• Monday, April 15, 2024
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Fishing business fails to bait investment on inflation, export ban

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Nigeria’s fishing industry, a sub-sector of agriculture, has for the first time since 2014 attracted zero investment as costlier inputs and the persistent export ban makes the sector less attractive to investors.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) capital importation report shows that the fishing sub-sector attracted no foreign direct investment in 2023 as against $9 million recorded in 2022.

Fish farmers across the country are contending with the rapid rise in prices of key inputs – from fish feeds, which account for 70 percent of total costs, to high energy costs, low consumer patronage, and shrinking market size.

“The industry market size keeps shrinking daily; so how can it attract investments?” asked Oloye Olibale, former national president of the Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria.

Olibale, who has shut down his Ibadan farm over the challenges facing the industry, said the demand for farmed fish in the country is fast declining owing to the accelerating inflation that is cutting consumers’ purchasing power and amplifying a cost of living crisis in Nigeria.

“It has been a daily struggle for fish farmers in the country.

Prices of fish feed keep surging with no sign in sight that it will stabilise,” he said. “Also, the US export ban on catfish is still there and it is reducing our market size and deterring new entrants and investments into the sector.”

A combination of issues ranging from accelerating inflation, decreasing household income and skewed exchange rate is seriously affecting farmers and forcing several to completely shut down operations.

“Many of us have shut down operations and those still in operation have reduced their capacity tremendously,” Olibale said.

Also, the failure of the government to provide a Self-Reporting Tool requirement for smoked catfish (Siluriformes) to the United States Food Safety and Inspection Service has further shrunk the market size for the industry.

These issues, according to experts, are fast eroding the opportunities and progress the industry has made since 2011 when output increased from less than 500,000MT in 2011 to 1.1 million MT in 2017, data from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture states.

The most recent data from the World Bank on the country’s fish production shows that the 2017 figure has declined marginally to a million MT in 2022.

Remi Ahmed, national president of the Tilapia and Aquaculture Developers Association of Nigeria, said that both domestically and internationally, the market is contracting for Nigeria’s fish products.

“This owes to reasons such as cost implication, preference for imported fish, and the naira scarcity as well as the ban on our catfish export,” Ahmed said.

Despite having the potential to generate annual revenue of $296 billion, as projected by the World Aquaculture Society, generate millions of jobs and reduce pressure on the naira, the fishing and seafood industry is still largely untapped.

“Improving Nigeria’s fishing industry must begin by declaring a state of emergency in that sector,” said Cheta Nwanze, partner at SBM Intelligence. “Steps must be taken to also address piracy at sea.”

According to Nwanze, the sector is being hampered by a myriad of challenges ranging from infrastructural gaps to lack of exposure of fish farmers to modern aquaculture practices, to poor access to quality feed, to pests, diseases, and climate change effects such as flooding among others.

“These have consequently made fish production levels in the country unable to meet growing local demand, and the sector unattractive.”

From a slowed growth of 0.47 percent in 2022, the fishing sub-sector contracted by 1.36 percent in 2023, data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows.

The country spends billions of naira yearly on fish importation. Nigeria imports fish varieties including mackerel (locally called ‘titus’ or ‘alaran’), herrings (locally called ‘shawa’), horse mackerel (locally called ‘kote’), blue whiting (locally called ‘panla’), Argentina silus (locally called ‘ojuyobo’), and the popular croaker fish.

The country spent N138 billion on fish importation in the first nine months of 2023, according to the most recent data of the NBS Foreign Trade report.