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August 12, 2008

Fish supply falls behind demand in Nigeria; imports out-compete domestic fisheries

At an annual increase of 10 percent, local production of cat fish in Nigeria cannot be said to be stunted. But in the last eight years that cat fish farming has maintained this steady growth, many people have wondered why it does not force down its price in the market.

A recent market survey shows a kilogram of fresh cat fish selling for N500. This is almost three times the price of 'Titus,' an imported variety of fish in the market. Compared to what it has been in the last three years, the price of the local variety has remained static, while there are indications that the imported options like Titus, mackerel, croaker and so on might continue to decrease in price.

For Foluke Omotayo Areola, president, Fishery Society of Nigeria, FISON, this is not a happy development. As well as being the henchman of the fishers' society, Areola is an assistant director at the Federal Department of Fisheries, FDF, an agency under the Ministry of Agriculture. She said that in the last few years, both government and FISON have been quite busy in trying to bring down the cost of fish, by boosting local production of cat fish in the country from its current 80, 000 metric tons per annum to five times the current capacity.

“The demand far outstrips the supply,” she said, adding that owing to many forces from instability in the local economy and import pressure, their target has been quite difficult to meet.

Fish accounts for 40 percent of protein intake in the country. Even at that, local fish farms account for 20 percent of total local production of fish in the country. The picture is grimmer still. Current fish demand in the country is put at 1.5 million metric tons per annum. Of the sum, 1.1 million metric tons are imported, thereby resulting in the country incurring a bill in excess of $241 million annually.

Policy experts believe that such money if put into fish production in the country would greatly stimulate the economy. This has been the reason why government, especially at federal and state levels have placed premium on growing local fish farms. Decidedly, the choice has been cat fish on account of its nativity to the country. In the last eight years, government effort might well have yielded success. From a previous 30, 000 metric tons annual production of cat fish, fish farmers in the country now gross a total of 80,000 metric tons per annum. But this is hardly enough considering the total demand in the country.

Fish farmers in the country groan that the cost of producing cat fish in the country still remains high. Chiefly, standard fish feed, despite efforts by several agencies to have them produced locally, have remained largely elusive. In the last few years, FISON says it has partnered with the European Union to set up fish millers in the country with little success.

“Aside from Chi Farms, there are only a few fish millers in the country without much success due to the huge capital outlay involved in fish feed milling,” said Areola. For the growing need of farmers, Chi might not be able to cater for the demand of fish feed in the country. Largely, fish farmers use locally sourced alternatives to groom their fishes. But in the long run, the alternative proves inadequate. Farmers say that the imported variety float in the ponds allowing fishes to see the food. This is not so with the local ones which sink to the bottom of the pool, denying fishes of their meal.

Business Eye

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