Fish used to be readily available and affordable in time past, as it was considered a necessity for the poor, despite its very nutritious value. While the rich and the middle class prefer cow goat, pig, chicken and turkey meat, the less privileged simply go for fish due to its affordability, but the story has changed, as the cost of fish now competes with that of meat in the market.
Curiously, while the masses are lamenting that fish has increased beyond their reach, former president Olusegun Obasanjo has canvassed further increase in its price, JOHNMARK UKOKO writes.
As the United Nations (UN), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and their partners are working hard to ensure the availability of fish and investing billions of dollars yearly to ensure availability of fish for the people, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) constantly has met ministers of agriculture to brainstorm on how fish can be made available and more affordable to people globally.
The move stems from their realisation of the importance of fish in the nutritional value and the health of the people, which is why the organisations vote billions of dollars and provide expertise yearly in the fishing industry to increase fish production.
To that effect, they have organised conferences in various cities to further enhance the production of healthy fish for the people and have commissioned several research programmes to boost fish production.
Only last week, the WTO and FAO and their partners converged on Maputo, Mozambique to brainstorm on how best to increase production of fish globally.
In Nigeria, the Federal Government earmarked huge amounts of money to the Ministry of Agriculture and awarded robust funds for fisheries as a major component aimed at further boosting the sector.
But in spite of the huge amounts allocated to fisheries department and government’s promises to Nigerians to ensure that the people get affordable fish, it seems achieving the objective is far from reality as the price of fish has more than doubled in the last two years to the extent that most Nigerians are no longer able to afford fish, due to constant increase in its price.
Despite the lamentable increase in the price of fish, a development most Nigerians see as way too expensive, former President Olusegun Obasanjo does not seem to connect with the dilemma of fish consumers.
Recently, the farmers in the South West gathered at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) in Abeokuta, Ogun State to address the issues confronting fish farmers in the geopolitical zone.
Speaking at the event, Obasanjo, who was guest of honour and a big farmer himself, bemoaned the difficult times businesses were going through in the country due to the prohibitive cost of diesel.
Obasanjo, who said the price hikes had made enterprises impossible to run, adding that his fish farm was also being negatively impacted, attributed the problem to the cluelessness of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration and cautioned that the rising cost of diesel, as well the steadily rising cost of fish and other food items could eventually force fish farmers out of business.
He argued that the only way fish farmers could remain in business was to synergise to assure sustainable price of fish, adding: “Farmers can no longer depend on customers who offer whatever amount that suits them without taking into account the effect of the current economic situation in the country on the production of fish.”
He stressed that a kilogram of fish now cost N1,400 to produce due to the present price of diesel, which is above N800 per litre and that the farmers could not afford to sell for less than N1,500 to avoid total loss and generate even a small profit.
Lamenting the hard times facing the industry, he further said: “The price of diesel has increased because of the mismanagement of the country and it is as simple as that. What will happen is that particularly those of us who have to use diesel in producing fish, will completely go bankrupt and when that happens, Nigerians will still have to eat fish.
“Fish production will be out of reach and then people will be producing fish outside Nigeria and dump it in the country and people will go jobless, poor and indigent so, what do we have to do? We must come together to sustain fish production and take care of fish farmers.”
Obasanjo, who asked the farmers how many of them were using diesel for producing fish, said: “I am perspiring already. This is the essence of this gathering. We find out that we have come to take our destiny into our hands. We can’t continue to produce and be at the mercy of buyers.
“We felt we needed to come around and do something for ourselves. We are starting with the South West and in a matter of time, will be all over the country.”
In his presentation, President of the South West Fish Farmers Association, Amo Tunbosun, who said price sustainability remained crucial to the industry, disclosed that Nigeria now imports about 2.6 million metric tons of fish yearly to make up the 3.6 million metric tons needed in the country every year.
Amo alluded to the difficult circumstances Obasanjo highlighted when he said one of the biggest problems facing fish farmers was the constant increase in the price of fish feeds and other inputs used in the production of fish, as well as the insistence of consumers to pay amounts not commensurate with the cost of production.
