Fish farming: Salvaging Nigeria’s unemployment crisis

Aquaculture revolution is fast gaining acceptability among Nigerians. It has thrown up fish farming sub-sector of the long-neglected agriculture in Nigeria. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report looks at the sector’s bold statement in addressing the unpleasant unemployment crisis the country has found itself


Obehi Daniel’s visit to a fish farm at Ikorodu area of Lagos State in 2011 changed his perception about employment. He was an unemployed graduate of Agricultural Education from the College of Education, Ekiadolor, Edo State at the time. He had been unemployed since his graduation in 2005, and had once contemplated travelling abroad for the proverbial greener pasture.

At the Ikorodu farm, Daniel encountered the owner, who, interestingly, feeds his fishes from juvenile to standard table size with local feeds about four times a day. Within a period of six to seven months, he harvests nothing less than 1kg to 2kg of fishes. What surprised Daniel was the fact that the man used local feeds all-through, which he confirmed from some of his staff. Daniel was so shocked because it appeared hard to believe that catfish farmers could use local feedstuff all through without the foreign feed.

“I consulted the man to give me the formula he used, but he said no. This made me to sit down, think and do some more research on how to use my little savings to start something in that direction. Before then, my earlier knowledge of fish farming indicated that feeding alone takes up to 70 per cent of the investment, which was scary,” Daniel said.

With this new thinking, Daniel started his little fish farm by stocking 100 pieces of post fingerlings in a 7 by 4ft earthen pond at his Agege residence. He fed the fish with coppens, twice a day, by the time he weighed them, what he saw was amazing; they weighed between 150-200grams. He was happy that his idea had worked. “So, I put more effort. The second month, I fed them with six bags and spent only N17, 000 in milling local feed for the third and fourth months ,” Daniel recounted.

Today, Daniel has imparted many aspiring agricultural entrepreneurs in his locality. He has now seen this move as one easy solution to help alleviate the problem of unemployment in the country. To him, the government should create the enabling environments for jobless youths and students to set up small scale fish fingerlings producing businesses like the way he started. This is because, Catfish fingerlings production, according to him, requires low set-up capital and grows rapidly within a short period, to generate quick and high turnover. “It is simple to set up a fish pond in your own backyard and it requires very little initial capital,” Daniel confirmed with a sense of fulfilment.

The hatchery does not, in the words of other experts, need large expanse of land to succeed. “If there is already available two room size of water and land, then one does not have problem starting this project. With less than N180, 000, one can set up a small-scale fish fingerlings producing business. What one requires is a hatching pond of 12 by 4ft space, which can be constructed into a shape of box by any experienced carpenter and plumber with six planks, nails and 3×2 woods then lay tarpaulin material inside the box, put clean water and start your hatchery activities,” one fish farmer, who does not want his name in print, said.

Currently, in Nigeria, catfish is in high demand due to its good taste, high protein content, medicinal characteristics and its appeal to a lot of people. This has made the market potential very huge. It is available for sale in the open markets, hotels beer parlours and various relaxation joints. Interestingly, in parties, only special guests enjoy this, because of the high price. At present, fish farming is being used to address the unpleasant unemployment crisis the country has found itself.

Indeed, setting up a fish pond can be very easy and feasible with the right tools, materials and of course -technical know-how. The most cost effective way to construct a fish pond is to make one locally at one’s own backyard; the digging of the pond and every other necessary steps can by carried by the person involved and his friends. There would be no need to pay for extra manual labour.

Today, aquaculture is fast gaining acceptability among Nigerians. Incidentally, those, who have indicated interest in self-employment, have actually embraced fish farming long before now. For instance, Remi Michael, unemployed graduate of history from the University of Ilorin decided to go into fish farming after several years of searching for the unavailable jobs. But, little did he know that he was starting something that would stand as a practical response to the ravaging unemployment crisis in the land. That decision was, however, a tough one since he did not possess the financial outlay he had thought was needed to start something on his own.

Michael had confided in his banker friend his intention to go into small scale business since, according to him, a job was not forthcoming. His friend, who along with other friends were sustaining him bought into the idea and requested Michael to immediately make inquiries on the nature and amount required for any business he had in mind.

