Nigeria: Pains, gains of Lagos Catfish farmers

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Despite perceived profitability of catfish farming with a projected return on investment of 70% to 80% catfish farmers in Lagos are grappling with myriad of challenges that leave a sour taste in their mouths. According to REJOPRAO’s investigation into catfish farming by in Lagos, Nigeria, the problems bedevilling catfish farming in Lagos State ranges from theft, under-pricing, inability to identify Runts from Shoots, high cost of fish feeds; high mortality rate of fingerlings, poor funding, and epileptic power supply to instability on market. While some Lagos catfish farmers struggle to remain in business; many others who lack the financial muscle and professional skills are quitting; at a time Nigeria’s annual fish import bill, according to Audu Ogbe, minister of Agriculture, stands at a staggering $700 million.

Not for the faint-hearted

Mr Solomon Olutunbi, a 60-year-old catfish farmer in Lagos, Nigeria provided insights into the challenges of catfish farming in Nigeria. Olutunbi, a retired banker likened catfish farming to a two-edged sword that can be both profitable in one breadth and in another loss-making.  “I have been in the business of catfish farming for upward of 8 years but each experience differs from another. Sometimes I make profit of up to 70 percent of my investment and at other times I record huge losses,” said olutunbi.

For her part, Mrs Opeoluwa Fadairo, an ex-catfish farmer explained that catfish farming is not for the faint-hearted. Fadairo, who had been involved in catfish farming for more than 12 years before quitting three years ago, explained why she had to quit. “I made profit in the business when feeds were affordable but I was so unlucky to make huge losses for three consecutive years before quitting it. The losses were as a result of high cost of feeds and high mortality rate. I had to quit the catfish farming when I was on the verge of becoming hypertensive.”

Sola Joseph, a cosmetologist concurred that catfish farming is profitable but acknowledged that the cost of fish feeds accounts for 70 percent capital expenditure. “Feeds are now very expensive and we had to resolve to buy both local and foreign feeds. Despite all odds, I make at least 70-80 percent return on my investment during one harvest. Profitability depends on your marketing ability. Some catfish sell at N840 per kilogram while others sell at N850 per kilogram. Marketing strategy is germane because demands for the catfishes is still higher than supply in Lagos. When you feed your fish very well, a single catfish is more than a kilogram,” said Joseph.

Professional knowledge is vital

While showing this reporter her abandoned fish pond, Fadairo said she can only come back to catfish farming if she finds a professional, who can guarantee the kind of breeds that are viable. Fadairo’s view highlights the need for professional training for catfish farmers in Nigeria. The experience of Odubela, who is a qualified agricultural economist, buttresses the importance of professional training as a requisite credential for successful catfish farming in Nigeria. Odubela ascribes his success in catfish farming to his professional background in fishery and agriculture.

He emphasised that the greatest challenge that catfish farmers face is the lack of knowledge of breeds that would grow fast.  “Most farmers in Nigeria lack the technicality to identify which of the cat fish breed that feeds well and grow faster. Unless a catfish farmer witnesses the spawning process, he or she cannot know the breed. Here in Nigeria, most catfish farmers do not witness the spawning process. They only go to buy fryers or fingerlings,” said Odubela.  “There are some catfish called runts which grow very slowly. Fish farmers hardly know this on time until they must have spent so much feeding these kinds of breed without showing commensurate growth. Whereas the breeds called ‘Shoots’ grow faster and grow according to the quality and quantity of feeds they consume. Nigerian cat fish farmers prefer to grow this breed but our inability to identify this breed remains a major challenge. We sometimes waste much money on Runts.”

For his part, Dr Olumide Agbesola of Maymid Farm Limited lamented that majority of catfish farmers in Lagos do not seek professional advice before situating their fish ponds. He explained that some catfish farmers who situate their earthen ponds on a valley often lose many of their fishes to erosion. He emphasised that Fish ponds should not be situated in a place that is more than three hours’ drive to the market.

 High mortality rate

Odubela explained that between the ages of 0-2 months there is high mortality rate for catfish, which he noted, calls for more attention of fish farmers. He explained that the depletion of oxygen in the fish pond is responsible for the high mortality rate of catfish.

“Once the fingerlings keep coming to the top of the water in the ponds, it shows that the oxygen level of that water has been reduced and the fishes need fresh water. At this point, the water must be changed. As a matter of fact, constant change of water in the pond could help reduce the threat,” he advised.

Odubela also disclosed that cannibalism constitute a hindrance to catfish farming. He emphasised that despite the amount of food available to the fishes in a pond, cannibalism cannot be controlled. The only measure, according to Odubela, is to reduce the quantity of the fishes in the pond and increase spaces for the fishes to swim. For Sola Joseph, the best way to control cannibalism among catfish is to separate the big fishes from the smaller ones.

Absence of government incentive

Starting up the business of fish farming in Nigeria is also challenging because government has not been supportive with providing requisite infrastructures. For instance, epileptic power supply affects catfish farming in Lagos because farmers incur cost fuelling their power generating sets to be able to pump fresh water into their ponds. Odubela explained that the Nigerian government seems to be biased and insincere about its promise to promote agriculture as an alternative to oil. He urged the federal government to help stem the abnormal rise in cost of fish feeds.

For his part, Agbesola advised government to make friendly policies that will encourage catfish farmers to export and to access soft loans without facing much challenges.

Tubosun Ogunbanwo, public relation officer (PRO) of the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives told Rejoprao reporter that he was not mandated to speak on the matter but promised to respond later. However, when this reporter called Ogunbanwo by phone the next day he said he could not speak on behalf of the state government because the commissioner and Permanent Secretary of the state ministry of agriculture are not immediately available.

By Laolu Adeyemi

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