SEATTLE — Fish are a staple of the Nigerian diet and they constitute 60 percent of meat sold in Nigerian markets. Regardless of the popularity of fish, the fish farming business is not particularly profitable for Nigerian farmers.
Nigeria imports 90 percent of fish sold, giving little room for local fish farmers to develop successful businesses. Often, farmers sell their fish at around $500 per kilogram, but it may take seven months to grow and cultivate one kilogram of fish, leaving them with a very small profit for a lot of labor.
Before sale, most Nigerian fish farmers purchase fingerlings, most often catfish as it is the most popular fish on the market, from a trusted source and raise their fish near their homes. Others rely on ponds and rivers to catch wild catfish.
There are numerous risks in raising and selling fish, and these risks are often not worth the profit the farmers receive. However, some fish farmers and businesses are relying on specialized equipment and machines that can increase the profit margin and reduce the unpredictability of aquaculture.
Mobile fish ponds
Businesses in aquaculture are largely dependent on environmental factors. While the state of the weather, the season and water parameters are out of a fish farmer’s control, they greatly affect the chance of making a profit. A slight change in the water or weather could lead to disease and death. Many Nigerian fish farmers have no choice but to catch fish from the local river and move them directly to sale.
While no one can control the environment, fish farmers can purchase or create mobile fish ponds to create personalized ecosystems for their fingerlings. The ponds, usually made of plastic or concrete, allow fish farmers to control the amount, type and temperature of the water that enters the pond with tanks. This way, they no longer have to depend on unpredictable local rivers to raise their fish. The ponds can culture anywhere from a few hundred to over 1,000 fish fingerlings. The ponds are particularly ideal for urban farmers who can now create ecosystems in their backyards.
Fish are particularly sensitive to inadequate feeding measures, but nutritional fish feed can be very expensive. As a result, fish feed makes up 80 percent of the variable cost of fish farming and can significantly lower the profit margin.
It is not easy to feed fish properly. There are floating and sinking feeds, and some feeds require additives to provide the fish with adequate nutrition. For a busy fish farmer with numerous mobile ponds, they not only have to be knowledgeable of different feed types, they also need a way to mass produce and formulate the feeds to save time and money.
With the use of fish feed mills, the farmer only needs to know the proper ingredients for creating feed. The feed mill does most of the work by forming floating pellets out of grains and other materials. The feed mills can run for hours on end, allowing the farmer to attend to other aspects of their business. By mass producing their own feed, farmers can save money and cultivate more fish.
The first two innovations can save time, effort and money for fish farmers, but there are some unavoidable risks that come with selling fresh fish. Fresh fish has a short shelf life and, if the fish does not sell immediately, the produce will rot and the farmer loses money. This scenario is quite common, given that local farmers struggle to compete with the prices of imported fish.
The only way to avoid these risks is to process some of the fish produce. Machines that can smoke and process fish are becoming more popular among Nigerian fish farmers.
Smoking machines can create opportunities for the fish business in any season. Smoked fish can last from three to six months and, as long as there are some fish to cultivate, it can be produced and packaged throughout the year. By not having to rely on the sale of fresh fish, farmers reduce their risk and variable costs. Additionally, processed food products are more valuable than fresh foods, and therefore allow for a higher profit margin.
All of these innovations can increase the profitability of fish farming, but they carry heavy upfront costs. Complex machines like the Smoking King are not affordable for a lot of Nigerian fish farmers looking to improve their businesses.
The World Bank funds the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP), which provides training, equipment and funds for agricultural businesses and workers in many West African countries. In 2015, WAAPP constructed numerous mobile fishing ponds, both plastic and concrete, in participating Nigerian villages.
Recently, WAAPP provided some fish farming businesses in Lagos, Nigeria with new equipment. Rotemi Omodehin was one of the farmers to receive a processing machine called the Smoking King. Omodehin says the machine improved the profitability of his business. “Anyone doing this business without adding value cannot make good profit,” he says in an interview with The World Bank.
These methods and programs are all key parts of the process to increase profits for fish farmers and improve their lives. Continued emphasis on these innovations can have a major impact on alleviating poverty for farmers in Nigeria.
– Danielle Poindexter