Experts are increasingly recognising the importance of aquatic territory cultivation,also known as fish farming or aquaculture, which has been described as one of the fastest-growing agro-industrial activities globally.
A report by Statista, the internet’s leading statistics database showed that the volume of global fish production amounted to 184.6 million metric tonnes in 2022, up from 178.1 million metric tonnes in 2021 and 148.1 million metric tonnes in 2010.
Science Daily, an insightful research website, defines fish farming as the process of raising fish commercially in tanks, ponds and several other enclosures notably as a food source and also as a commercial activity.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in addition to Statista, has rated fish farming as one of the fastest-growing agro-industrial activities in the last 40 years, with a projected growth rate that exceeds that of the global population. According to a report by the FAO, the significant growth of aquaculture has contributed to a record high in global fisheries and aquaculture production, and the importance of aquatic foods in ensuring food security and nutrition is growing in the 21st century.
The Animal Welfare Institute describes fish farming as the fastest growing area of animal food production and further disclosed that currently, about half the fish consumed globally are produced through this artificial method of fish production.
The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, including an increase in unemployment and inflation, has led to many businesses closing down in Nigeria. However, fish farming is emerging as a viable option for economic recovery in the post-pandemic era.
Commercial and economic prospects of fish farming
Fish is the cheapest source of animal protein for the average Nigerian, accounting for about 50 per cent of total protein intake. According to Researchgate.net, Nigeria imports 72 million tonnes of frozen fish worth $500 million annually. Nigeria is ranked the largest seafood importer in Africa, indicating a high consumption rate of fish and a large market opportunity for fish farming.
Fish farming is a budding industry which has the potential to flourish and meet up with the large deficit between fish production and consumption in Nigeria, if properly exploited. A report by the Federal Department of Fisheries (FDF), an agency under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Food Security disclosed that the Nigerian coastline has huge potential for inland and offshore fish farming. The fishery department also stated that asides increasing the availability of food fish, especially in the coastal areas, it offers commercial prospects for sustainable fish farming business in Nigeria.
According to Olagunju Daniel, a Lagos-based fish farmer, fish farming does not require a significant capital investment, and can be started with as little as N100,000, offering a lifeline to the poor who have limited alternatives and resources to start a sustainable business.
“Fish farming does not require being typically wealthy. It is a business that absorbs the poor as well as the wealthy. All that is required is interest and dedication to the business,” Daniel stated. Olagunju stated that fish farming is highly profitable because of the high production capacity of fish, and that the demand for catfish, which he farms, is high. He revealed that he makes up to N250,000 per month, excluding feeding costs and other expenses.
In recent years, catfish farming has become the dominant form of aquaculture in Nigeria, accounting for the country’s main output in the global aquaculture production sector.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of African catfish (clarias gariepinus) with an annual production worth $2.6 billion, highlighting the country’s potential as a major contributor to economic revitalisation if given the necessary attention.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), says Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of African catfish with an annual production of one million tonnes worth $2.6 billion.
Fred Kafeero, the country representative of the FAO, who made the disclosure at the launch of the 2023 Africa Catfish Value Chain Strategy, (FISH4ACP) in Abuja available data shows that Nigeria’s Catfish Sub-sector provides employment to about one million people in the country.
In Nigeria’s coastal regions, the adoption of cage culture systems, which encourage fish population growth by confining them in a mesh enclosure, also demonstrates the economic potential of fish farming.
In recent years, fish farming has grown in popularity in Nigeria, with catfish, tilapia, and prawn being the most common fish species being raised. This is due to the ease of production, the relatively low cost of materials, and the ready market for these fish species.
Challenges of fish farming in Nigeria
Although freshwater fish culture is widely accepted and promoted, the Nigerian fish farming industry has faced many challenges. These include high production costs, inconsistent supply of quality feed, disease outbreaks, theft of fish and equipment, poor government support, and a lack of information and technical support for small-scale farmers. As a result, the sector has not been a “bed of roses” for many farmers.
In addition to the challenges facing the industry, the Federal Fishery Department noted that natural disasters such as flooding and drought, as well as the global financial crisis, have affected the sector’s growth. These events have destroyed numerous fisheries and hindered the sector’s development. Furthermore, despite the fact that Nigeria has over 210 species of fish, only a small portion of them are being cultivated by fish farmers.While popular fish species such as catfish and tilapia remain abundant in markets, less common species are being left behind, putting them at risk of eventual extinction.
Olumide Agbesola, CEO of Maymid Farm Limited, noted that many Nigerian fish farmers do not seek professional advice before building their fish ponds, resulting in costly mistakes.
Muhammed Opeyemi, CEO of MM Agro-allied Enterprise, listed high feed costs, high mortality rates among young fish, cannibalism, and a lack of adequate funding as the primary challenges facing the fish farming industry.
According to a 2018-2022 report from WorldFish, Nigeria produced over one million metric tonnes of fish, but still had a deficit of 800,000 metric tonnes per year, which was imported from other countries. The WorldFish study on Nigerian Aquaculture warned that if current market conditions continue, the demand-supply gap for fish will grow to 450,000 metric tonnes in the near future. To meet this growing demand,it stated that fish production must double by 2030, and post-harvest losses must be reduced.
Recommendations for sustainable fish farming industry
Hassan Mindu, founder, Myra Fish Farm, Nasarawa State, first tilapia fish hatchery in Nigeria, suggested that people should be encouraged to buy fish from local farmers. He also recommended that fishing associations provide more education and training for farmers to improve their knowledge of fish farming practices. Mindu added that the government should support educational programs about fish farming and actively participate in the development of fish farming projects. He also encouraged the government to buy fingerlings from local farmers like him to replenish fish stocks in water bodies.
Lamina Arubiewe, a lab technologist and fishery expert at the Department of Agricultural Science,Lagos State University of Education (LASUED), believes fish farming is a viable business. However, he said that more work is needed from both the public and the government to increase local production and meet the demand for fish in the country.
Arubiewe suggested that in addition to common freshwater fish species like catfish and tilapia, other marine fish species could also be farmed. He also emphasized the need for technological innovation and adaptation in fish farming in order to keep up with changing environmental conditions.
According to a 2018-2022 report from WorldFish, Nigeria produced over one million metric tonnes of fish, but still had a deficit of 800,000 metric tons per year, which was imported from other countries. The WorldFish study on Nigerian Aquaculture estimates that if current market conditions continue, the demand-supply gap for fish will grow to 450,000 metric tons in the near future. To meet this growing demand,the report said fish production must double by 2030, and post-harvest losses must be reduced.
The report advised fish farmers in Nigeria to learn sustainable aquaculture practices that will maximise their production and meet the growing demand for fish. It also urged the government at all levels to create incentives for small-scale fish producers and farming households in Nigeria that will enable them access and adopt cost-effective and innovative aquaculture practices.
Aqua4Nations, a Nigerian aquaculture website, identified market failure as one of the main problems affecting the fish farming business in Nigeria, as well as price fluctuations that affect farmers’ revenues.
It noted that poor road networks and high transportation costs also affect the profitability of fish farming. It also pointed out that because of limited access to markets, fish farmers often sell their products at low prices out of desperation, while buyers purchase them at lower prices than what is available in the market.
To improve the profitability of fish farming, Aqua4Nations recommends that the government improve road infrastructure to reduce transportation costs and minimize losses during transportation. It also recommends that marketers use refrigerated vans to transport fish and other marine products, to prevent them from spoiling during transit.