There is high demand for fish in Abuja but supply is low because fish farmers cannot meet the demands as a result of factors such as finance and availability of lands to farm fish, according to a fish farmer.
To augment the shortfalls, traders buy and transport fish from South-western states like Oyo and Lagos to the Federal Capital Territory, Mr. Umar Ahmed told Daily Trust reporters who visited his farm in Zone 7, Abuja.
"Not less than 10 Eighteen seater buses bring fish from Lagos and Ibadan every day, especially this cat fish. Each of those vehicles carries not less than one tonne that is about 40 bags in a day. So Abuja cannot meet up with the demand," he said.
Ahmed, who combines both fish hatching and fish production, said with adequate capital, he would be able to produce enough for the market, employ more hands and even engage in training activities for those that are interested in the business.
Ahmed is a banking and finance graduate and hotelier. He took interest in fish farming about four years ago after he attended a workshop on fishery.
He went into the business to support his income after realizing that he needs to do something else aside his monthly income to support his family.
One of the issues that posed a challenge in the production according to him is the high cost of feed in the market and the fish need to feed very well to grow fast.
He said: "The foreign food is more expensive due to packaging and quality of nutrients. You can see that the foreign one is smoother than the local one. It is far better in terms of nutrients.
"If you want to make your food by yourself you determine the formula and give it to the feeds producers to pelletize it for you. But the problem is, will they be able to give you the formula exactly how you want it?
He is planning to go into the production of the feeds because there are some local productions that can give the same result like the foreign one if the right formula is used.
With a distinct price variation, the foreign feeds cost N5,400 per bag while the local cost N3,200, and depending on how the fish are fed, a bag may last for two days because of their level of consumption. "You must feed the fish well so that they can grow," he said.
In his farm, Ahmed has a fairly large pond where he fed some of his fishes. He also has a plastic tank he reserves for the fish parent stocks he uses for hatching. Aside these too, there are other plant tanks on which he feeds some of the fishes, too.
He said there is no limit to the number of fish one can put in a pond but one must consider what is healthy for them and also know that space is one of the things that make them grow well.
Ahmed said: "If they do not have enough space, you discover their growth will be stunted and it is not good for them. Where the place is spacious and they can move freely, lie down and relax, that is the type of place they want.
"You do not have to jam-pack them because you want many in a pond. Space is very necessary. If you cram them together, you will discover that you are just feeding them and they are not growing. Feeding and space is very necessary in fish production."
He said the idea should not be about packing 2000 fishes in a pond but you must aim at getting 50 percent of the fish you have in the pond and make sure they are grown to reasonable table size as at when due.
Depending on customers' choice, he said they start harvesting them at a table size of 1 kg, adding that there are some people who demand for 500g, especially those that roast them or dry them for sale, while some want them in big size so that when they cut it they will get big sizes out of it.
Growing fish is a Herculean task according to him, "it is very strenuous and you must follow rules to be able to succeed."
He said: "They need water very well and the water must be clean. At certain stage I drain the water after four days. You have to also wait for the water to be drained to ascertain the level before you can feed them.
"They do not like stress, if you stress them and give them food they will not take it and if they do they may start vomiting the food and this is not good for their growth."
His interest in the business arose through a seminar he attended years back where they were taught so many things but he picked interest in the fish farming. "Initially I started with table size with only a pond and later move into the production of the fingerlies, juvenile and the hatching," he said.
He said the fingerlies and the juvenile need extensive care if not you will lose them. He also said that the big ones consume lots of food but it takes up to six month before one can start making profit on them.
"But for the hatchery you can start making returns after two month. It is from there you get money to feed the table size but when the sales on the big ones start, you make good money," he said, adding that fish farming is not an easy task.
He said: "People will be giving you suggestions on how to get this or that which at times may not be necessary but because they have been there and you don't have an idea you keep doing what they say you should do.
"But with time we got acquainted with it and a time came I had to carry my cross and I ask questions when I don't understand or know what to do."
He said that though they might not make much money as producers, they are trying to meet up with the demand because of the need for the protein content of the fish.
Explaining the nutritional value of fish he said, "You find out that from the age of 40 you may need to reduce your meat intake and go for fish. That is why we are trying to increase the production so that we can meet up with the demand."
How to market the products is never an issue because there are available markets for it. "We sell to people who buy in bulk in Kado Fish Market, Mararaba, eateries and some hoteliers who come to buy from us. We prefer people who come to buy in bulk rather than retailers. It will help us to get reasonable amount."
Marketing the products is not the issue because as soon as your fish is grown and you are ready to sell, customers will be coming for it. Retailers will want to buy at a cheap price so that they can make their profit.
One of the major challenges of fish production is availability of water and proper care "not just any kind of water but good water. They do not want the public tap water due to the chlorine content in it. Preferably good well water, stream water and the best is to drill a bore hole."
He said the need to check the acidic level of the water is a necessity. If oxygen is not enough it will become a problem for the fish and that is why fish farmers at times put holes to provide oxygen from time to time.
Ahmed needs finance to expand his business. The farm he is using now is a temporary place.
He said: "I need loan to get about three acre of land that will help me to build more ponds and pipe them permanently. I will also be able to get a bigger hatchery and every other thing. It will also enable me to combine this with poultry farming because there are other things you can get from the poultry to feed the fish, there is a kind of symbiotic relationship between them.
"I wrote a proposal to the ministry of agric for aids and grants and if possible to link me with people that can assist in getting loan but still expecting a reply. You find out that government cannot employ everybody. Now I have about three staff helping me, if I have a bigger farm there is nothing stopping me from employing up to 30 people," he said.
Asked if he has ever participated on the federal government's YouWin Programme, Ahmed said he normally read about the YouWin promo but did not have details about it. He also does not know the procedure to apply.
He said that on a small scale, one can start from his back yard using a tank with about 400 - 500 fishes on a subsistence level which can be increased later.â-©"Despite the facts that fish don't like tap water you can improvise by fetching the water and put it in the sun for four days by exposing it to sunlight for the chlorine to evaporate. In such circumstance you need to have up to three tanks where you can store water for changes. You don't have to do it in a large scale but you can start by producing for your consumption," he said.