Nurturing Growth: How the Nigerian Government Can Propel Catfish Farming

Catfish farming has become a cornerstone of Nigeria’s agricultural sector, playing a vital role in food production and economic development. Recognizing its significance, the Nigerian government has a unique opportunity to bolster this industry through targeted support and initiatives. we’ll explore the key areas where government intervention can make a profound impact on catfish farmers and the sector as a whole.

  1. Education and Training:

Knowledge is power, especially in agriculture. The government can institute comprehensive training programs and workshops to equip catfish farmers with the latest techniques, sustainable practices, and business acumen. This empowerment ensures that farmers are well-prepared to navigate the complexities of modern catfish farming.

  1. Access to Quality Fingerlings:

The foundation of a successful catfish farm lies in the quality of fingerlings. By establishing and maintaining government-operated hatcheries or providing subsidies for high-quality fingerlings, the government can ensure that farmers start their operations with strong genetic stock.

  1. Market Access and Value Addition:

Connecting catfish farmers to markets and promoting value addition are pivotal for sustained profitability. The government can facilitate market linkages and invest in processing and packaging facilities. This strategic move not only bolsters the economic viability of catfish farming but also elevates the industry’s competitiveness.

  1. Financial Support and Credit Facilities:

Farming demands significant investment in infrastructure, equipment, and technology. By offering access to low-interest loans, grants, and financial incentives, the government empowers catfish farmers to make these crucial investments, securing the future of their farms.

  1. Regulatory Framework and Policy Support:

A clear regulatory framework is indispensable for any industry’s growth and stability. The Nigerian government can lead the way by formulating and enforcing policies that regulate catfish farming, ensuring a conducive environment for farmers to thrive.

  1. Research and Development:

Innovation is key to sustainable growth. By allocating resources to research, the government can support the development of improved catfish varieties, optimized feed formulations, and disease-resistant strains. This investment translates to enhanced productivity and competitiveness within the sector.

Conclusion:

The potential for growth in Nigeria’s catfish farming industry is boundless, and the government holds the key to unlocking it. Through a multifaceted approach encompassing education, access to resources, financial support, and regulatory frameworks, the government can catalyze a new era of prosperity for catfish farmers. The impact of this support extends far beyond the farms themselves, contributing significantly to Nigeria’s agricultural and economic landscape. As we look ahead, the future of catfish farming in Nigeria holds promise and potential, thanks to the visionary support of the government.

Unlocking Success in Catfish Farming: A Guide for Nigerian Aquaculturists

Are you ready to dive into the world of aquaculture and explore the incredible opportunities it offers right here in Nigeria? Catfish farming has emerged as a lucrative and sustainable venture, and today, we’re here to shed light on how you can be part of this thriving industry.

Why Catfish Farming in Nigeria?

Nigeria’s favorable climate, vast water resources, and growing demand for seafood make it an ideal destination for catfish farming. Here are some compelling reasons why you should consider venturing into this exciting field:

  1. High Demand: The demand for catfish in Nigeria is soaring. With a population of over 200 million people, the market for fresh, locally-produced catfish is constantly expanding.
  2. Profitability: Catfish farming can be a profitable venture when done right. Proper management and techniques can yield substantial returns on your investment.
  3. Sustainability: Unlike some other forms of protein production, catfish farming is environmentally friendly and can be practiced with minimal impact on natural resources.

Getting Started with Catfish Farming

  1. Selecting Your Site: Choose a suitable location for your fish farm. Ensure access to clean water, good soil, and proximity to markets.
  2. Choosing Your Catfish Species: Common catfish species in Nigeria include the Clarias gariepinus (African catfish) and Heterobranchus longifilis (Nigerian catfish). Select the species that aligns with your goals and local demand.
  3. Building Ponds or Tanks: Construct well-designed ponds or tanks based on your budget and space. Proper pond construction is crucial for successful farming.
  4. Water Management: Maintain proper water quality and temperature. Regularly check and adjust pH levels, oxygen content, and water circulation.
  5. Feeding and Nutrition: Provide high-quality, nutritionally balanced feed to ensure healthy growth. Consult with a nutritionist or expert for the best feeding practices.
  6. Disease Prevention: Implement biosecurity measures to prevent disease outbreaks. Regularly monitor your fish for signs of illness and take prompt action if necessary.
  7. Harvesting and Marketing: Harvest your catfish at the right size and market them to local restaurants, markets, or processing plants.

