Confronting Nigeria’s feed ‘crisis’

The country is currently facing a corn shortage that will lead to further increases in feed prices and discussions are being held to find ways of dealing with the problem.

Dr Mustapha Momoh
Mustapha Momoh, president of the Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria, was a speaker at a workshop that took place on March 5-6.
March 20, 2024

Nigeria’s fish and poultry industries are bracing up to face a crisis arising from the shortage of corn and sorghum, key ingredients in the production of feed. Several feed producers have recently suspended purchases of corn and sorghum from the local market, due to what they believe are artificially high prices.

A statement from Premier Feed Mills, the largest aquafeed producer in Africa, stated that “in the course of our active private-public sector collaborations, we have been in constant consultation with the government to establish viable ways of managing the ongoing food crisis, especially as it pertains to corn and sorghum.”

Olam Agri (Nigeria) said that “as a major buyer and processor of food staples, we share the concerns around the high prices and supply chain disruptions affecting the availability of essential grains. In response to these challenges, we are actively collaborating with industry peers and government authorities to identify and implement strategic solutions to alleviate any additional stress on food availability.”

Among the causes of this situation are the ongoing violence and insecurity, especially in the northern sector, and the soaring inflation which has been further complicated by the removal of fuel subsidies. The weakness of the naira, the local currency, has also encouraged speculative corn buying, with speculators illegally exporting the commodity to neighboring Francophone countries for the stronger CFA Franc.

Vice President Shettima

The Nigerian vice president, Kashim Shettima, announced on February 20 that 32 routes used for smuggling food items out of Nigeria had been discovered and that 45 trucks carrying corn had been intercepted. He said that the “discovery of 32 smuggling routes and interception of 45 trucks carrying maize is a step in the right direction towards achieving food security in Nigeria.”

The supply of corn has posed a challenge all over sub-Saharan Africa. Corn is a major human diet source, and the main ingredient in poultry, pig and fish feed. Increasingly, it is becoming a major industrial raw material. Governments have often imported corn to support the requirements of the livestock industry.

In the aquaculture industry, there is concern that the corn shortage will lead to further increases in the prices of feed, already an issue of concern to fish farmers, and discussions are being held to find ways of dealing with the problem. In Lagos State, the government sponsored a Lagos Food Systems Breakfast Meeting last month to discuss ways of solving the problem.

Abisola Olusanya (right)

The State Commissioner for Agriculture, Abisola Olusanya, said that the current forex volatility posed a feed supply challenge to farmers. “We are looking at alternative feeds for our farmers and how we can support the businesses providing this solution to scale ... As long as we don’t have adequate feed meals and adequate inputs, the cost of feed for farmers will continue to climb, and as the dollar rises, it will also increase.”

Farmers look for alternatives

The development of alternative fish feed was one of the key issues discussed at the workshop of the Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association on March 5 and 6. Alternative feed ingredients have been researched in Africa, especially Ghana and Nigeria, for several years, but although significant findings have been made, not much progress has been made in product development until recently.

Palm kernel cake (PKC) and cocoa pod husk (CPH), for example, have long been found by Ghanaian and Nigerian researchers as viable substitutes for corn in fish and poultry feed. This is a significant finding, given the substantial quantities of raw material available all over West Africa. However, progress stalled because the researchers reported that these two ingredients could only be included at limited levels due to anti-nutritional factors.

In the past few years, some small-scale fish and poultry farmers have been using PKC and CPH to produce feed on farms. They are also using plant-based sources.

Daniel Folabi, a Lagos catfish farmer, said, “I have been using only 30% of commercial feed and 70% plant sources for over a year. I have been using duckweed, water lettuce, leucaena and azolla for over two years, and I am making good progress. I have spoken to a consultant about doing a proximate analysis of these plant sources, to enable me to establish how to combine them for better results. I will soon also start deploying algae, another valuable source of protein that could save us money. Of course, I hope our scientists will work faster and develop commercial feed for catfish farmers. This would give our industry a badly needed thrust.”

Some Ghanaian catfish farmers try to provide their fish with a “feed boost” by first sowing their earthen ponds with male and female tilapia. Joel Antana, one of Ghana’s new catfish entrepreneurs, said, “before introducing catfish fingerlings into my earthen ponds, I first put in male and female tilapia for eight to spawn while growing catfish in a separate tank. The prolific tilapia provides the catfish with a decent source of feed which reduces my feed bill significantly.”

There is also a practice in the industry by which farmers try to minimize costs by starting with well-known breeds and moving on to cheaper brands. According to the marketing manager for Aller Aqua Nigeria, “we try to promote our brand to the wide market in Nigeria, and we support farmers with training courses and technical support. But we know that some of them prefer to only start with our brand. They start with Aller Aqua starter feed and move on to use cheaper grower and finisher feed.”

Francis Wilmot, an aquaculture nutrition expert, said that “these are ways by which some farmers try to manage the feeding process. They are simply trying to manage the production process in the way they can afford. My advice to them is that they should measure their results and performance with professional advice and make changes where they need to.”

Over the long term, there are hopes that the demand for corn by Nigeria’s poultry and aquaculture sector will be mitigated by the availability of rice and wheat bran, resulting from the extensive planting of wheat and rice nationwide, but the current challenge certainly poses a problem.