After several consultation and contemplation, Michael was advised to go into catfish farming. Thereafter, he embarked on an intensive course in aquaculture organised by some private individuals that had done extensive research on such projects.

That was in 2009.

Today, barely five years after, Michael is, continually grateful to Makinde, his friend, “who pointed me in the right direction.”

He certainly has every reason to be. Not only is his fish cropping highly successful, his farm, Berems Fisheries, located in the heart of Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, which effectively took off with 3, 000 fingerlings, currently boasts of 40 concrete fish tanks, each enclosing 1, 000 catfish at various levels of growth. This is aside the 20, 000 fingerlings in his hatchery.

Even at that, plans he says, are underway to expand the fish farm as a way of coping with local demand, which Michael insists is hard to meet. “We also get orders from Abuja, but we hardly can meet these demands. However, because we are fishing to feed Nigerians and make them healthy, we are trying to approach the banks to possibly assist us in our expansion plans,” Michael further explained.

But, he obviously failed to state how financially rewarding the business has been.

Yet, Michael and Daniel are just among the several thousands of catfish farmers in Nigeria today. These brands of farmers are commonly found in major cities like Lagos, Ogun, Plateau, Benue and Kaduna states among others. In Kwara where Berems is currently holding sway, are others like Kadi fisheries located at Igbejila Airport Road, Ilorin as well as Junio fisheries, which has its farm at Gaa Akanbi Road, also in Ilorin.

Oluwaseyi Fakolade, a fish farmer whose fish pond is in Gemade Estate, Egbeda, Lagos also attended the University of Ilorin where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural engineering as well as a Master’s in business administration from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife.

Fakolade went into fish farming based on the advice of one of his lecturers that there was need for graduates to be self-employed rather than looking for white-collar jobs that may not readily come. “On getting back to Lagos, I felt there was need for me to get somebody with ideas that could help one become an employer of labour. So, my uncle introduced me to fish farming after asking me to do a proposal,” Fakolade said.

But, there was a big challenge ahead, which he never anticipated. The first of such challenge Fakolade encountered had to do with overstocking. He also experienced hiccups during the first harvesting period. “Not much money was made from it and that was quite discouraging,” the fish farmer said.

Fakolade said the price of fish feeds has continually skyrocketed, and that is why, according to him, the cost of fish in the market today has also increased. He blamed the use of generator in most cases to ensure that activities at his farm go on uninterrupted, as eating deep into whatever gains the farm would have generated. He, however, insists that fish farming business has a very bright prospect in the country with a belief that in no distant time, majority of unemployed graduates would find solace in that sector of the economy. He also said that the phenomenon is an area the government should really show interest in.

“The sector is really an area where the government should focus its attention on rather than the oil sector. I want to assure you that the business of fish farming is booming and it will continue to boom. I feed my family from the business and also send my children to school. In fact, very soon my house will be completed,” he said.

Individuals are not alone on this line of business. Government has also bought into it. For instance, one of the areas of attempts and, in fact, efforts of the Ogun State government at “securing the future” of its citizenry was the re-invention of the agricultural policy of the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo. It actually started with the re-structuring and rekindling of the hitherto prostrate farm estate scattered all over the 20 local government areas of the state. This came with the administration of Gbenga Daniel in 2003.

The government, according to investigations, entered into a synergy with the Ijebu-ode Poverty Reduction Development Board (IOPRDB), a non-governmental organisation, promoted by conglomerate of co-operative societies to shore up the protein intakes through the provision of 100 hectares of land. The monetary accruals from the well over 600 direct fish farmers in Eriwe in Ijebu-Ode stood at over N160 million, at the co-operatives’ fish farm village, at the time Daniel left office. It was reputed then to be the largest in the entire West African sub-region. The success of the project encouraged the state government to consent to partnering with the local governments in the state to start up similar project.

A fish farmer in Ogun State, Tajudeen Olori, who spoke to this reporter on phone, said the demand for fish and related aquatic meals outweigh their supply. He lauded the state government for encouraging more investment in the scheme. “It will not surprise you if I say that bookings for our fish, I know it applies to quite a number of our colleagues, are usually in advance. We cannot yet satisfy the local demand,” Olori said.