Resources and Support for Catfish Farmers

At Bluefish Farm, we’re committed to supporting aspiring and experienced catfish farmers in Nigeria. Explore our range of catfish fingerlings, juveniles, and expert guidance to kickstart your journey to success.

Catfish farming in Nigeria holds incredible potential for those willing to invest time and effort. Join the ranks of successful aquaculturists and contribute to the nation’s food security while building a profitable business.

Ready to take the plunge into catfish farming? Contact us today, and let’s embark on this exciting journey together!

Stay tuned to our blog for more tips, insights, and success stories from the world of catfish farming in Nigeria.

The African catfish (Clarias gariepinus)

In 1976, the Netherlands became the first country in Europe to import African catfish. 40 African catfish imported from the Central African Republic to the Netherlands served as the initial broodstock. In recirculating aquaculture systems, commercial cultivation of this species began around 1985. (RAS).

Israel and South African catfish strains were imported much later. The “Dutch strain” of African catfish, which is now being cultivated, was created by crossing these strains in order to produce fingerlings.

On a farmer’s level, choosing brood stock is often done in a rather simple manner. It is highly expensive to maintain and strictly separate large populations of several African catfish strains over extended periods of time. If you are successful, the effects become apparent after a few years. For the commercial farmer, the next challenge is to maintain this edge for himself.

The need to demonstrate to his client the advantages of a superior strain is another challenge for the farmer raising African catfish fingerlings. In the eyes of a researcher, increases in growth and feed conversion ratio of, say, 5% are major accomplishments, but for a farmer, these improvements represent modest variations that are likely to go unnoticed without rigorous farm records.

Practically speaking, pricing is the primary factor influencing the market for fingerling African catfish. The availability, size, consistency, and health state of the African catfish are all priorities for hatcheries.

The majority of African catfish farmers (in the tropics and in Europe) are small to medium sized, poorly organized, and lack the resources and skills necessary to do meaningful research on genetic enhancements of their stocks. Universities have conducted the scant genetic study on African catfish, but it has never been taken seriously in reality.

Selection of African catfish broodstock

The production of African catfish is a relatively recent business. It began in Europe in the early 1980s, and at that time, only few farmers in Africa were engaged in widespread farming activities.

Picture of a ready-to-spawn African catfish broodstock

The initial broodstock originated in the wild. For instance, wild African catfish were imported into the Netherlands from Central Africa, and the first selection was made primarily on size. In my perspective, we were just selecting fish that could adapt to the intense farming methods used in warm water recirculation systems. Fish were brought in from Israel and RSA not long after the arrival of African catfish from Central Africa. The “Dutch African catfish” is a product of three strains since the strains were not maintained distinct in the Netherlands.

The processing business places a great deal of importance on the quality of the meat and the proportion of dress out. The strains from various parts of Africa differ from one another. Because fish is consumed whole in the tropics—no filets are removed from the fish, and heads and guts are not wasted—the element of flesh quality and dressing proportion is less significant.

Africa catfish hybridization
Heterobranchus and Clarias species interbred to create intergeneric hybrids, which are animals that belong to the Siluriformes order of animals (Ref.). The so-called “Hetero-clarias” is a well-known intergeneric hybrid created by mating a male Heterobranchus longifillis with a female Clarias gariepinus (see figure 5). The intergeneric hybrids exhibit traits from both parental species as a result of rearranging genetic material from both parents in the child.

For a group of farmers connected to a processing factory, we are raising this hybrid in our hatchery in the Netherlands. This group is particularly committed to raising and selling this kind of fish. Heteroclarias filets are white in color as opposed to Clarias gariepinus filets, which are pink or reddish, and have 30% more fat, which enhances the flavor. In hybrids, the gonads are essentially nonexistent and inactive. Because of this, the dressing % is higher than it would be for Clarias gariepinus. White filets from marine fish species can be substituted with the Heteroclarias fish filet.

