Gathering Data, Growing Solutions: A Journey Across Nigeria

6 minutes read
  • The WorldFish FASA project, backed by Norad, focuses on creating low-cost, nutritious fish feeds using novel ingredients to boost income, improve food security, and reduce environmental impact for 5,000 smallholder fish farmers across Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia.
  • In March 2024, enumerators conducted baseline surveys in six Nigerian states to assess the socio-economic status of fish farmers and feed producers, exploring their use of local feed ingredients and identifying the challenges faced in incorporating these into aquaculture practices.
  • The baseline surveys revealed critical challenges such as high feed costs impacting up to 75% of production expenses, limited technical knowledge for effective pond management, and significant barriers in accessing credit. These findings are essential for directing targeted interventions to improve fish farming sustainability in Nigeria.

The Nigerian fisheries sector encompasses a variety of activities, including artisanal fisheries, commercial fisheries, and aquaculture. The sector not only provides employment opportunities, it also contributes to food and nutrition security across the country.

In March 2024, as part of WorldFish’s Development and Scaling of Sustainable Feeds for Resilient Aquatic Food Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa Project (FASA) project, enumerators conducted baseline surveys on feed ingredients used in aquaculture in six Nigerian states, with particular focus on small-scale clarias gariepinus (catfish) farmers.

The baseline survey was carried out to evaluate the socio-economic status and livelihoods of fish farmers and feed producers, gauge their awareness of using local feed ingredients, explore how fish farmers are incorporating local ingredients into their feed, and identify the challenges they face in this process. The data is crucial for understanding the scope of the challenge and to target FASA project interventions to make fish feed more affordable and accessible for farmers.

The primary goal of the FASA project, funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), is to develop low-cost, highly nutritious fish feeds based on novel ingredients and enable 5,000 smallholder fish farmers in 3 African countries, including Nigeria, to test and adopt these ingredients and feeds, leading to increased income, improved food security, and reduced waste and pollution. 

At the time of the visits, most of the fish farmers were waiting to restock, while some of the farms were empty because the farmers had just sold their grown fish. As a result, activities were mellow in many of the farms visited. A handful of the farmers maintained fish ponds comprising tilapia and catfish fingerlings.

Hybrid fish farmer, Emmanuel Michael, feeds tilapia and catfish in his hybrid ponds in Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria.
Hybrid fish farmer, Emmanuel Michael, feeds tilapia and catfish in his hybrid ponds in Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria.

High Cost of Feed

Fish feed accounts for 60–75 % of the total cost of fish production in many African countries such as Nigeria. The fish farmers, the majority of whom only farm clarias gariepinus for commercial purposes, attested to this.

They bemoaned the rising prices of raw materials, transportation, and energy, which inflate the cost of fish feed further, which can force farmers to use lower quality feed, impacting fish growth and survival rates

At an Oyo fish farm, one owner fed his catfish with protein-rich fermented maggots sourced from another state. He recognizes that, despite the benefits, the catfish need a more diverse nutrient profile to ensure both their healthy growth, to attract good market prices, and provide nutritional value for consumers. A shortage of quality locally-sourced feeds and feed production expertise pose a huge challenge to the transformation of Nigeria's fed aquaculture systems and are mainly responsible for fish farmers’ dependence on imported aquatic feed and ingredients.

Limited Access to Credit and Financing

The fish farmers, all of whom are small-scale operators, said they struggle to access loans or other financing options.

Some fish farmers in Asaba (Delta State) had formed themselves into a cluster—Cluster 74—through which they had been able to access state government financial intervention during a natural disaster when their fish were swept off in a flood following a torrential rainfall.

However, there are other fish farmers in other sections of the Asaba townships who, because of their farms’ location, could not be in the Cluster 74 and are therefore yet to be recognized by the state government, even though they have registered their business with the Corporate Affairs Commission.