Although, national acclaimed as the food basket of the nation, Benue State has not really carved a niche for itself in fishing until recently. This is despite its natural endowments in fishing that when exploited would have placed the state on the fishing map.

The River Benue, which traverses the length and breadth of the state and a dozen other small rivers, streams and the likes, would have come in handy in this regard. Incidentally, the interest of farmers in the state had been purely in cropping. But, since government stepped up campaigns for diversification in agricultural production, especially fish farming, the people, it seems, are beginning to realise the importance of that area of farming.

Governor Gabriel Suswam, according to those who should know, has been struggling to revive the state’s fish ponds. At present, the ponds owned by the state have stocked well over 145, 000 fisheries, findings have revealed. With the renewed campaigns, there appears to be some interest in fish farming by the citizens. However, the executive Director, Winsome Farms Limited, Makurdi, Myke Gbe, said that farmers in the state are yet to fully embrace fish farming because of lack of awareness of the treasure in it, and the difficulty operating it.

He said his ponds stock over 30, 000 fishes and that expansion has been gradual over the years, as government could not render financial support with the banks approached for loans giving conditions that are impossible to meet. Gbe, however, assured that if the renewed campaigns in fish farming embarked upon by Suswam are sustained along with his promises of establishing a Feed Mill in Makurdi with provision of a micro-finance facility fulfilled, more people will likely pick interest in fisheries. He extolled the potential of fish farming, but emphasised that most people are discouraged because of its delicate nature as well as ignorance. He added that he earns on the average, over N1 million from the investment and has three staff, who work on the farm with him.

But largely, just a handful of fish farms by individuals are found in the state and interest had waned considerably until recently. Suswam, though, has continued to preach the need to embrace fish farming, but it has not struck government that the special loan promised to arrange for willing fish farmers through the agricultural ministry is yet to materialise. Until such obligations are met, fish farming, according to indigenes, shall continue to be at its lowest ebb in the state.

Lagos State has also encouraged what could be called fish farm estate. The Ikorodu Fish Farm Estate (IFFE), which is reputed to be the largest in West Africa, has been attracting international attention. Apart from that, the state, according to findings, has also introduced what it called the cage-and-pen culture in the country. It is the government’s initiative on aquaculture, or simply, marine agriculture. The idea of the government is to raise fishes in their natural habitats instead of doing that in concrete farms.

“We have so far experimented in about six locations, including Dalewadeko in Badagry, Okorisan in Epe, Ijede and Oto-Awori. But, we asked the communities to take over the facilities and we shall assist them to stock and monitor the essential things. Although, we don’t want to compete with the real fishermen but we want to help them so that they too can help themselves in return. That basically is the objective of the project. We believe that we cannot produce all that we’ll eat in Lagos; so, whatever the people can produce would be a plus to the economy of Lagos State,” said a source at the state’s ministry of agriculture, who would not want to be named.”

Fish farming, according to experts and those involved in it, is very profitable, provided it is managed well. Little wonder, the youth are finding it attractive to venture into. It requires little amount of money to set up, but not precluding the supper rich, who may wish to invest their millions into that sector of the economy. This may have accounted for why Plateau State is host to several thriving large-scale fish farms, like the Gengere, Jos-based Blue Star fish farm. The farm, which was established around 2006 by Awwal Al-Mansul, according to findings, is today a major player in the aquaculture business in that state.

It was said to have started with N5 million and 20, 000 adult fishes and harbours brands like catfish, tilapia, goldfish and other showy fishes. It distinguished itself for using both the concrete tank as well as earth pond to rear the fishes. Afe Babalola, a renowned lawyer and industrialist, now based in his home state of Ekiti, also invested hugely into fish farming. He, however, has donated a large portion of the farm to the university he established, Afe Babalola University, situated also in Ekiti State.

Although, tilapia, catfish, carp and heterotis are the commonly cultivated fish species in the country, Michael says catfish remains the favourite for Nigerians, both for farmers and consumers. “It is because it is easiest to farm. Apart from its high growth rate and remarkable ability to endure adverse conditions, catfish market value is twice as high as that of tilapia, its closest rival in domestic fish farming. Even those who love fish pepper soup, go for the one often referred to as ‘point and kill’. Ask any Lagos socialite about ‘point and kill’, and you would understand what 1 am talking about,” Michael remarked.

