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Boosting Nigeria’s aquaculture production through feed management strategy

Boosting Nigeria’s aquaculture production through feed management strategy

Despite having the potential to create hundreds of jobs, Nigeria’s aquaculture industry is still largely untapped, and owing to this Africa’s biggest economy spends billions of naira yearly importing fish – an important source of animal protein and micronutrients.

Aquaculture, also called fish farming or the breeding and harvesting of fish for commercial purposes is widely adopted across the country as Nigeria seeks to attain self-sufficiency in its production.

Despite this, farmers’ livelihoods are yet to be impacted as the growth potential of the sector is being hampered by multiple challenges ranging from lack of exposure of fish farmers to modern aquaculture practices, low access to quality feed, poor brood stock, infrastructural gaps, pest diseases, dearth of viable financing frameworks and climate change effects such as flooding among others.

Consequently, fish production levels in the country have not been able to meet growing local demand as the population is growing faster than production.

Nigeria’s total annual fish demand is put at 3.5 million metric tons (MT), while the country produces only 1.1 million MT, leaving a gap of 2.4 million MT annually, according to data from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

This yawning gap is being filled with fish imports, feeding into the larger problem of food insecurity facing the country.

Naturally, one would expect the country’s coastal states to provide the bulk of its fish needs, but years of environmental pollution by oil prospecting have rendered that an alternative reality.

The country is the largest aquaculture fish producer in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 52 percent of the total 4 farmed fish production in the region, according to the WorldFish Nigeria Strategy document (2018- 2022).

Nigeria’s aquaculture focuses mainly on freshwater fish, with catfish species accounting for 64 percent of aquaculture production in 2015.

The value of the country’s annual production is estimated at $2.6 billion. The catfish value chain was said to create about a million jobs while the estimated number of fish farmers stood at 285,000.

The fishing sub-sector growth slowed to 0.47 percent in 2022 from the 1.16 percent it recorded in 2021, data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows.

The sector has continued to attract investments and interventions to boost productivity from the government, development partners, and the private sector.

Among those leading this drive and supporting Nigeria’s self-sufficiency target in fish production while impacting farmers’ livelihood is Olam Agri.

Olam Agri, an agribusiness in food, feed, and fibre, through its feed milling unit, is training farmers and supporting them to boost their productivity through an effective feed management strategy. Testimonies of local fish farmers regarding the organisation’s interventions in the industry are impressive.

Lazarus Odafi, the owner of Odafi Fish Farm located within the Asejere Fish Farms cluster in Odogbolu, Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, explained that feed millers like Olam Agri have been helpful despite the challenges in the operating environment.

He said the organisation’s investment and customer service activities have been succour to farmers in the cluster.

“What Olam Agri is contributing to the industry is huge. When the business’ Eco-Float feed was introduced to us, we were able to cut waste and lower production costs in a way. Their floating feed helps us measure livestock consumption,” he said.

“The feed floats, unlike the sinking pallet that goes down deep into the pond where we don’t know if the fish are consuming everything or not.”

Oropo Abiola, another fish farmer operating in the fish farm cluster at Kajola Fish Farms in Ijebu Ode, said, “Olam Agri came to our farm cluster and trained us on pond water management techniques, how to test PH level in the pond, and ways to curb feed waste.”

“They helped us understand the science of catfish farming, especially how to create the right environment for the fish to thrive. These efforts have impacted our business.”

Similarly, Olatoye Fajimi, the vice president of the Lagos State Catfish and Allied Farmers Association, said, “Olam agri employs technical experts who go around to visit farms to work with the farmers to improve farm clusters productivity.”

Comfort Ajao, the chief executive officer of Great Zeal Farms, located in Ifako Ijaiye, Lagos, narrated the same experience, while Shamshudeen Sodipo, the owner of Sinab Farms, another fish farm, said he found the business’ Blue Crown and Aqaulis feed brands so invaluable.

“Olam Agri dispatched its team of experts to run a trial on my farm and introduced me to trendy fish farming practices. I also started using their Blue Crown and Aqaulis feed brands. My productivity level jumped.”

Investigations show that Olam Agri entered the aquaculture sector in 2017. It launched the first state-of-the-art aqua feed plant in the country in that year to offset the challenge of inadequate supply of quality feed to large and small-scale fish farmers.