Hybrid Heteroclarias juvenile showing characteristics of both Clarias (skin colour and body shape) and Heterobranchus (adipose fin, see detail picture below)
Detailed picture of the adipose fin (not connected as it is with Clarias gariepinus
A market size Heteroclarias is shown on the picture
A close up of a Heterobranchus longifilis fingerling. Please note the adipose fin (as shown in the hybrid)

benefits of hybridizing catfish
As a producer of Heteroclaria fingerlings, we see significant behavioral variations from the common African catfish. When frequent grading is ignored, the Heteroclarias fingerlings exhibit extreme cannibalism and exhibit a broad range of development. The Heteroclarias is readily strained in comparison to this. Well-graded fish exhibit highly equitable development and low mortality to the point of harvest at 1.4 kg at 12 weeks of age.

In the tropics, Heteroclarias is regarded as a better growing fish and is preferred over Clarias gariepinus for pond cultivation.

A producer of fingerlings will greatly benefit from hybridization. Because the hybrids are sterile, buyers cannot use those fish to continue reproducing. Pure parent stock is always kept on-site and never distributed to other farms. As compared to Clarias gariepinus, the pure Heterobranchus longifillis strain develops at a fairly late age of 2 years (1 year).

Upkeep of the African catfish broodstock
To obtain high-quality eggs and sperm, good brood stock maintenance is required. To have traceability for each batch of progeny and the potential for a breeding program, the broodstock should be individually branded. With the use of individual tagging, it is feasible to keep accurate records and ensure that the broodstock is given adequate time to recuperate after spawning.

For obvious reasons, broodstock should be kept apart from other farm activities:

  • To protect them from stress and illnesses
  • To achieve a year-round reproductive cycle, they must optimize their environment through a consistent light regime and consistent water quality.

We prefer recirculation systems in a confined area with temperature control if necessary. In the tropics flow through systems can work too if flushed with good quality borehole water.

Productivity of female broodstock

In our farm, the productivity of the female (fecundity) expressed as a percentage of the body weight is between 5-15%. The egg size tends to increase with the size of the female. In larger fish, the number of eggs per gram of eggs is lower than in smaller broodstock. On average, we count 500 eggs per gram. The average females we are using in our farm have a weight of 6 kg and produce 300-600 grams of eggs per female which equals to 150.000-300.000 eggs.

Egg production of African catfish

A female fish is selected from one of the broodstock fish tanks. With a small tube, it is possible to sample the eggs out of the ovaries to check if the nucleus has migrated to the side and if the egg size has a diameter of 1 mm or above. Most farmers do not perform this check as they just select by eye.

In captivity, females do not perform the final ripening of the eggs without hormonal treatment. The injection of gonadotropin-releasing hormone in the form of natural pituitary glands or synthetic products like OVAPRIM induces the final step of ripening called vitellogenesis. In this final step the eggs are provided with yolk and take up water.

The period between injection with hormones and stripping of the eggs depends on the temperature of the water and the type of hormone used. Through trial and error, the perfect time for stripping can be determined. Too early or to late stripping results in bad egg quality and thus poor spawning results.

  • Too early stripping results in a very dry egg mass. It is difficult to completely strip the female because the eggs do not flow out. The female often dies because of stress and internal injuries.
  • Too late stripping results in a fluid egg mass. Often the female already released a lot of eggs in the preparation tank but stripping is very easy.

Stripping an African catfish female

Several hours after stripping we perform final stripping to remove all ripe eggs from the ovaries of the female. This is to prevent that these ripe eggs die inside the ovaries and start to deteriorate. This will harm the fish and can cause death of the broodstock female. The females have to stay in recovery for a couple of days before putting them back to the broodstock tank.

Stripping an African catfish (Clarias gariepinus) female

Productivity of male broodstock

Sperm Harvesting

Male African catfish do not release sperm after treatment with hormones like many other fish species. The males have ripe sperm all year round. The fish should be at least 1 year old to have ripe gonads. A lot of variation can be seen between males of the same age in the ripeness and size of the testis. In practice, farmers sacrifice males in order to dissect the testis out of the abdomen. By making incisions in the testis tissue the sperm can be collected. As a consequence new male broodstock needs to be added to the broodstock population sacrificing the males is a big constraint on genetic programs.

Some farmers are using operations on the males. After tranquilizing the fish, a small incision is made in the belly of the fish, and with a syringe with needle, some sperm is taken out of the testis. Finally, the incision in the belly is stitched using veterinary stitching material and the male is able to recover in 1 to 2 weeks. During this time the wound closes completely.

