By Arogbonlo Israel
Following call for the establishment of Shellfish Bank in Nigeria, a university don, Prof Bello-Olusoji in this exclusive interview with Vanguard shared his explicit views on how Nigerians, especially farmers among other strata of the society will benefit from this initiative if fully embraced by the federal government.
Q Good evening. Please tell us a bit about yourself
Good evening. My name is Bello-Olusoji Oluayo Anthony, a professor of Fisheries Management with special interest on shellfish ecology and production. The following is often a vehicle in Department of Fisheries and Agriculture Technology, Akure. I joined the system in 1992 as an assistant lecturer and became a professor in 2008. I was the pioneer Head of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture Technology from 2007 to 2010.
Q Prof Sir, you are canvassing for the establishment of Shellfish Bank. What exactly are you talking about?
First of all, let me tell us what we mean by Shellfish. Shellfish is part of sea food products. It constitutes over 70% of seafood products and this is made up of crustaceans like crabs, prawns, shrimps, lobsters, and crayfish. When we are talking about shellfish bank, we are talking about the creation of area/centre/pilot farm for collection, gathering and multiplication/production of shellfish seedlings (post-larvae, crablets, spat) for subsequent distributions to prospective shellfish farmers. That is where shellfish seeds are made available to farmers that are interested in going to its production rather than depending on collections from the wild, which is not an easy task.
Q How will the establishment of Shellfish Bank benefit an ordinary farmer in the society?
The establishment of shellfish bank will benefit an ordinary man in the society in the sense that not only are we producing the seeds for farmers, at the same time, we are producing food for the community. By encouraging the farmer to increase his farm carrying capacity. A farmer can rear both fin fish and shellfish together. A farmer can grow paddy rice and shrimp together. Any interested farmer can get information, collect seedlings after training from such centre. At the end, it will increase the output and profit of the farmer.
Q We have several programmes and policies on Fisheries and Aquaculture which have not taking us anywhere, what do you think are the problems, and how best do you think we can tackle it?
Normally, we have so many policies and programmes put in place by the government. Unfortunately, no follow up but rather they keep making empty promises. Putting these policies in place is not enough, the government should follow up, that is, they should do proper monitoring and implementation of these policies. They should follow up to make sure that it works and promises made, let them fulfill them. It’s unfortunate we have agencies like federal official departments that should be working but they are not equipped for the work to do. No matter how beautiful or laudable the policies are, it will not work since there is no implementation, hence, this is part of the problem, that is why we are agitating for having shellfish bank because we know it’s like a farm where only the professionals are there as not all the fishery experts can handle shellfish.
Q How will investment in Shellfish and Aquaculture generate or create employment and boost foreign earnings?
Today, production from capture Fisheries has declined, production from aquaculture is less than 30% of the total annual production of about 1.2 million metric tons with annual fish demand estimated at 3.3 million metric tons. This leaves a deficit of 2.2 million metric tons according to Nigeria Fishery Statistic report of 2016. The deficit is largely supplied through fish importation. Nigeria is the fourth largest importer of fish in the world yet human population is on the increase and to sustain the UN agenda 2030 on food security, meet the local demand, reduce fish importation and boost our economy, there is need to think outside the boxes. Today, the Seafood sector is first and foremost big business creating wealth opportunities and jobs than any other agricultural sector. The market reached a value of 159.3 billion US dollar in 2019 and projected to reach about 194 million US dollars in 2027 (NOAA, 2021). Most of the shellfish especially, swimming crabs and shrimps collected from Nigeria coastal waters are exported to Europe, America, and Asia. The blue swimming crabs exportation is generating over 1.7billion US dollars through exportation. Annually, crab production with value addition will create more jobs for women and the youth. Crab sells between 8 and $12 per kg internationally. Its production will increase the per capita consumption of calcium, increase household protein consumption, reduce fish importation, and promote exportation thus increasing our foreign earnings. The same goes for the Nigerian dried shrimp called ‘crayfish’; this are eating by all and sundry outside the country in America, Europe, Asia and South America. The market can launch Nigeria into the global market, creating job opportunities for Nigerians with value addition. There are many Freshwater mussels and oyster in Nigeria. This can be cultured to generate income. In 2016, US shellfish farmers produced 37 million pounds of Oysters, 10 million pounds of clams, and 0.9 million pounds of mussels. The estimated value of this shellfish is 340 million dollars.
Q There are so many illegal activities on the high seas and coastlines and this is causing worries and sleepless nights for those who wishes to invest in Fisheries, Livestock and Aquaculture. What are the ways out of these quagmires?
On the issue of illegal activities and piracy on the high seas and our coastal lines. These are challenges facing the entire nation and it is only the Federal Government that can handle it. Individually, we can do nothing about it. For example, looking at the effects, estimated potential yield for shellfish is 51,760 metric tons. Shrimps and prawns have the highest commercial importance with production estimate between 10,000 to 15,000 metric tons. Nigeria generated about 54 million dollars in 2005 from export of shrimps and prawns. This figure decreased to about 38 million US dollars in 2007 due to harassment by Sea Pirates and militant groups thus decreasing production from 13,767 metric tons in 2006 to an alarming 5,995 metric ton in 2007. Thank God, some States are trying to address the issue, but the backing of the federal government is much needed.
Q Information and/or sensitisation on the nutritional values of sea foods are very minimal. How can we increase awareness on this?
Awareness can be increased or information dissemination can be achieved through the media and Educational services, such as organising seminars, conferences, workshops and trainings. All thanks to the mobile phone. This is a good tool through which millions can be reached with relevant information within the shortest period.
Q Your inaugural lecture is purely research and academic work which no doubt will set a tone for increased participation and enhanced production of sea foods. What are the steps can you recommend for first timers or those who want to invest in the shellfish and aquaculture as a source of alternative income?
Well (pauses) to be involved in shellfish production/farming, you must understand that the first thing is the interest and patience followed by acquiring the right knowledge. You must go for short courses, seminars, and workshop as I mentioned earlier. The pilot Farm setup will be responsible for such training. After the training, seedlings will be provided to the trainees. Patience is the key factor when it comes to shellfish production because racing mussel from seedling to market table sizes, and then to market size, may take up to 6 months. The same goes for crabs. From crablet to adult, may take up to 6 months. The same also goes for trains, which means she will need to have enough patience. It is not a business you start now and within two minutes or two weeks, you are thinking of making millions, No. Lastly, you must watch over your farm with special interest.
Q Any worthwhile ventures should have collaborators or stakeholders to make things work. In this context, who are the agencies, organisations and institutions that one should have synergy with?
We have few agencies to collaborate with, such like The Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA). Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture Technology, University of Lagos (UNILAG). UNILAG is presently working on the production of shrimps. I’m part of the team working on the project in the aforementioned varsity. We have ARAC in Port Harcourt. Research Institute like Nigeria Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR), NIOMR is into Marine research as well.
Q Aside the aforementioned, what other ways can an ordinary farmer access assistance virtually?
With our mobile phones, to get information is no longer difficult. We have many e-books online. Organisation like FishBase is ready to help. Such a person can as well visit Google Scholar. I’m also willing to help as many people as possible.