The business’ feed brands’ ingredients are largely sourced and produced locally.

The feeds are specially formulated to increase pond conversion rates, lower the mortality rate of livestock, and improve yield per hectare on fish farms.

The brands are also competitively priced within farmers’ affordability corridors to aid the farmers’ return on investment per cycle.

From our investigations, upon entry into the sector, Olam Agri in Nigeria flew one of its global aqua experts, Matthew Tan, into the country.

The expert visited various catfish farmers, getting a ground understanding of the unique farm cluster challenges.

The challenges uncovered include the high cost of feed, high mortalities in hatcheries, slow growth in nursery phases and irregular sizes during harvest.

To address production challenges, Tan set about working with local farmers. The business also employed ample local technical experts to support the technocrat’s effort, he said.

About 7,500 Nigerian aquaculture farmers were equipped with the best aquaculture practices by the business’s team of qualified aqua technicians, he said further.

Presently, the business feed brands comprising Blue Crown, Aqualis, EcoFloat and Alpha which offer balanced nutrition and high-water stability specifically tailored to the needs of the African catfish and farming practices in Nigeria, support over 15,000 local farmers.

The business recently commissioned its second fish feed line with twin screw extrusion capability and vacuum coating technology. The newly commissioned feed line has doubled its production capacity and positioned it to better support Nigeria’s aquaculture growth.

Read also: Anthrax disease: Lagos begins vaccination of animals

Olam Agri’s rising investment in the fish farming value chain is said to be part of its pursuit of food & nutrition-secure and sustainable Nigeria under its Seeds for The Future (SFTF) initiative.

The Seeds for the Future initiative is the business’ social sustainability investment vehicle with five levers, namely, supporting farms and farmers, enabling wider education and skill development for young people, empowering indigent women, promoting health and nutrition across the country and reducing carbon emissions in its business operations.

Speaking about Olam Agri’s investment efforts in the fish value chain Matthew Tan said “The global aquaculture sector is expected to grow at 5.5 percent CAGR reaching $421.2 billion in 2030. Nigeria has the potential to tap into this growing market to improve its food security and economic position.”

“We saw the potential in the country’s aquaculture sector back in 2017. We decided to work with the local fish farmers to ease the challenges hampering growth.”

“We developed a set of training and farming protocols for the farmers and conducted hundreds of training sessions with thousands of farmers in attendance.

According to him, Olam Agri has trained thousands of catfish and tilapia farmers on proper feed management to boost local production.

“Hundreds of farming co-operatives participated in our training programs. We also trained scores of Olam Agri technical executives who facilitated across clusters to widen our value chain development outreach and ensure continuity of the efforts during the period.”

“Over time as farmers began to implement the knowledge gleaned through the training, we started to see improvements in pond survival and final harvest in the fish farming community across the country.

“The growth in the fish farming value chain validates Olam Agri’s Seeds for the Future focus, underlying support for farms and farmers for national food and nutrition security”, he stated.

Calling for support for private businesses driving growth in the aquaculture sector, Shamshudeen of Sinabs Farms, who has benefitted from Olam Agri’s investment support, said, “It is important for the government to find a way to assist and incentivize the millers that are offering this impressive level of support as well as providing infrastructure support, market incentives and financing for the fish farmers in the country.

“These intervention programs would go a long way to further salvage the challenges in the aquaculture sector,” he added.

Another beneficiary of the miller’s investment effort, Ojetunde Ojo of Jobifoy Farms on the Lagos State Fish Estate, Ikorodu, tasked the government to provide feed ingredient-sourcing incentives for millers and come to the aid of farmers.

Basorun who runs a fish farm in Ikorodu also said, “The government should assist millers in accessing maize at a cheaper rate from the national reserve, give them import waivers to import the ingredients where necessary and provide tax reliefs for the companies to lower their cost of production so that they can pass the cost savings to the farmers.”

A mix of concerted efforts including more private investment and intentional government policy support will go a long way to rescue the sector from total collapse and strengthen aquaculture practices in the country.

This public-private sector support mix is critical to driving national food and nutrition security. In other words, it will help bridge the huge protein deficiency in the country as well as generate much-needed jobs for the economy.