Unlike the sperm of mammals sperm of fish is not active, but will become active as soon as it is in the water. The sperm is active for less than a minute, so it has to find an egg quickly before all the energy has gone. This is the reason that during the process of sperm collection all materials, hands, and fish should be dry. Although these precautions are taken, the sperm can be activated accidentally. The sperm concentration of good males is more than a million per ml!

Fertilization of African catfish

The eggs and sperm are collected in a dry glass or porcelain bowl and a dry small glass or porcelain cup respectively. A simple but effective way of fertilization is to bring the eggs and sperm together in the egg collection bowl and mix it gently before adding water.

In literature adding certain fertilizing solutions during fertilization is reported as being very beneficial because they are thought to extend the life of the sperm in order to improve the fertilization rate. I prefer not to use any extra fluids because any extra handling can give a problem too.

Artificial propagation of African catfish is a relatively simple procedure and many farmers are very skillful in doing it. Millions of larvae are hatched weekly in a country like Nigeria but until today there still is a shortage of good-quality fingerlings and juveniles. Reproduction of African catfish is following a certain procedure, but farming the larvae for 1 or 2 months to the juvenile stage comes down to the capabilities of the individual farmer.

Health Benefits of Catfish?

Catfish is a low-calorie meal that provides essential nutrients such as vitamin B12, proteins, and omega-3. It is also versatile and affordable.

Catfish is a popular game fish, but it also has many nutritional benefits. It is affordable and available in the US.

These species are known for having sensory organs called barbels that resemble whiskers, making them easily recognizable. They usually live in lakes and streams, although you can also find their nests in deep pools that provide cover for the younger catfish. At night, adults move into shallower water — which is usually when fishers catch them.

People often describe the catfish taste as being milder in flavor than other fishes, similar to sweet whitefish. While this may seem like a disadvantage, it also means that catfish can easily be adapted into your diet through various recipes.

What Are the Benefits of Eating Catfish?

Catfish, like most other fishes, has valuable nutritional properties that make it ideal for sustaining a balanced diet. Paired with its mild flavor and affordable prices, catfish is a fantastic alternative to more expensive meats such as pork.

Low in calories. Catfish only has about 98 calories in a 100-gram portion, making it a great choice for people looking after their weight. This also makes it ideal for replacing other, more caloric meats such as poultry in most recipes.

Fantastic protein source. Like most fish, catfish is known for providing a lot of protein — a 100-gram serving contains 13 grams, representing 26% of the recommended daily quantity. Protein is crucial for maintaining and growing cells and tissues.

High in vitamin B12. Most people don’t consume enough vitamin B12 — a compound vital to nerve function, cell metabolism, and DNA production. Catfish is an excellent source for it, surpassing the daily recommended value in a single 100-gram serving.

Provides healthy fats. While it does have a slight amount of saturated fats, catfish also provides a good amount of healthy lipids in a single portion. Plus, fish is also known to contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent heart disease, dementia, and cancer.

Start up a Catfish Farm

bluefish farm

With this information, starting and maintaining a fish farm is not as challenging as it initially appears. The size and goals of the business owner will determine how well a farm is established. It might be on a small, medium, or huge size.

A small scale institution can hold up to 50,000 starting sized pieces, a medium scale establishment can hold between 50,000 and 100,000 pieces, and anything more than that is considered a big scale establishment.

Fish farming is easy to carry out as compared to other complicated modes of farming. The only thing someone needs is a piece of land and a constant source of water. But before this, you will have to have a blueprint for your startup, which should be based on your capital. Knowing the amount on hand, then you can manage expenses for the basic requirements.

Securing a piece of land is the first set towards having a fish farm, and the great advantage of this is that the land does not need any special treatment and clearing as long as it is plain terrain. This also includes establishment in any good location, it could even be in an estate since fish doesn’t cause any environmental disturbance but this still depends on an agreement with the neighbors.

All you have to do is just look for a land where you can get it cheap and buy, and the size depends on the capacity you want to manage, the bigger the space, the more fish you can rear, and also decides the amount of return you should expect. I recommend a half plot if it would be an average fish farm.

For the building and piping of the pond needed for fish breeding after procuring the necessary land, you will need professionals. You can get a specification from what you see on other farms and the expert will give his advice and knowledge. This is where things get tricky because it’s the quality of a pond that determines a long-term fish farming business.

