Fish farmers battle high production cost

Investigation shows that a large number of the farmers have closed-shops, while those still operating are either struggling to remain in business at zero profit or incurring huge debts to stay afloat.

• High Feed Cost, Irregular Prices Pose Serious Problem
• Low Patronage Recorded

Fish farmers are currently facing intense threat that might force them to go underground, as a result of serious challenges confronting the aquaculture industry.

One of the factors attributed to this; according to The Guardian’s survey is the rising cost of fish feeds, which cut across all the fish species. The other is what farmers termed irregular prices attached to fish products, as well as how consumers are affected, due to unaffordability of the fishes.

Investigation shows that a large number of the farmers have closed-shops, while those still operating are either struggling to remain in business at zero profit or incurring huge debts to stay afloat.

According to research, the demand for fish increased approximately from 1.392 million tons to 1.889 million tons between 2004-2012, with only 20 per cent of this demand met locally.

Based on the great business opportunities in aquaculture, experts claim Nigeria has the potential of 3.2 million tons fish production with further room for expansion, but due to several challenges, the growth in the sector has been stunted over the years.

From The Guardian’s investigation, majority of the farmers who managed to weather the storm, appear to be in dilemma, as they have their stock ready, but no buyers. This is not only strapping their money, it is also serving as additional burden, as they are forced to continue with their feedings, upkeep and routine maintenance of facilities, until they see buyers, who will be willing to buy at profitable rate.

One of the victims, Bamidele Onibalusi of Deloni Farms Limited, Ibadan, Oyo State, currently has 24,000 stock of catfish that are long overdue for sale, nearing seven months, as against five months maturity age.

Like many others, he is willing to sell but “there is no market. When buyers come, they come with ridiculous prices. Buyers usually come to the farm to get the fishes, but there are practically no customers at all. At a time I called a friend to get me buyers but there were no buyers. The fish keeps eating everyday; I spend at least N60, 000 everyday to feed them for close to two months since they were due for sale. That runs into millions of naira. There are farmers who are also facing this challenge that are spending more than that to feed their fishes daily.

“Prices of feeds is still a bit higher, but some appears to be falling. The falling exchange rate negatively impacted on feed production cost, which led to rising feed price. Aside the issue of feed, government is creating problems for the farmers. We heard of Triton, a company which heavily invested in catfish producing about 500,000 fishes every month, they go to the middlemen who buys from us, end consumers and every segment of the market, selling to them at heavily discounted rate, which automatically affects the market.

“This company is owned by Indians, invited by our government and operating on loan given to them by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). This administration is talking about agriculture and you invited a company that is not even Nigerian-owned who takes over the market, destroy jobs and take the money back to India, then I don’t know the meaning of that because it’s affecting local farmers badly.”

Onibalusi lamented that if farmers are producing less than 500,000 fishes per year and a company produces that in a month and sells in significantly reduced price, other farmers would run at a loss.

“Some of our buyers come from Abuja and when they come, they hire vehicles at the rate of N70, 000 to our farms, now according to what I heard, Triton has promised to take the fishes directly to them, removing the N70, 000 on transportation. I am even hearing that they are selling at a more cheaper rate, how do you expect them to patronise us?”

He confirmed that a lot of people are leaving the business, because “when you are engaging in a business and instead of making profit you are incurring losses, one needs to run from such business.”

Like Onibalusi, there are other farmers too who have over 100,000 fishes, ready for market, but no buyers. The owner of Keen Farms, Apata, Ibadan, Mr. Abiodun Eniola, who is also a victim said the present situation is unusual compared to what they experienced in past years. He said his stock, which he has not been able to market runs into tonnages (A ton is 1,000kg).

Though he couldn’t give the actual tonnages yet to be sold, he said with the situation, he could not move forward. “You wont be able to do anything when you can’t sell what you produce. It’s like you are at a spot unable to move forward.

National Chairman, Fisheries Cooperative Federation of Nigeria, the apex body of fisheries cooperative societies, unions and federation in states, Evang. Anthony A. Ashagye, who told The Guardian that the sector can solve 70 per cent of the country’s problem, said with challenges like high cost of fish feeds, problem of sourcing fingerlings, acquisition of land, inadequate training, lack of financial support and lack of modern fish markets, it may be difficult to achieve their dreams.

While noting that aquaculture is growing at a faster rate and the challenges getting bigger, he said the high cost of feeds, is caused by total dependence on feed importation, adding that about 80 per cent of the feeds are imported. “This is one of the things government should have done, by establishing feed mills. We have raw materials for the establishment of feed mills, but it was not considered by the past administration. So, the cost of feed is taking the highest budget in aquaculture.

“Taking a critical look at Agriculture, one can easily access a rice farm if it’s 10 hectares of land or more, it could easily be ascertained. That also goes for livestock, the number of the animals can be counted, but for aquaculture, the fish grows in the water and nobody sees it, fish farmers are underrated, that’s why we don’t get assistance in terms of loans.

“The contribution of this sector is immense to the growth of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Federal Government launched a roadmap, the Green Revolution, it has enumerated ways to encourage aquaculture, we believe in the document, but when the stakeholders are carried along, it would achieve the best. We have communicated with the minister on the way out, if we can be carried along, the aim of the roadmap will be attained.”

Few weeks ago, the Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria (CAFAN) held a Congress in Ibadan for Southwest farmers to address challenges plaguing the industry. The Congress dwelt purposely on how the industry can be sustained amid cost of feeds and irregular prices attached to fish products, which are major factors threatening fish production.

In a communiqué released, the farmers appealed to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), to review policies of background integration in the aquaculture industry, for the removal of the tariffs and import duties on fish and other related fish feed additives, and to intervene in the exportation of fish products.

The CAFAN President, Rotimi Olibale lamented that farmers’ cost of production has gone out of reach, just as the purchasing power of consumers has also gone down. “So the farmers as producers of food should ensure security of the populace. So we came together to compare notes, to see how we can better produce our fish at a lower cost.

“What has been happening is that farmers have been selling below their cost price. So what we are trying to do is to establish individual’s cost prices, and having that as a minimum selling price so that farmers do not sell at a loss, rather, they mark up and sell at a profit to cover all their cost of production and keep sanity within the market,” said he.

Onibalusi appealed to government to regulate the fish industry, work on prices and create policies that favours farmers.

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