The Federal Government has been advised to adopt “a careful and phased implementation” of the prohibition of the importation of fish into Nigeria rather than an outright ban as is currently being contemplated by the authorities.
The Ministry of Agriculture had indicated last year that importation of fish into would be banned altogether.
In an opinion he wrote and distributed to some media outlets in Abuja on Tuesday, a retired banker and now a fish farmer and importer in Niger State, Malam Zakari A. Usman praised as “noble” the objective of government aimed at “saving foreign exchange and promoting local farming,” but warned that “an outright ban will have profound consequences for the people, who will be abruptly denied their sole source of protein”.
Malam Zakari opined that “a strategy of careful and phased implementation seems imperative, given that this product touches the basic essential aspects of people’s sustenance and healthy living in the country”.
He explained that “it is common knowledge that fish is the most economical and affordable source of protein for millions of Nigerian consumers”. The Ministry of Agriculture he recalled, recently painted a gloomy picture saying that Nigeria produces only 30% of the country’s requirements. Nigeria requires 2.66 million tonnes of fish annually to satisfy the dietary needs of its citizens.The demand is growing with the population growth and increasing purchasing power. Out of this, only a paltry 700,000 tonnes is produced locally – this includes only 200,000 tonnes from aqua culture. Further, in case of locally farmed fish, the fish feed accounts for 70% of the cost of production – which is imported, draining valuable foreign exchange.
To buttress the argument for a phased import prohibition, the fish farmer referred to a March, 2013 report in Oyo where the Oyo State Director for Agriculture said that the Agriculture Ministry hopes to increase table fish production by 250,000 tonnes per annum while production of value added fish and fisheries would be increased by 100,000 tonnes per annum.
“An outright ban of imports under the circumstances will have profound consequences with the people, who will be abruptly denied their sole source of protein,” he affirmed.
Zakari agrees with government that it is important to limit and eventually ban imports. “It is pertinent to note,” he however says, “that the imported fish is available to the people at hugely lower prices compared to consumers in other countries. Further surprisingly, locally farmed fish is nearly double the price of imported fish making it a luxury for an average Nigerian to consume.
“For instance, the imported frozen fish is available to the people at an average of N 150-250 per Kg, whereas the locally farmed catfish sells for a whopping N 500 per Kg. The prices of meat and chicken are N 1,000 per Kg and N 700 per Kg respectively, making the imported fish the most affordable product. Given this low price for imported fish, Nigerians even from the lowest thresholds of income are still able to buy fish on a daily basis, meeting the protein needs of themselves and their children.
“The imported fish is cheap because in European and Pacific waters, there is an abundance of fish, given years of controlled fishing and best practices for a thriving fish population. However, the stock of fish in Nigerian waters is negligible for trawling. Most of the shrimps and prawns caught locally are being exported to Europe given higher prices.
“The huge overcapacity in Europe and the Pacific creates a great opportunity for countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Angola to secure cheap and good quality fish for their people. The prices paid by people in these countries are much cheaper than those paid by their counterparts in Europe. For instance, the price of Herring (Shawa) is sold in Nigeria for N 50 per piece. Whereas, the same fish is sold for N500 per piece in Europe retail markets.
Speaking on the consumption tastes of the people as another major consideration to be given due importance, Malam Zakari said given Nigeria’s geographical diversity people from different regions consume different species of fish. For instance, people from the North (Kano, Kaduna, Jos etc) consume Herring (locally known as Shawa) predominantly, followed by Sardines and other mixed fish. Whereas in the East, the consumption is more towards Horse Mackrel (Kote), Sardinella (Agbodu), Herring and Mackrel. In the West people from Lagos, Ibadan, Ilorin etc consume Herring, Blue Whiting (Panla) etc.
“Very importantly, the above species are wild fish caught from sea, which are patronized for several years by the people, are neither available in Nigerian coast nor farmed in Nigeria, but imported. Nigeria’s local farming is primarily Catfish which may never be able to replace the entire demand of the huge varieties that the nation is used to consuming.
“Imported frozen fish is processed to endure longer storage time, stored efficiently across Nigeria’s various states in cold storages and transported even to the small villages. In the case of local fish, the unavailability of establishing freezing factories makes it difficult for the products to last long enough to be distributed across the wide geographical area. Moreover, catfish is normally sold live and therefore complicates any attempts for wide distribution.
“The imported frozen fish industry is well established and employs millions of traders and retailers with large investments in cold storages, generators, transport equipment, technicians, logistics, workshops etc. The industry has its own woes in terms of low profitability, huge investments, high market credit, pilferage, high interest rates, power issues and others. However, people seem to have stable access to fish through the extensive system of importation and distribution.
He concluded by saying that “any policy that aims to implement an outright ban on imports of frozen fish would disorient the industry and millions of stakeholders involved.
“More importantly, the people would be deprived of a cheap and essential product and be forced to make expensive and unwilling changes to their consumption pattern, by an abrupt change of species. The poorer sections of the community direly need the animal protein and essential micronutrients being currently provided by imported fish.
“The FG should be mindful of these sensitivities in implementing a gradual and well-phased strategy to eventually stop imports of fish into the country. The country’s fight against hunger, malnutrition and poverty should continue to be intense while targeting self-sufficiency in the fisheries industry. The Ministry of Agriculture’s Action Plan for Aqua Culture Value Chain Development is a good start in this direction,” the fish farmer/importer said.