Thus, you shouldn’t just choose any plumber or construction engineer; instead, get one who specializes in this industry. You don’t want to start the business to begin to see your fish on the ground or add to the numbers in the ocean.

There are different kinds of ponds system for catfish farming, which also vary in different designs. However, the most common types used in Nigeria and easy to manage are plastic ponds, tarpaulin ponds, concrete ponds, and earthen ponds.

A person choosing a pond system may need to consult an expert since different factors must be considered based on the phase of production that is being chosen.

In the absence of a significant piece of land, huge ponds, tanks, and drums can be used for a modest start-up.

Setting up the ponds is not difficult, but one must ensure a proper drainage system, this is where the plumbing work has to be done and monitored properly.

This includes having a water source and channel inlets to the ponds, as the adequate water supply is very vital for a fish farm and lack of it may result in a tragedy because water needs to be changed at regular intervals. Naturally, available sources of water such as wells, boreholes, and river water are the most suitable. Other sources like rainwater and tap water from the chemically treated source are not recommended for the rearing of fish.

Installing an above tank will also be necessary since it will act as a water reservoir from which the ponds will receive their water supply. For the farm’s water supply and flow to be practical, this must be done through a reliable plumbing system.

Cost of Starting a Catfish Farming Business

Setting up a fish farm requires more careful planning and much capital input. To meet all the basic requirements to start a small-scale fish farm, can cost between N500,000 and N4 million, depending on the land cost, type of pond, pond size, number of stock, type of production, other equipment, and facilities.

Starting with a plastic pond is cheaper as all you have to do is buy the already-made pond and set it up with good plumbing and waterworks. Other types of ponds that require construction may require a range amount of N200,000 to N500,000, with plumbing expenses.

A good water source like the borehole should cost nothing less than N300,000, depending on the location and the other costs are managing and feeding expenses, which can cost up to N1 million.

A big farm would require extra expenses for employees and other workers. Also, since we are in a world of technology, one might want to spend more on technology equipment, website, and software to grow the business, doing specific programs like payroll, and social media management.

Starting the Business

After having the land, a pond, an overhead tank, and a good water channel, then you are ready to stock and become a big-time fish farmer. All you need to do is obtain your initial stock of a decent species, such as fry (freshly born fish), fingerlings (catfish aged 0–4 weeks), or juveniles (catfish aged 4–8 weeks), from a farm that specializes in providing them. Furthermore, make sure your fish are coming from a reputable source.

Yet all you need to do is make sure that your inventory won’t fill up all the available space.

For beginners just starting the business, I recommend the stock of Juveniles, rather than Fingerlings, for better management and because they are less sensitive to the water PH.

Managing the Business

Managing a fish farm is the main business and this would require all available resources, time, and labor. It is the proper management of the farm that will determine the output and the success of the production.

Managing a fish farm starts with pond management, how secure the pond is, and how vulnerable it is to pests and diseases. To safeguard the health and development of the fish when beginning a new business with a pond, make sure that the pond toxins are neutralized. This concerns the users of tarpaulin or plastic ponds.

The safest way to ensure that a pond will cause no harm is to wash the pond with salt and fill it with water for five days before stocking in the pond. This can also boost water quality. For an earthen pond user, applying fertilizer after constructing the pond will make the soil fertile. If the soil of your pond is not fertile, then it will hamper the health and proper growth of fish.

Also, make sure there is no hole in the pond and that it is strong enough not to fall apart. A good water flow direction will also help a pond last longer. There should be a downward slope direction to the outlet.

Assured that the pond is eligible and safe for use, water quality has to be monitored and if not properly managed, it could lead to a disaster. Water management is very important in a fish farming business, as fishes live, breathe, feed, grow, and excrete wastes in the water, and are, therefore, totally susceptible to changes in water quality. For fish to maintain an optimum level of health, and avoid stress or disease then the water quality of the water must be monitored and controlled, as a fish’s life is dependent on the water it lives in for all needs.

Catfish become stressed when key water quality parameters such as temperature, pH, alkalinity, hardness nitrogenous waste, dissolved oxygen, and salinity are not kept with specified thresholds.

Knowing the quality of your water source is very important and could be tested with water testing kits like the water pH meter.

