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Tilapia fish import: Can Nigeria meet local needs?



Tilapia fish import: Can Nigeria meet local needs?

Recently, the Tilapia and Aquaculture Developers Association of Nigeria (TADAN) urged the Federal Government to include Tilapia, a farmed fish species on its import prohibition to encourage local production. But can Nigeria meet local needs, Taiwo Hassan asks in this report?



Fish gap
With Nigeria’s budding population estimated at over 180 million, availability of fish to feed the growing populace is very essential.
But in spite of the abundant opportunity endowed in the country’s local fish industry, it is saddening that most of the fishes consumed by Nigerians are imported at the detriment of local production.
Statistically, the country’s total fish demand is estimated at 3.2 million tons, while she depends on 1.12 million tons of domestic production from aquaculture, artisanal and industrial fisheries.
Amid the fish gap in the nation’s fish sector, there was a huge surge in influx of fish smuggling and abuse of import quota restrictions, resulting to Nigeria becoming a dumping nation for all sorts of fishes following failure of regulatory framework.
This lacuna made the Federal Government to renew its fish policy tailored towards reduction of fish importation into the country to develop local content.
Particularly, the government’s fish policy directed all importers to plough back their investments into the country to promote commercial aquaculture in the country.
Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, said these investors have to comply with the present administration’s policy of “backward integration”.

TADAN’s stance
However, the story is a different ball game in the Tilapia fish sector of the economy, as investigations showed that the government is still aiding and abating the influx of Tilapia fish imports through the country’s coastal waters.
Given these developments, the Tilapia and Aquaculture Developers Association of Nigeria expressed their dissatisfaction with the federal government’s stance to allow the continued importation of Tilapia fish.

FG’s import prohibition list
Specifically, the association decried the exemption of Tilapia, a farmed fish species, from the federal government’s import prohibition list.
Its National President, Remi Ahmed, expressed the association’s displeasure with the list in a chat in Lagos.
He said that the omission from the official prohibition list by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) would send a negative signal to the international community.
He said the Nigerian Tilapia farming model was currently being appreciated globally.
“This is coming when the international community is happy with the level of work done in Nigeria’s Tilapia sub-sector,” he said.
“Within the short period Tilapia was introduced to Nigeria, we have been able to develop and produce Tilapia feed within the country that is better than the ones used in most African countries.
“Let government stop importation of Tilapia into the country because afterwards, the smuggled Tilapia will not allow local producers to get ready-made markets.
“Restriction of Tilapia importation is not even enough, we want an outright ban because we are producing a lot and we can meet the Tilapia deficit if given the right playing field,” Ahmed said.

Tilapia market volatility
The president also disclosed that he had over 10 tonnes of farmed Tilapia stored in cold rooms because the smuggled ones were crashing the market price, making it seem like locally produced ones were expensive.
On Tilapia production in Nigeria, Ahmed said that there were bigger farmers across the country and this development would chase entrants and discourage current producers in the long run.
“I have nothing less than 10 tonnes of Tilapia waiting for delivery and I am one of the smallest producers, there is Ejide Farms and others, our fishes are staying too long with us,” he said.
“Some of us have invested so much money in the facilities where we farm Tilapia. So, do we remove them now and start doing what? The cost of power and others are serious challenges, so this is not encouraging.
“These importers of the commodity are enjoying grants and other incentive from their countries, which is why when the fish is brought here it is very cheap.
“Here, we do not have any sort of support from government, and this is the height of it,” he said.

Nigeria Customs’ seizure
Ahmed said that in 2017, the NCS intercepted a 40-foot container containing Tilapia and during the briefing informed Nigerians that Tilapia was banned.
But he said he was shocked that the Customs are the ones collecting tariff on Tilapia fish imports into the country.
Particularly, the association’s president revealed that they were not aware when the Ministry of Finance removed Tilapia fish from the official prohibition list of the Nigeria Customs Service, which is causing uncertainty in the Tilapia fish industry.

Tilapia fish roadmap
The Vice-President of TADAN, Nurudeen Tiamiu, also stated that the government should collaborate with real stakeholders in the sector to fashion out a roadmap to develop farmed fish in the country.
Tiamiu said that the aquaculture sector had been besieged by people who were not known fish farmers who are making and taking decisions on behalf of the real time producers.
“I see no reason why the Ministry of Finance is making policies on fish import, while the Ministry of Agriculture is not doing anything for stakeholders, “ he said.
“We have a bunch of stakeholders, you have not met with them and have not seen their capabilities in production and that means the Nigerian government do not understand the issues to be addressed when it comes to food safety.
“We do not even know the quantity of Tilapia needed for consumption; we only know that we have 2.1 million ton of fish deficit.
Besides, he said :The exemption of Tilapia from the import prohibition list is not a good development because we have spent so much money in production and dealt with unforeseen environmental issues.
“If insurance is not structured at the end of the day, you cannot compete with what comes in from China and other competing countries.
“Let government meet with stakeholders and fashion out a roadmap to develop farmed fish and farmed fish is the only way aquaculture can survive in Nigeria.”

Fish farmer’s verdict
Another farmer, Abiodun Adedeji, said that stakeholders were not duly consulted before the decision to strike out Tilapia from the list was made.
According to him, the decision is made without ascertaining the effects on local producers of the fish.
“It is not a good decision and I am sure that the ministry did not get stakeholders’ opinion on this matter to ascertain how the exemption will affect the local producer of the fish.
“We are already facing problems with market pricing as a result of importation through neighbouring countries, which usually brings down market price for Tilapia.
“Whereas, Nigeria farmers produce with higher production cost as against the lower imported price of the same products.
“This decision will affect investment in Tilapia aquaculture by foreign investors.
“Government is expected to protect the industry by doing things in active consultation with stakeholders and also encourage these importers to invest in local production in Nigeria.”

Last line
Amid the controversy trailing the sudden removal of Tilapia fish from the official prohibition list by the Nigeria Customs, it is believed that the sector will continue to be haunted with abuse of quotas and large scale smuggling at the detriment of local production development.

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