Catfish fingerlings at most fish farms are sold to customers at between N150 and N200 each. Juvenile goes for N200 to N300 depending on size, while the table-size goes for N700 per kilogramme. However, despite the predominance of catfish farmers, which now accounts for more than 70 per cent of Nigerian aquaculture production, experts and stakeholders in the sector insists that the sub-sector is largely under-exploited.

Nonetheless, fish farming has established itself as a veritable source of income and employment opportunities for graduating youths. It is believed in some quarters that billions of naira could be realised in fish farming sector if properly harnessed. Experts are also of the opinion that an average human being should eat one kilogramme of protein daily and this, according to them, can readily be got in fish. “It is better than industrial fishing on the high sea where more manpower is required and numerous problems to contend with,” Michael further stated.

Victor Mbalewe, executive director, Food Security Network of Nigeria (FSNN), and a consultant on fish farming said his organisation is into aquaculture to create an environment, which would appear like the natural habitat of fish. That way, he said, the fishes would get almost the same level of clean oxygen; water and nourishment to enable them grow in an environment that has been created by man.

Mbalewe also said that aquaculture can be practiced both in a big farm and in the home. He explained that fish naturally grows in water, but because of explosion in human population, which has resulted in continuous increase in demand for fish for human consumption, science, he explained, came in to help man to perfect the practice of rearing fish in enclosures. That way, he said, man was able to stimulate the natural habitat of fish, which is in river and ocean by building ponds that may be concrete or earthen.

Nigerians are, no doubt, large consumers of fish and it remains one of the main products consumed in terms of animal protein. Study has shown that only around 50 per cent of demand for fish is currently being met by local supply. The sector is estimated to contribute 3.5 per cent of Nigeria’s Cross Domestic Product (GDP) and provides direct and indirect employment to over six million people. However, in spite of the popularity of farming in Nigeria, the fish farming industry can best be described as being at the infant stage when compare to the large market potential for its production and marketing. This is mainly due to unavailability of fingerlings owing to lack of adequate infrastructure for hatcheries for its production.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had at New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) in 2006 “Fish for All” summit in Abuja alluded to the fact that “Africa’s fish sector makes vital contributions to food and security of 200 million of our people and provides income and trade. “Moreover, African fish and fisheries products have an annual export value of over $2.7 billion. Yet, these benefits are at risk as the exploitation of African natural fish stocks is reaching its limits and aquaculture production has not yet realised its full potentials.”

Obasanjo had also promised to take the production of fish and fish products seriously. “The ultimate aim is to make Nigeria self-sufficient in fish production by increasing production and making the country a net exporter of fish and fishery products. We have thus paid great emphasis on commercial catfish farming and providing the enabling environment for it,” he further said.

Also, Enoch Kolapomoye, former Commissioner for Agriculture and Cooperative in Lagos State believes that though the state enjoys an enviable aquatic splendour, there are still more to be done in the area of fish production. “If you take note, the traditional occupation of Lagosians, I mean cultural occupation where Lagosians derive their livelihood; you’ll discover that is fishing. They deal with fishes, from the ocean, Lagoon and the various creeks in Lagos State. The state is richly endowed with aquatic habits, and that says a about it. So, fishing has a lot of economic implications for the state. “It makes a lot of contributions to the life of our rural folks. That is where a large number of them derive their livelihood. They make 100 per cent of their income from fish farming,” Kolapomoye stated.

Interestingly, the Federal Government stated recently that Nigeria is saving N300 million annually from the substitution of imported fish feeds, with an estimate of 25 per cent of the 45,000 metric tonnes imported into the country. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, said.

Adesina, who revealed that the country spends at least N117.7 billion annually on the importation of fish feeds, said four major investors in the feeds production had been identified to increase capacity to meet local demands. He identified the investors as Grand Cereals in Jos, Plateau State; Durante in Oyo State; Wonder Feeds in Kaduna State, and Multifeeds, an Israeli company; all of which he said had declared their interest in the massive feeds’ production.

However, the story of aquaculture in Nigeria is essentially the story of catfish culture and the hope of fish sufficiency in the country appears to hang on its development.


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