They say this limited access to credit and financing restricts their ability to invest in essential equipment, infrastructure upgrades, and quality fingerlings; and many of them farm their fish on leased lands, with the service charges eating into their profit—when they make any profit all.

Poor Water Quality and Management

Maintaining clean and oxygenated water is crucial for fish health, but the majority of the fish farmers lack the technology to achieve this.

At a fish farm in Enugu, a fish farmer, Ukwuani Chijioke Mark (professionally known as CJ Fish) says he uses empty giant snail shells as natural buffers, helping to stabilize pH levels by neutralizing acidity and preventing rapid pH fluctuations. According to him, he puts the shells in a porous bag and drops the bag in the fish pond and leaves it there for three hours.

However, factors like inadequate water sources for water changes, pollution, and limited knowledge of water quality management are common among the fish farmers we interviewed. WorldFish helps fish farmers to understand and apply water quality management, the required ranges and the treatments to apply when the water becomes suboptimal for fish growth.

Disease and Fish Mortality

Many of the fish farmers said that their farms are susceptible to various diseases that can cause significant losses, with the majority of them not seeing the need for veterinary services—or lacking the financial means to pay for diagnostics and preventive measures should the need arise, thereby exposing the farms to the risks of disease outbreaks.

Technical Knowledge and Skills Gaps

Except for one fish farmer in Enugu State, the majority of the fish farmers said they lack the necessary technical knowledge and skills for effective pond management, breeding practices, and disease prevention—a situation that leads to inefficiencies and lower yields.

Farmers were happy to hear that WorldFish offers a variety of technical assistance to fish farmers, focusing on improving aquaculture practices and promoting sustainable fisheries management.

Marketing and Distribution Channels

Many of the fish farmers said they struggle to access reliable markets for their produce; while a lack of cold storage facilities sometimes lead to post-harvest losses and lower profits.

Catfish farmers,Tayo Alabi (left) and Mr. Haruna speak with enumerator Oluwatosin Olagunji at their catfish farms, in Nigeria.
Catfish farmers,Tayo Alabi (left) and Mr. Haruna speak with enumerator Oluwatosin Olagunji at their catfish farms, in Nigeria.

Climate Change

All the fish farms visited in Oyo, Asaba and Enugu operate under erratic weather patterns. Their ponds lack shelter and only those sited in areas with farmlands sometimes get shielded from direct sunlight when the sun is up.

One fish farmer said he uses jerry cans to fetch water for his farm, with the attendant financial cost and possibility of water inadequacy.

Apart from the irregular water availability in the fish farms, the fish are exposed to possible rising water temperatures,which can impact fish health and growth.

It was a refreshing moment each time fish farmers were told that WorldFish offers a variety of technical assistance to fish farmers, by conducting research to understand the specific impacts of climate change on different fish species and aquaculture systems, and actively sharing knowledge and best practices for climate-smart aquaculture through workshops, training programs, and online resources. This knowledge is crucial for developing effective adaptation strategies.

Gender Balance

Nigeria is the second-largest aquaculture producer in Africa, with a high demand and preference for fish among consumers. However, the role and potential of aquaculture to achieve goals for improving smallholder income, dietary diversification and women’s empowerment have yet to be realized.

All the fish farms visited were owned by men. The only woman present managed the farms when her husband is at his day job.

A catfish farm in Oyo State, uses palm fronds and old clothes as shelter the fish.
A catfish farm in Oyo State, uses palm fronds and old clothes as shelter the fish.

Gathering Data, Growing Solutions

The aim of the enumeration exercise was to characterize fish feed ingredient processing practices, assess access and utilization patterns, and evaluate the current socio-economic performance of small-scale fish farmers and feed ingredient processors in Nigeria.

This will enable FASA to enhance the quality of local ingredients and ensure feed access and availability by empowering feed millers to produce affordable, sustainable feeds that meet the nutritional requirements of local tilapia and catfish strains in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Eunice Ayo-Aderele