The Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri spoke with Agriculture correspondents after the meeting of Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC) at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja on development of the Fishery Sub-Sector including smuggling, issuance of waivers, backward integration among other issues. Tom Okpe was there.
Now that Nigeria has emerged as the leader of FCWC, what does it translate to, as a nation?
I believe that Nigeria will benefit more, FCWC has a lot of funding, all the annual contributions from member countries put together is about $250,000, but every year they get close to $1 million support from EU, Norway and other donors.
We believe as Nigeria is the leader, Nigeria will benefit more in terms of capacity building and shared information.
Nigeria will be more privileged to hear what is happening within the Gulf of Guinea and beyond which could also be a good opportunity for technology transfers that will end up scaling up productivity in the sector.
What should smallholder fish farmers in the country expect from the government in 2018?
We have always supported fish farmers within the limit of the budget. I believe in 2018, we will have a bigger budget, and fish farmers will get the normal support we give to them.
We will support them with inputs and equipment; few weeks ago, we distributed smoking kilns to some farmers because we believe that there are a lot of post harvest losses particularly those within the rural areas that are fishing.
So we are distributing smoking kilns, this year we are doing about 2000 smoking kilns and each of them can take about 500 to 1000 fishes, by the time you give it to cooperatives and it is cheap to operate, we support them with fingerlings, we support them with extension services.
So, I believe that the fishery sub-sector can also benefit more now that Nigeria has occupied the leadership of the FCWC, we will be able to send more of our people for capacity building and when they come back, they can extend that to other people and continue to improve our capacity.
You mentioned approval of vessels to guard the territorial waters, what are the economic losses incurred in the recent past?
The vessels you made reference to has to do with two vessels Mr. President approved for us to buy and police our coastlines within the Gulf of Guinea.
Nigeria has the longest or the largest coastline of about 854 kilometers out of the six countries in the Gulf of Guinea and this year, Mr. President gave us the approval to buy two vessels that will be managed by the fisheries department in collaboration with the Nigerian Navy.
Essentially, it is to tackle the issue of illegal fishing activities or unregistered fishing activities within the Gulf of Guinea.
The fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea was set up basically to tackle that problem.
The Gulf of Guinea has been a zone that people all over the world come in to invade our fishery resources; fishery is a very big business.
The vessels we are buying may not extend to Lake Chad, but it is going to, basically collaborates with other countries within the Gulf of Guinea to tackle the illegal unregistered and unregulated fishing activities within the Gulf of Guinea.
From the records we have, we have not harvested 2 per cent of our fish resources, and we don’t have capacity to also monitor and protect our territorial water;
although our coastlines are the longest that’s, we cannot do it alone that’s why we need to collaborate them (countries in the Gulf of Guinea).
Collaboration have actually worked very effectively, we are losing billions of Dollars to those who are coming to feast on our fishery resources. We want to harvest our fishery resources.
What will Nigeria gain if these vessels are purchased?
We still have a deficit of 2.1 million metric tons of our national demand for fish and our national demand for fish is 3.2 million metric tons.
Sometimes when you talk in tons, people don’t understand, 10,000 metric tons is 334 containers. You can imagine how many containers it will be if we have a deficit of 2.1 million metric tons.
If these vessels are acquired, it will make our coastlines safer, right now, the fleets of vessels fishing in our shore lines have also increased,
when I came on board as the Minister in charge of fishery, we have been able to license so many fishing vessels, the number has increased from less than 100 to 155, that is because we have been able to remove the bottlenecks,
you don’t need to know me before you get your license signed, what I want is more vessels in the Nigerian water and that will mean more jobs for our people and more value in the fishery industry.
So, any investment we make now, we make this area safer for these fishing vessels to go as far as they can to exploit our fishing resources and keep reducing the deficit that we have.
The 1.1 million metric tons we have as our local production; half of it is from fishermen who go fishing in the fresh water or in the high sea, so the more vessel we have, the more we reduce our deficit.
The reason why a lot of fishing vessels are packed is because of insecurity which is also going to provide security that is needed for the fishing industry to thrive.
Is the government giving waivers to fish importers?
We don’t give waiver, anything waiver, we say no, we give quota because you have to regulate the level of fish imported into the country, to import 1 million metric tons, you may need about $1 million.
When we came on board, we realized we need to partner with Central Bank of Nigeria and Nigerian Customs so that we can on a sustainable basis, keep reducing the import bill and we also tied that to backward integration;
for you to enjoy more quota of fish import, you will also do a corresponding investment in aquaculture, and if you go to these farms across the country, you will see thousands of people being employed, and that was the target we set for ourselves.
What we are trying to do is that, this is a business for some people; the idea of giving people waivers is gone.
So we haven’t given any waiver, we are not going to give anybody waiver, and it doesn’t lie with us to give anybody waiver, waiver if to be given, will be given by the Ministry of Finance.
Will the government provide cold rooms to check the compliance of the importers for wholesome fish and compliance to quota?
What I said now was that we regulate fish import by giving quota. Anybody who imports fish without obtaining a quota or without obtaining license is guilty of a crime and if you are found guilty, you have to pay a fine of $250,000.
We also know that the fish that is imported with our quota, comes basically through the sea port, so, it is subjected to good quality control,
and I also mentioned that we are having issues with Benin Republic, where most of those frozen fish and poultry products that they use formalin to preserve is smuggled through.
I hereby call on member countries of FCWC to see how we can partner to combat smuggling, let us do regional fish trade instead of importing fish from Europe. It is important to make the point that the fishes imported are not within our territory water.
It is basically gotten from Europe, we are not going to allow anybody import Catfish when we are perhaps the largest producer of Catfish in Africa.
We have the duty as government to breach the gap, the gap of 2.1 million metric tons is just too wide, and we can’t achieve that over night, so what we do is that we give you quota, but you will do fish farming,
employ people and while you are importing, through your backward integration adding to local fish production thereby adding value to local fish production.