises in Target Sites (MARKETS).
During a visit to Ogun State recently, specifically the Ijebu Ode Development Board on Poverty Reduction (IDBPR), one will marvel at the place of technology in fishery development.
The IDBPR is a community-based organisation set up to address urban-rural poverty in Ijebu Ode and its environ. The board, with 36 groups of between 10 and 20 members is primarily active in aquaculture on a 156-hectare farm village.
Before MARKETS intervention in March 2009, the fish farmers depended on rudimentary farming techniques and a mix of imported fish feeds and low quality locally produced on farm fish feed that negatively affected the quality and quantity of fish produced.
MARKETS’ work with IDBPR started with training in “Improved Marketing Techniques of fresh fish, ‘’ “New hatchery techniques to improve African mud catfish, ‘’ and “Water quality management, fish Health and Disease Control.”
Mr. Saeed Lawal, Aquaculture Specialist with MARKET disclosed that their approach to aquaculture is different from other commodities, because aquaculture is technology driven project.
“Our approach here is to use technology to increase yield and income and that is our goal, how do you bring more money to farmers pocket.
“Before we came in , they have 230 ponds, but now there are about 1110 ponds, by 2008 their revenue was 120m and after our intervention they are now having 250m per annum after we introduced them to modern technology.”
Mr. Odion Iyibosi one of the members of the group said “in 2007 we had about seven cooperatives, but today we are about 40 co-operatives. With the intervention of USAID we have come up with different ideas, new techniques and increase our productivity. Before now we use smaller ponds, but now we use bigger ponds 5 X 50 that can contain about 22000 fish.”
Before the IDBPR’s project, MARKETS had partnered with Durante Feeds of Ibadan to pioneer the first pelletized fish feed made in Nigeria.
Durante expertise developed the product, while MARKETS source a commercial loan from partner First Bank and mobilized several thousand fish farmers to try the feed.
Acceptance was a challenge: high quality imported feed floats, while inferior feeds usually sinks. Because of Durante feed quality and their marketing efforts, however, perception has changed.
Local feed production also stimulates demand for maize and soy. Grand Cereals and Oil Mills Limited invested in a 5,300 MT fish feed mill to produce Nigeria’s first floating fish feed. This investment has potential to not only transform the industry, but also increase farmer income as they purchase from local farmers.
Fish farmers are seeing results. Alhaji Azeez Bello and his wife Mariam who own an integrated farm, Azemor Agribiz, on a 30-hectare farm before Asejire in Ibadan grows and processes catfish through improved post-harvest processing technology and storage for local and regional markets.
In a chat with this reporter, Alhaji Azeez Bello disclosed that they came in contact with USAID in 2008, “and we want to state clearly here that it has helped us in the sense that aquaculture is not anything other than technology and knowledge and the more you know, the better for the business.
“We know that when fishing farming started in Nigeria you will just dig the pond and maybe feed the fish two to three times a week, but now we know that we need to feed the fish two to three times a day to get results.”
The Bello family also sought MARKETS’ training in improved catfish smoking methods, farm management, and record keeping through the Nigerian Agricultural Enterprise Curriculum.
They put the training to use. The farm’s facilities, staff size, and revenue increased. From 15 catfish ponds it now has 22, and 18 employees up from 14. Azemor’s feed pellet machines increased from two to three, and two additional smoking kilns were added.
Gross revenue rose from N2.8 million to N3.6 million per quarter. Azemor serves as a model fish farm.
“We want Nigerians to eat what they like and not just what they see, ‘’ says Bello who adds that the farm currently operates at 30 per cent installed capacity. “Our products sell beyond the shores of Nigeria.