The measure of the alkalinity or acidity of water is expressed by its pH value. The pH value ranges from 0 to 14, with pH 7 indicating that the water is neutral, while a value smaller than 7 indicates acidity, and a value greater than 7 notes alkalinity. Fish production can be greatly affected by excessively low or high pH.

Young-age fishes like the fries, fingerlings, and juveniles are more sensitive than adults. Waters ranging in pH from 6.5 to 8.5 at sunrise are generally the most suitable for growing fish, and extreme pH values can even kill your fish. Most cultured fish will die in waters with a pH below 4.5 and 10 or above.

The key is to keep soil pH at 6.5 or above, which will usually maintain water pH, hardness, and alkalinity at desirable levels.

Pond water with unfavorable PH for fish production can be corrected by the use of water-soluble fertilizer which will ensure that your water’s pH and acidity are within acceptable limits and are a necessary part of managing the alkalinity, hardness, and pH of the water.

If the pH is below 6.5 at sunrise, proving that it is acidic, then you will have to use lime and alkaline fertilizers that do not cause hardness problems in treated water, like soda ash (sodium carbonate) and sodium hydroxide which would raise the pH of water when injected into a water system.

Note that this is always done with caution and should have a measurement according to the quantity of the water and the reactions of the fish should be monitored. Ammonium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide (lime), or magnesium hydroxide can also be used. To be on the safe side, I recommend sodium bicarbonate because it is not harsh on fish.

If the pH is above 8.5 at sunrise, showing that it is too alkaline, you can lower the pH with the use of acid fertilizers like phosphoric acid, hydrochloric acid (HCI), nitric acid or carbon dioxide can be used, in addition to sulfuric.

To run a profitable fish farm, you should be able to properly manage the feeding of fish. Catfish eat two times a day, morning and evening and water would have to be changed regularly (averagely once in two days) since feeding would lead to excretion and it is risky for catfish to live in unchanged water.

You should also adopt sorting and grading of fishes, as this act of separating fishes into categories of their various physical growth will create more space and uniformity. For this, you will need a labor force.

Fish farms are easy to maintain as long as the fish are fed good nutritional feed and you make sure the ponds are secured, the farmer is assured of a good harvest.

You should monitor the health of your fish and the fish pond should be protected from predators. Daily scouting should be done and suspected fishes should be isolated from the pond to avoid spreading diseases all over the pond.

Fish diseases can be treated by using salt, potassium permanganate solution, chemicals, and drugs for veterinary uses. Above all, prevention is better than treatment.

If you are successful in managing the business, then you could as well mix things up and venture into another phase of production.

Knowing the Phases of Production

After stocking your preferred number of fingerlings, the way you manage it will determine the phase of products suitable for you, but this could also be by choice. Different phases of catfish production vary according to size.

Catfish becomes ready for sale when it has an average weight size of 300 to 400 grams. This is called the mélange production, the raising of catfish from fingerlings to three months to meet the size of those that smoke and sell.

Table Size Production is the raising of catfish from fingerlings to an average weight size of 500 to 700 grams, usually from 4 to 5 months from fingerlings.

This follows the grow-out stage, an average size of 1kg upward. At this stage, the fishes are in their bigger sizes and are at least six months old.

Broodstock Production is an exclusive part of the business, as it is the raising of catfish for the specific purpose of becoming a parent stock for the hatchery. They are usually raised for over a year.

Bottom-line

The catfish market is readily available both locally and internationally. Major urban centers in Nigeria are readily available markets for fish. For large-scale fish farmers, the international market is available. The fish market is growing, and Nigeria has had to import fish from China because the demand exceeds the supply this has also made us witness Chinese farmers coming to Nigeria for large-scale catfish production.

The government in recent years has been giving technical support to fish farmers. The Nigerian government is dedicated to encouraging more Nigerians to start raising fish for both small-scale and commercial purposes, as this agricultural sector has not been completely used.

The good news is that there is still more room for growth and investment in this sector. The sector is still growing. Catfish farmers could easily combine it with other fish species.

Nigerian aquaculture increases health and wealth

A rice and catfish integrated aquaculture project in Northeastern Nigeria has given local livelihoods and food security a boost, according to researchers from the University of Georgia and the University of Ibadan

Villagers and farmers in Wawu Kebbi state watching an aquaculture demonstration
bluefish farm

A project under joint implementation by the University of Georgia, University of Ibadan and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is helping Nigerian rice farmers diversify food production through aquaculture systems that integrate raising native catfish in rice fields.

