interviewBy Chibunma Ukwu
Okey Alum Udensi, is a fish farmer and chief executive officer of Nature Nurture Nigeria Ltd, and the president of Abuja Aquariums, a network of aquarium operators in Abuja. He spoke with CHIBUNMA UKWU on factors that could help the Nigerian government boost the economy through fish farming.
What does Nature Nurture do and what is the link between nature nurture and Abuja Aquariums?
As the name implies, Nature Nurture is a company that is involved with nurturing nature which entails that we do a lot with the environment so basically we are a company that is spurned to cater for the need of people as regard to the nature around them. To meet these needs, the company is divided into three unique units. One of these is the environmental unit which handles landscaping, and erosion control. There is also the aqua- culture unit which handles the needs of those who are interested in fish farming or aqua- culture.
There is also the angle that handles the need of people who are into ornamental fish keeping and that is where Abuja Aquarium comes in. It is a part of Nature Nurture that handles the ornamental fish. Like the name goes, we are not a public aquarium per se, we are a network of professionally built aquariums, in private homes, public buildings such as offices, hospitals, parks and any other place that could come to mind.
There are aquariums in different buildings owned by different people and organisations with different species of fish as you will see in public aquariums but this time around, each aquarium is differentiated from the other by the unique features peculiar to each owner. We manage the network as most of the aquariums are built by us and the beauty of it all is that our aquariums are built by Nigerians, serviced by Nigerians and maintained by Nigerians.
Your firm is easily identified with ornamental fish culture unlike others which are involved in other forms of fish farming. How did you come about this?
Every young man plans to get himself organised. I studied fishery and in the course of my study, I realised that most people who are into fishery are actually doing catfish or Tilapia breeding which are the most popular fish species in Nigeria, I have always wanted to do something different from what everyone else does. So when I looked around, I saw that though there are lots of opportunities in ornamental fish culture, the area has not been fully exploited. Ornamental fish has a thousand and one species which will give varieties to whoever that wants to farm it.
Furthermore, Nigeria is in the tropics, this means that we have more colourful species than in other spheres and this provided me the opportunity of concentrating on the study of the ornamental fish industry. Sincerely, we started even on a small note, even with mistakes but today, we have the capacity to build any size of aquarium, we can turn a house into an aquarium, we can turn a car into an aquarium, we can build a tower and it is an aquarium so if we had stopped or allowed ourselves to be discouraged when we started, we would not have gotten to where we are today.
Seeing the challenges that you encountered earlier, what was the drive behind your move, and why did you refuse to give up at the onset?
I was not discouraged because this is something I am very passionate about and should not allow challenges or difficulties to get me discouraged. As a matter of fact, even the Dubai aquarium which everybody is excited about, when it was built, it actually leaked water and that was exactly what happened to the first aquarium we built locally.
The first aquarium that we did locally here was 15 years ago and was installed for a minister but because it was not properly installed, within an hour of installation, it leaked water and messed up the man's premises, surprisingly, the man did not scold us rather encouraged me, he was happy that the aquarium was made in Nigeria and was looking very nice. So, when I got back to the workshop, I got to know what the problem was, had it rectified and since then, we have been building what could be said to be beyond description.
How do you source your fish?
I told you that this is something I am passionate about. I read fishery in my first degree and by this job that we do, we try our best to help reduce unemployment which is a social issue in Nigeria thus most of the things that we do, we do them by ourselves thereby keeping the job within. If we import the aquariums that we do, it means that we keep the job outside Nigeria yet buying and selling will not actually help our economy so most of the fish that we sell, we breed them locally.
Our water here is warm enough for fish breeding, the reason we breed most of our fishes including the exotic species like the Angels which comes from South America, we breed the gold fish which comes from Asia, and so on. We also breed the local fishes, the credenciesis, a very popular fish in Europe and actually come from the Niger Delta so we have been breeding the credenciesis, and other indigenous species of fish which are very important ornamental fishes so we breed all these fish among us so we would not have to import them.
That notwithstanding, we also work with local fishermen who supply us more stocks that we need such as the African Night fish and because they catch these fish alive and we pay them more than what they would get if they take them to the market smoked, it helps to conserve species. We equally engage the services of other local breeders who we have certified that their fish are okay.
For example, last month, we just signed a contract with a breeder who will be supplying us good species of fish for a particular quantity for a particular time. However, there are some species we do not have the capacity to build locally, these are the species that we import at the moment to meet our needs, these are how we source our fish for the moment.
The Federal Government has said that in 2014, they will ban the importation of fish. As one who has been in this industry and with your experience in it, do you think that we have what it takes to meet up with this target?
If you ask me, I will say that the target is deceitful. This is like putting a cart before the horse. We need to plan and have certain infrastructures in place before we can do some of these things. Though the attainment of this target is possible, the deadline is too close. At the moment, most Nigerians eat croaker fish, which comes from abroad and if we look at it critically, we will realise that most Nigerians who are into fish farming seem to be engaged in breeding cat-fish and tilapia only, so, how do we balance this to meet with the needs of those who eat croaker?
What we produce is not enough to meet the market demand as it is and people are not interested in commercial scale fish farming so I think that the government should try to set up infrastructures that will aid and encourage more people to go into fish farming on a commercial scale, such encouragement should not be limited to catfish farming alone. Nigeria is lucky; we have the coastal waters and could engage in offshore fish farming.
Most of the fish that is farmed in Scotland is done offshore, we have not tried to encourage our farmers in this regard so people should be encouraged, while the government should try to get things done, sincerely, I will not be surprised if the government does not know the quantity of fish that Nigerians consume or the number of fish farmers that we have in the country or the quantity of fish that we produce, the only idea they might have is the number of fish that we import.
So government should turn around, look inwards and encourage the industry. We have the market, the reason the world comes to sell in Nigeria, and we have the capacity to achieve whatever we want but the question lies on whether we have the will- power to turn things around?