The decline in fish production and the growing population are leading to a serious deterioration in Benin’s fish supply conditions. Against this background, fish farming is a bulwark to supplement inland fishing. However, feeding farmed fish is often a difficult equation to solve. It calls for fishmeal, a commodity whose accessibility is still problematic in the country.
By Marie-Louise Félicité BIDIAS
Abomey-Calavi is on the outskirts of Cotonou. The fisheries and aquatic research unit of the INRAB (Benin’s national agricultural research institute) stretches as far as the eye can see. Dozens of giant basins containing fish at various development stages emerge from the water, quivering happily as soon as the agents throw in a few granules. The centre breeds two species, namely tilapia (Areochromis niloticus) and African catfish (Clarias gariepines), the most common species in fish farming.
In Beninese households, fish plays a decisive role in protein supply, with 31.9% being of animal origin and representing 5.5% of the total protein intake. Professor Emile Didier Fiogbé, from the University of Abomey-Calavi, reveals that “the demand for animal protein feed is high and translates into about 15 kg per inhabitant, while fishing is limited, and a large batch of frozen fish, i.e. 75,000 tonnes, is sold on the market every day“.
Government estimates from 2015 reported that frozen fish imports amounted to 73,000 tonnes. Meanwhile, figures in 2012 show that the national demand for fish was 113,000 tonnes annually. More than 80% of the average annual fish production comes from the brackish waters of the lagoons.
But “for the last ten years or so, fishing has been experiencing a decline in the potential of fish stocks due to the overexploitation of inland water bodies. As a result, fish farming is a good way to supplement inland fishing,” according to a group of researchers in a research article titled “La compétitivité des unités locales de fabrication d’aliments piscicoles au Bénin” (The competitivity of local fish feed production units in Benin).
Fish farming as a way to close the deficit
“Benin is not a major fishing nation. Overall, the entire domestic production is consumed locally. Catches are very small,” explains Fabrice Ahomlanto, head of the post-harvest division at the Directorate of Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. Fish farming seems to be the best solution to address fish shortage. But “there is also the need for quality feed at lower cost,” says Martial Koudérin, Chairman of Benin’s National Federation of Fish Farmers (FENAPIB).
Fish feed thus accounts for the lion’s share of the total production costs. “It accounts for 78% of the cost of in-pond tilapia farming, 35% of the cost of in-pond tilapia farming and 62% of the total cost of in-pond clarias farming,” the researchers add. “Rational feed management determines the viability and profitability of fish farms on a very large scale,” they argue. According to several local sales companies, the bulk of the feed used in fish farming are imported, which poses a problem of reliability. An employee of V. S. (a company we quote by its initials) in Cotonou, says she no longer markets fishmeal because the fishmeal she used to import, which came from a country in the sub-region, was of poor quality. “For almost two years, we stopped marketing it because the composition of this flour did not match established standards,” the employee explains.
Fish feed is also sold in feed mills, “since fishmeal is also used in animal production as a protein source. These structures dot not obviously deal in fishmeal. And since the operators of these feed mills are looking for maximum profit, the fishmeal they sell is sometimes of poor quality,” says Dr. Luc Gangbé, research manager and head of the fisheries research program at the INRAB. Marcel Goudohessi, in charge of the control of fishery and fish farming products at the Directorate of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Zone 3, in Ouidah, even informs that the town hall had a project on the Support Fund for the Development of Communes in Benin (FADEC), to create a feed mill, but that the project had to suspended after an economic operator decided to launch a similar project in Savi, a locality on the outskirts of the commune.
Facts about Fishmeal
“Fishmeal and fish oil are still considered the most nutritious and digestible ingredients for farmed fish,” according to the FAO. Indeed, in its latest 2020 report on “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture”, the FAO states that fishmeal is a powdery protein material obtained after grinding and drying fish or fish parts. “Several different species are used in fishmeal and fish oil manufacture. Especially, whole fish, mainly small pelagic fish such as the Peruvian anchovy, are used in large quantities for this purpose.” According to the INRAB, the use of fishmeal is technically efficient: “Indeed, good meal quality and adequate quantities in meal composition promote rapid fish growth, allowing the fish farmer to harvest before the end of the production cycle“.
Fabrice Ahomlanto, head of the post-harvest division, says that “fishmeal has earned a negative reputation in Benin over the last ten years or so”. And he goes on to say that “fish waste, including heads and bones, are often ground. They are not thrown away, to avoid polluting the environment. Sometimes, the fishermen leave part of their catches aside for fishmeal. It is then packaged in bags to be used either for fish farming or for chicken and poultry rearing“.
Mrs. Pauline, a lady selling small fish and packaged fishmeal in see-through plastic bags on the edge of a large and busy paved street in Gbèdjromèdé, a district of Cotonou, claims with a smile that she also sells fishmeal to fish farmers and livestock farmers. “I sell 50 kg at CFA 8,000, and I make enough profit. Besides, my flour is not made in the same way as the one used for food”.
In Djégbadji, a village in the city of Ouidah (41 km from Cotonou), Luc Alomasso Atchou, a man in his fifties and a long-time fisherman, informs that women in the region often come and buy small smoked pikes for flour making, which they sell to feed mills once the end product is ready. “They also buy fish waste: heads, bones and others. This full basket on this side will be used for this purpose,” he says, pointing to the basket.
For the INRAB’s fisheries and aquatic research unit, “Imported feed is used for the early stages of fish rearing (larval and fry rearing), while local feed is used for grow-out. In our locally prepared feed, we include good quality fish meal from Senegal and medium quality locally produced fish meal”.
Fish feed manufacturing in Benin is financially and economically profitable. Research fellow Luc Gangbé adds that “from an economic point of view, the fish farmer always derives a certain profit margin. This margin depends on the quality of the flour and, above all, on complementation with other protein sources“, earthworms and maggots.
For sustainable local food production, the researchers suggest that more research be done on how plant protein sources can be exploited in fish feed. This will also help guide thinking about the range of factors that determine increased productivity.
The government’s taxation policy is also a factor that discourages local food manufacturers. To make fishmeal use more profitable in fish farming, the INRAB recommends the creation of at least one fishmeal plant at the national level. This unit will be responsible for supplying feed mills and fish farmers with better quality products. Through this unit, the programme will invest in the search for solutions to produce fishmeal. Where appropriate, alternative protein sources that could be used in fish farming should be identified and popularized. The government should subsidize the import of this ingredient which is essential for any farming activity, especially for fish. They should also fund research into the rearing of certain fish species to be used exclusively for fishmeal manufacture.
Nevertheless, according to the FAO, the growing production of fishmeal in some West African countries, mainly for export, still raises concerns about food security, as it reduces Africa’s sardinella and ethmaloses stocks destined to meet human consumption needs!
The project was supported by REJOPRA, Network of Journalists for Responsible and Sustainable Fisheries in Africa.