The project’s primary objectives are to develop integrated rice-fish production technology, develop management practices among farmers and stakeholders, and determine productivity, profitability margins and willingness for producers to adopt this new technology. The researchers are also measuring consumers’ willingness to consume fish and rice produced from an integrated farming system.

“The programme is helping to diversify the farming systems that they have in place so rural smallholder farmers have the opportunity to increase their productivity and the diversity of foods that they grow, improving their income as well as their nutrition outcomes,” said Amrit Bart, a professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Science (ADS) in UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) and an internationally recognised expert in aquaculture.

Supporting communities

The programme aims to address “the double burden of undernutrition and undernourishment prevalent in most Nigerian states due to food and nutrition insecurity, unemployment and underemployment, and inefficient market systems that lead to food losses,” according to the project funding proposal.

The goal is to provide opportunities for small-scale rural farmers to do better and, in combination, provide a source of protein and a more balanced diet to communities in the area.

AMRIT BART, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA

The project involves farmers in the Northwestern state of Kebbi and the Southeastern state of Ebonyi in Nigeria who previously grew rice as a monoculture — or single crop — system, either for local consumption or for sale in regional markets.

“In these areas, diet is fairly limited in terms of diversity, so one of our concerns has been that children and lactating mothers don’t get enough nutritious food. These nutritional deficiencies are often transferred from mothers to the babies,” said Bart, adding that nutritional deficiencies can inhibit growth and normal development, both physically and cognitively, in children. “The goal is to provide opportunities for small-scale rural farmers to do better and, in combination, provide a source of protein and a more balanced diet to communities in the area.”

Launched in September 2019, Bart and other project leaders met with local farmers, community leaders, extension agents and partners with the University of Ibadan in Lagos. The team gathered data on the programme’s progress and provided additional training for producers on incorporating aquaculture into their rice fields.

“We met with the farmers and talked with them about the benefits of an integrated system such as this, and addressed some of the technical and logistical challenges the farmers are facing in maintaining the systems,” Bart said.

Two men talking
Researchers visit a rice field being retrofitted to raise native fish in the Ebonyi state in Southeastern Nigeria.

Building infrastructure

The programme funded the construction of the pilot systems at six farms, providing designs, materials, fish stocks and fish feed, as well as training and connections to local resources to help them sustain the aquaculture systems.

“We formulated feed from locally available ingredients that provides a complete diet for the fish and is readily available. We stocked the fields with local catfish that they have familiarity with,” Bart said.

Combining aquaculture in rice fields is a common practice in parts of Asia, and Bart helped develop techniques for the practice when he was director of the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand and Vietnam. He learned that stocking fish or shrimp in rice fields both added an additional crop and increased rice productivity without using additional land or water.

His team used some of those same concepts in the Nigeria project.

We’re allowing local solutions for these problems for the purpose of sustainability. When the project ends, we want these producers to be able to continue to run these farms without project assistance, so we are being bold in helping them look for solutions that work for them.

AMRIT BART, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA

“This is not a new practice, but it is not something that is practiced in Nigeria,” said Bart, adding that climate and geography differences at the sites in northern and southern Nigeria required adjustments to the systems. “We first had to introduce the concept to farmers in Nigeria to recruit participants, then we provided resources and technical inputs on how to restructure their rice fields to accommodate fish, how many and what size fish to stock, and how to provide supplementary feed.”

Depending on the needs of each producer, researchers helped customise the systems for each site.

“We’re allowing local solutions for these problems for the purpose of sustainability. When the project ends, we want these producers to be able to continue to run these farms without project assistance, so we are being bold in helping them look for solutions that work for them.”

Staying power

Once farmers begin harvesting fish and realise the benefits to themselves and their communities, project participants expect that the demand for this practice will increase. The local researchers and extension agents the project team is working with will continue to help source inputs, including seed and feed.

Reinforcements of flooded field
Researchers worked with producers to customise the aquaculture systems for each site.

Project partners are currently discussing the potential next phases of the project, including developing local hatcheries to produce high-quality fish seed and working with local small-scale animal feed producers to help scale up and expand beyond pilot sites.

The project is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish led by Mississippi State University in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the University of Ibadan and UGA.