Nigeria spends billions on fish importation every year. Current fish demand now stands at over 2.6 million tonnes per annum and present importation levels are over 750,000 metric tonnes. GRACE AZUBUIKE, in this piece examines the prospects and challenges of the sector.
Fish is a very important component of the human food system in Nigeria. While fish farming has been very significant in the public sector for several years, for the private sector, it has just in the last twenty years, become a major investment outlet.
Currently, fish has not only become a major item of the Nigerian diet, it has also attained a major dominance in Nigeria’s food import and overall food security.
However, the nation’s total fish production stands at an estimated 600,000 metric tonnes per annum while importation is estimated at over 700,000 metric tonnes.
Projected demand for fish in the country stands at about 2.6 million metric tonnes which therefore suggests an actual shortfall of 1.3 million metric tonnes.
Although, the high volume of importation constitutes a huge drain to the nation’s foreign exchange reserve, the pressure of demand on the limited supply translates to high prices of fish and its other bye-products in the country.
Mrs. Christy Uzoa, a fish farmer in kubwa, a major satellite town in the Federal Capital Territory, bemoaned government’s attitude towards the sub-sector.
She said, “ Government is not helping us at all with incentives to boost the sector, also fish feeds are very expensive in the market,” thus emphasising the need for government to reduce import waivers for investors to come in.
One customers, who spoke to our correspondent at Garki Modern Market, in FCT, Ahmed Bello, lamented the increase in fish price.
“I eat fish a lot, my doctor advised me to eat fish and not meat. The price of a fish is about N350 in the market (depending on your choice), some of them are mostly small in size, even sardine is N220 in super markets and poor people cannot afford to buy them.’’
An agriculture expert based in Kaduna, Alhaji Ahmed Idris, is of the view that government should support the sector by making the sector favourable for practitioners and investors with the ultimate aim of reducing the import bill on fish.
The demand for fish and fishery products in Nigeria has been on the increase with supply not meeting demand. Current projected fish demand according to FDF (2007) is estimated at 2.66 million metric tonnes based on a population of 140 million.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, said the contribution of the fisheries subsector to the nation’s economy is quite significant in terms of employment creation, income generation, poverty alleviation, foreign exchange earnings and provision of raw materials for the animal feed industry, adding that it is estimated that over 10 million Nigerians are actively engaged in the upstream and downstream areas of fisheries.
The minister noted that in 2009, annual domestic production was about 0.78 million MT with a supply demand gap of about 1.88 million MT and consequently about 780,000 metric tons of fish was imported from Europe, Latin America and Far-East in order to reduce the shortfall.
On the increase in national fish production, Adesina stated that it would not only diversify resource base, but would complement efforts aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially, the eradication of extreme hunger, poverty, malnutrition, prevention of diseases and women empowerment by 2015.