Professor Bamidele Omitoyin is the Head of Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries Management of the University of Ibadan, and in this interview with FEMI IBIROGBA, he sheds more like on catfish production, processing and associated challenges, among others.
As scientist of fisheries and aquatic management, how will you evaluate the level of fishery production and productivity in Nigeria?
As a scientist, I will say we are making gradual progress and it is getting better than before. Fish production is increasing national production figure was less than 200,000 tonnes per year before but our production is about 253,898 tonnes per year according to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO, 2012). So, we are making progress in the area of aquaculture.
It appears that most farmers concentrate on catfish production. Is that what the market dictates?
One of the major reasons why people prefer catfish is because it hardy; it easily accept supplementary feed, it is easy to handle compared to other species of fish, the technology for its culture is readily available, there is ready market, people love it and it is cherished by lot of Nigerians. That is why many people turn to catfish production.
There are other fish species that can be cultured. For instance, tilapia is the next cultured fish of commercial importance in Nigeria. Production technology for big size tilapia was not available before, but now it is available and so farmers have started going gradually into tilapia production.
You said many people loved catfish but recently farmers are complaining of not having access to get market to sell their products. So how can farmers tackle this?
One of the ways farmers can solve this problems is through value addition. Value addition will increase farmer’s profit margin. If we have a company that is canning catfish in Nigeria today, there will not be sufficient catfish to meet the need of such industry, because those that are complaining of not having a place to sell their fish will have a source ready source of market. Farmers will then face production while the processing industry will concentrate on value addition which may be smoking, canning, filleting etc. So what we need now is for government to create market access and assist farmers to reduce cost of production in the area of fish feed and other inputs. Farmers should just concentrate on production, while the government provides enabling environments for other who will buy directly from the farmers when they produce and buy at competitive prices that will be profitable to the farmers, because the problems with the farmers is that even when they produce, they are selling below the cost price of production. And so this is not acceptable. So, we need a situation where farmers will produce and sell at a premium price that will make them remain in the business.
You said they hardly sell at a profit because the cost of feeding is very high. What areas are you working on to reduce their cost of feeding?
One of the major problems with fish farmers is high cost of fish feeds. Most of the commercial feeds available in the country today are imported and very expensive. There is no way they can break even with the use of such feed. By the time they add other cost of production and other overhead, they will be selling their fish at a loss. Today many farmers are just producing for survival but if the cost of feeds goes down, then the farmer’ profit margin will go up.
Scientists from the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries Management, University of Ibadan have been working on quality, low-cost, efficient feeds that farmers will have access to that the cost would not be more than N220 per kilo. We are already using the feed and once we have perfected it farmers will have access to this feed. Using this feed cost of production will reduce and farmer’s profit margin will increase. As I speak with you now, we have reached a stage where we are almost rolling the feed out, we have been testing this feed for almost two years, and it is a floating feed. It is 100 per cent locally sourced and we are at the final stage. Very soon we will make it available to the farmers. In fact, they are already asking us to roll out the feed.
What about the NAFDAC registration and other registrations?
That is why I say we are getting to the final stage of the feed. As a scientist, before you say you are bringing out a feed, you must have done a lot of research, testing, going back to the drawing board, and ensuring that you get a feed that will work and that is what we are working towards as a department. We will also ensure due process with respect to quality control.
I also learnt that the department anchors the WECARD integrated farming involving poultry, fishery and rice. How successful will you describe this project, and how are farmers responding to this technology?
I want to say that Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries Management, University of Ibadan, anchors West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD) projects for integration of rice, fish and poultry and piggery. These projects has been highly successful. As I speak with you today, we have moved to the farmers’ plots; we have adopted farmers’ farms where we have put the technology on farmers’ plots. In fact, we have trained 50 farmers in the South Western Nigeria and farmers were highly impressed. They are happy and satisfied about this new technology. They are willing to adopt it, even apart from this training, many farmers have been calling us in the department to come and support them and we have been doing that. Even the donor agencies have said that they are going to up-scale it. In fact, they have asked us to extend training to more farmers. We are still running the projects research adaptive plots to train our students and other students that come for industrial attachments from other Nigerian universities, colleges of Agriculture and Fisheries and also investors that are coming around to see what University of Ibadan has to offer the society.
So, the project has being highly successful and by the grace of God, before the end of November, the farms we have picked in the North Central will be inaugurated for training.
The South East training will also commence very soon. There, we have already constructed the ponds and the pig pen. So, when we have finished these training programmes, then the next thing is to up-scale the technology. The level of adoption and interest in this project has increased because it is not top-button approach, but bottom-top approach.
Now coming into the processing of catfish in Nigeria, people have expressed concerns about health implications of consuming smoked catfish because of carbon deposits. What do you have to say and how will you advise farmers to go about processing carbon deposit-free smoked catfish?
The department has modernised the processing of catfish to ensure safety. As a matter of facts, we are asking the Oyo State government to support the department to give us equipments for our quality control laboratory. We have conducted survey in Oyo State to see the level of poly aromatic hydro-carbon (PAH), particularly benzo-a pyrene in smoked fish. We have also come out with better method of smoking that will reduce this PAH and we are already using the technology for processing UI fish which is well cherished by members of the University community and the public. We are training farmers on how to process their fish to be free from benzo-a pyrene. Our facilities in the department have the capacity to smoke one tone per batch within 24hours.
So, with this technology, what are you doing to incorporate as many processors as possible to be aware of this public health safety?
We are pleading with the Oyo State government to send fish processors particularly women, fish dealers and fish farmers to the department for training for three to four days on how to process fish to remove benzo-a pyrene that induces cancer. [TRIBUNE]