Despite the massive import of frozen fish into the country, domestic demand is widening as the cost of feed has forced many farmers out of production.
On Monday, the federal government admitted that despite the country’s massive imports of frozen fish, the 2.5 million metric ton shortfall could not be met as current demand has soared to more than 3.6 million a year.
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Importing frozen fish of all types costs the country over N500 billion a year.
Between 2019 and 2020, figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that imports increased from $789.74 million to $1.2 billion respectively, an increase of 38% (about $480.2 million of dollars).
Additionally, between January and June 2021, NBS statistics showed that the country imported the blue cup species worth N62.4 billion; imports of herring (forage fish, mainly belonging to the Clupeidae family) cost 35.53 billion naira and mackerel 25.75 billion naira.
In the first three months of 2022, the NBS said Nigeria imported N22.7 billion worth of fish into the country.
The agency said herring (forage fish) was the most imported with the sum of 13 billion naira. A breakdown indicates that the 6.2 billion naira of the product was purchased from Russia, 5.3 billion naira from the Netherlands and 1.4 billion naira from Norway.
This was followed by the blues with 5.5 billion naira of products purchased from the Netherlands, followed by 2.7 billion naira from Russia and 1.3 billion naira from Poland.
On Monday, Nigeria hosted a “second dialogue with Regional Economic Communities (RECs) on the implementation of Phase 2 of the Fisheries Governance Project (FISHGOV-2), in collaboration with the African Union (AUDA-NEPAD) and the African Union-Inter-African Bureau. for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), with the support of the European Union (EU).
The Director of the Federal Department of Fisheries, Mr. Ime Umoh, while speaking with reporters after declaring the event open on behalf of Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Abubakar Mahmood, said the Nigerian fishing industry produced 1.2 million tonnes from the industrial, artisanal and aquaculture sub-sectors.
However, The WorldFish (a not-for-profit research and innovation institution), said Nigeria’s production was less than one million tonnes per year.
Umoh said the ministry had also authorized 164 fishing vessels to operate in Nigerian territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.
“Nigeria is a very big country. We need 3.6 million metric tons per year but we can only produce from the industrial, artisanal and aquaculture sub-sectors 1.2 million metric tons.
“The shortfall is only topped up by importing frozen fish, so it’s being used to fill the gap until we have some leeway for farmers to have something to eat.
“The deficit cannot be quantified monetarily; it’s a toll for our foreigners exchange but is regulated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as only the Governor of the apex bank issues Form A only to companies that would bring frozen fish into the country,” the director said.
The Senior Advisor, Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), Ms. Panduleni Elago, said Daily Trust on Sunday in case the will of the organization was to bridge the gap between demand and supply of fish.
“Fish is one of the cheapest but nutritious food sources. We want to support everyone in the fisheries sector as we strive to eradicate hunger in Africa within three years.
“Across Africa, there is a huge gap in the amount of fish produced compared to demand, especially in Nigeria. There is a gap of about two million tonnes of fish. This underscores the need to support fish farmers to produce not only for their households but also for their neighbours,” said Ms. Elago.
For his part, Mr. Ernest Obi, Head of the Agriculture and Food Security Division of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said that the development of a fisheries governance – PESCAO (the Program for the Improvement of Regional Fisheries Governance in West Africa) has been used to develop the sector in West Africa.
“ECOWAS is involved in this project because at the regional level in West Africa, we have a fisheries governance project called PESCAO, which looks at the whole value chain of fisheries and aquaculture. PESCAO has done a lot of good work in promoting and strengthening the fisheries sector in West Africa.
“Over the past four years, we have been able to put in place a regional fisheries strategy so that all 15 Member States develop their fisheries sector in a coordinated way.
“Furthermore, there is illegal fishing in West Africa as people come from other parts of the world to fish and accompany our products. We have therefore also addressed the issue of illegal fishing by ensuring the maritime security of the Member States.
Mr. Obi further added that over the past four years, the regional body had been able to put in place a regional fisheries strategy that would help the 15 member states develop their fisheries sector in a coordinated way. .
“We have developed many aquaculture initiatives in West Africa (Nigeria included) and we have also embarked on a capacity development program.
“Aquaculture can provide jobs for unemployed youths in West Africa, and we have some good practices even in Nigeria, where young people are becoming millionaires through what they have been able to do in the sector,” said- he declared.
Furthermore, the Director General of the African Union Development Agency (AUDANEPAD), Nardos Bekele Thomas, said that the FISHGOV project has been funded with $3 million to support member states.
Represented by the Acting Head of Food Security Unit / AUDA-NEPAD FishGov-2 Project Coordinator, Cheikh Tidjane N’dongo, he said, “We have come to support our Member States, regional communities in the work that we need to do on fisheries and aquaculture on the continent.
“The cost of the project is $3 million, to be implemented for the support of member states and the support of the European Union.”
Meanwhile, a fish farmer, Mr Daniel Mallow, said the high cost of feed had since forced many farmers into bankruptcy, adding that those still doing so were earning little or nothing.
“Since the start of COVID-19, most of our colleagues have been getting by with little or no profit at all. Big producers can earn something small, but small farmers can’t earn anything. Imagine that a bag of animal feed sold at 2,500 Naira before COVID-19 is now over 9,800 Naira, so how can you stay in the business? Many simply have to close while others have reduced production,” he added.
A few months ago, fish experts asked the government to promote a breeding program that would overcome the challenge of climate change, which is a global problem. They also recommended a robust program that would help farmers develop nutrient-dense foods to meet the feeding challenge.