Nigerian Catfish Farmers Can Restore The Economy, But Are The Govt Ready?
Editor’s note:Will President Muhammadu Buhari and his government make use of the suggestions made by bright and young Nigerians with the enthusiasm and potential to push the Nigerian economy forward? A promising Nigerian entrepreneur, author and businessman, Bamidele Onibalusi focuses on the Nigerian catfish farmers who, with the help of the government, could stimulate the growth and development of the agricultural sector of our economy.
Developing nations of the world depend mainly on the primary sectors of the economy which basically are mining and agriculture.
The situation in Nigeria is not different, only that the majority of Nigeria’s working population depends on agriculture more than mining. Agriculture is the most important sector of Nigeria’s economy, and research shows that about 70% of Nigeria’s labour force is engaged in agriculture.
The agricultural sector in Nigeria is mainly dominated by the aged (50+ and retirees), but a sector that is appealing to Nigerian youths is the catfish farming sector. The reasons for this are not far-fetched:
It is easy to set up a catfish farm compared to other sectors of agriculture
It is less strenuous than other types of agriculture
It can be done on part-time basis with returns guaranteed; it isn’t unusual to find people involved with catfish farming in addition to full time jobs
You can recoup your capital and interest within a short time-frame; typically between 3 – 6 months
There’s readily available market for catfish produce
The sector offering opportunities
Since the early nineties, people have been going into catfish farming increasing awareness about catfish, and many Nigerians now see it as a substitute to imported fish.
The self-employment that has been the outcry of the Nigerian government can never be actualized in other sectors of the economy except the agricultural sector, catfish farming in particular. Hence, many unemployed youths have embraced this opportunity to be self-employed in this sector.
In our findings, we discovered that there are over 13 different areas that Nigerians are gainfully employed in the catfish farming sector. These include: 1) pond construction, 2) breeding, 3) feed milling, 4) selling of input, 5) marketing of fresh fish, 6) setting up of fish processing factory, 7) importation, 8) marketing of floating feed, 9) repairing of implements (e.g. pumping machines), 10) consultancy services, 11) work opportunities for farm attendants, 12) transportation and logistics, 13) harvesting.
It will be folly for any reasonable government to neglect a sector that provides so many opportunities for the unemployed, which is why Nigerian farmers are crying for a saviour at this critical moment.
Until recent times, Nigerian catfish farmers have been able to overcome their numerous challenges and thrive. They are now beset with so many challenges that are threatening the industry, and unless the Nigerian government comes in, the once promising industry has a gloomy future.
Some of the challenges in Nigeria’s fish farming sector that need urgent intervention from the government
One of the major challenges of the moment is the low quality of imported inputs (raw materials), some of which include fish meal (72%, 68% and 65%), soya meal, methionine, lysine and other minor ingredients.
A recent informal survey conducted between January and July this year shows that imported materials are not yielding as much as locally available materials which have not been available due to the Nigeria’s internal Boko Haram crisis. This was further aggravated when the border was closed during the 2015 elections.
Imported fish feeds are not exempt, and a 2012 study of imported floating fish feeds revealed that the actual proximate composition of fish feeds, when analyzed in the lab, was inferior to what was declared by the companies producing the feeds. Four brands were analyzed and fish feed sold by one of the brands, Adolf Calyx, contained just 25.89% crude protein while the company declared 42% crude protein on their label. To the unsuspecting farmer, this discrepancy can have catastrophic effects.
Even some of the locally sourced ingredients have been adulterated. For example, there has not been pure GNC for a long time now. What is sold as GNC is either blended with Bern seed, rice meal, shea butter, or other less proteinous ingredients.
In fact, findings of an informal survey of catfish farmers in various parts of southwest Nigeria, show a good majority of them are now running at a loss since the first half of this year, and the increasing unavailability of ingredients and degradation of the quality of available ingredients is playing no mean feat in this.
Bearing in mind that some of these people took loans from commercial banks with high interest rates above 20%, it makes no sense to continue the business if it is unprofitable, and this is leading to an exodus in the catfish farming sector.
The fish breeders have not been helping the situation in any way. As a result of increase in demand for fingerlings and juveniles, many breeders now use inferior broodstock to breed for innocent farmers. Some even do in-breeding, bearing in mind that the quality of fingerlings and juveniles depends on the parent stock. Little wonder farmers are not getting results like before. The size that can be attained in six months before now may not be attained in eight months. Due to this, many farmers have been unable to recoup their capital within a reasonable period of time.
The current structure of the market for catfish is not helping the situation in any way. There are few individuals that dictate the pace of this business instead of the force of demand and supply. Many economists may argue with this fact, but what should a farmer do when middlemen purchase on credit and refuse to pay? In fact, it isn’t uncommon for few individuals, especially middlemen, to meet and fix the price of the outputs.
In an ideal economy, the price of inputs should determine the price of outputs but this is not the case with the catfish farming industry in Nigeria. The price of the output is often not in agreement with the price of input. A farmer could raise his fishes when the price of inputs are sky high only to sell when the price of outputs has dropped, often resulting in a loss, and nothing is being done to check this.
To sustain the current government policy banning importation of certain items that include fish products, the Nigerian government must do something to save this sector of the economy.
1. The Nigerian government should make use of existing institutional frameworks saddled with the responsibility of regulating and standardizing inputs and raw materials. For example, bodies like the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) and NAFDAC should be proactive at ensuring the quality of inputs entering the country and produced in the country, to ensure that the stated quality are in accordance with what is declared.
2. Research institutes should be established, or empowered, to produce quality broodstock and make them widely available to local breeders to use nationwide. When establishing these institutes, the government should consider areas with is a high concentration of catfish farmers. This will ensure the availability of their produce to the breeders and farmers.
3. The government should be involved in marketing and distribution of the products of the outputs. This can be achieved through price boards and other regulations and controls to ensure stability in catfish production and also the availability of these products all year round.
If the catfish farming sector is ignored and subsequently collapses, the Nigerian government will be dealing a major blow to the agricultural sector that currently employs the highest number of the Nigerian populace. Therefore, all hands must be on deck to ensure the sustainability of this emerging industry.