A cat fish farmer, Mrs Chinyere Nwacukwu told The Trumpet that feeds and other items needed for fish production continue to increase, maintaining that cat fish production does not need diesel and as such, it was not her major concern.
She disclosed that she produces her fish from the dung, blocks and cement to build her fish farms, but that the price of fingerlings and small cat fish have increased, adding: “Cat fish production is very expensive. The price of feeds and cost of labour have increased. To produce big cat fish, one must be ready to feed them well and take good care of the workers.
“Transporting the fish from the farm to the market is also expensive, just as the cost of transporting workers and the fish to the market has consistently increased in recent times.”
Speaking in an interview with The Trumpet, another cat fish farmer, Tony Odey said the price of catfish and other items have more than doubled and that as a catfish farmer, he lived by the proceeds of his farming, adding that since the prices of all products have increased, the price of cat fish cannot be left out.
He disclosed that an average sized cat fish that was sold for between N300 and N500 last year ago now goes for between N600 and N1,000 depending on the size and that although he does not use diesel, he uses the money he makes from the cat fish farming to pay his other bills.
“I agree that the price of cat fish has increased, but is there any product, whose price has remained the same in the last one or two years? The price is further higher because the middle men and women own the market and so, it is difficult for the farmers to take their fish directly to the market.
“I laugh when people say the price of cat fish has risen. Such people think the price they buy the fish at the market is the same price the farmers sell to them. The middlemen do less and make higher profits than us.
“Fish farmers don’t have direct access to the consumers. We know how much cat fish is sold in the farms and what it is being sold in the market to the final consumers. Those who do ‘point and kill’ make more profit with less stress than the farmers who produce the cat fish,” he stated.
He said cat fish farmers do not get the needed support from the government, adding that the current inflation rate has impacted the cat fish farming sector and that Obasanjo was right in blaming the Federal Government for failure to refine diesel and other petroleum products in the country.
“Seven years is long enough to have built new refineries to refine diesel and other petroleum products in a major crude oil endowed country. Why has the Federal Government not been able to establish at least one functioning refinery, when it promised to establish one every year?
If the country has been able to maintain the four old refineries in Warri, Port Harcourt and Kaduna, the story would have been different. If President Buhari has established one refinery every year of his tenure, by now seven new refineries would have been producing diesel not only for Nigeria, but also for other countries and by so doing, Nigeria would have been better and would have generated huge revenue from the Russia-Ukraine war.
Despite Buhari’s failings in delivering on his promises, Obasanjo should also share part of the blame as he had the privilege of leading the country between 1999 and 2007 when crude oil sold for $100 per barrel, yet he failed to turn around the four refineries in Kaduna, Warri and Port Harcourt.
Nigerians believe that if Obasanjo had built a new refinery during his time as president, things would not have been this bad, while others are of the view that it was wrong for the former president to canvass increase in the price of fish due the hike in diesel price.
They argued that the way things are done in Nigeria, Obasanjo farm in Otta, Ogun State should have a huge depot where petroleum products must have been stored that would last him for decades, insisting that it was not fair for successive administrations to impoverish the Nigerian masses and be denied fish consumption, when they could hardly afford meat and other healthy sources of protein.
“Obasanjo should not be the one to call for hike in the price of fish when the masses have already been over burdened by increases in all items while their salaries have not been increased for years, many are being owed for months, while millions remain unemployed.
“How can Obasanjo says he was already perspiring? If the likes of Obasanjo can say he was perspiring, what should the Nigerian masses who have been made extremely poor say?
“Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world, as thousands of our people keep migrating to poverty level and many are losing their jobs, yet they are still pushing on with their lives, so Obasanjo should not rob salt in their injuries, a respondent said.
In all, the months ahead will determine if Nigerians will be priced out of fish as they have suffered from so many injustices in the past. The question now is whether they will be able to afford fish again or simply embrace vegetables.