Stakeholders in the aquaculture sector have raised an alarm of a looming food crisis unless sound and decisive measures are taken to sustain food supply chains and to protect the poor and vulnerable communities.
They noted with dismay that COVID-19 has affected the entire value chain in the industry from pre-production, production, processing, storage, transportation, and marketing, leading to huge financial losses.
At the Webinar organized by the West Africa Region of the World Aquaculture Society, African Chapter, with 68 participants from different countries, it was estimated that the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic could plunge more than half a billion people into poverty, with communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East expected to suffer the most.
The first Federal Director, Fisheries Quarantine in Nigeria, Deaconess Foluke O. Areola in her paper titled: Challenges And Prospects Of Covid-19 To Aquaculture Industry: A Contemporary Issue, revealed that economic activities have slowed down generally, as many farmers have large volumes of unsold stocks, due to market restrictions, purchasing power and decrease in income generation.
She said: “In general, the Best Available Practices (BAPs) in growing structure (ponds, tanks, raceways, etc) has best-described aquaculture as water management, which includes, periodic monitoring of water parameters at least twice daily in the mornings and evenings. Other practices are maintaining constant regular feeding to ensure the optimal growth curve is attained.
“Feeding beyond the planned growing period as is being experienced in most farms, now means extra costs that may not be absorbed by the market because of present low purchasing capacity… Stockpiling and panic buying reduced the demand for more fish in the face of lack of adequate storing facilities and constant energy.”
The Director-General, WorldFish, Gareth Johnstone, who spoke on how to address COVID-19 impacts on fish and aquatic food systems, identified the significant impacts and implications of the lockdown measures designed to contain its impact on public health to include-significant impacts on other domains of human activity, including food and nutrition, security, jobs, livelihoods, gender equality, and potential social unrest.
“Serious and particularly dire implications for the poor and vulnerable living in developing countries; the impacts of this global health crisis and ultimately the economic crisis will disproportionately affect women and girls and reverse progress on gender equality on many levels. A looming food crisis – with serious socio-economic consequences – will become inevitable unless sound and decisive measures are taken fast to keep global food supply chains going and to protect poor and vulnerable communities.”
Areola lamented that aquaculture farmers have been selling at a loss, as they are forced to sell at a very low price because the expected weight was not achieved, due to the inability to feed the fish well.
“The lockdown has led to insufficient cash to buy feed, therefore farmers are forced to sell their fish without the use of the finishing feed and at a very low price because the expected weight was not achieved. They are therefore selling at a loss. Some farmers are improvising using cassava (Garri), cooked plantain flour (Amala) to attain the expected weight because they could not purchase the finishing feed due to lack of cash -flow…” she said.
One of the participants, the Regional Technical Manager, Southwest of Olam, Sarah Olabisi Fagoyinbo, has taken up one of the suggestions at the webinar to facilitate the distribution of smoked catfish throughout the country.
The participants emphasized the need to standardize the sizes of all the fishes, including fry, fingerling, smokable size etc, as the variation is too much for marketing. They also suggested the need to put farm gate feed production as a priority and organize workshops for fish farmers on how to produce feed. They agreed on how to combine available ingredient to produce feed, instead of dependence on fishmeal only.