Nigeria quest to drive economic growth through the agricultural sector is being threatened by the current ban on the importation of smoked catfish (siluriformes) and all fish products from the country into the United States.
BusinessDay investigations found that the ban was imposed after Nigeria’s Federal Government failed to fully address information requested by the United States in the Self Reporting Tool (SRT) before the due date.
The ban which has since taken effect in March 2018, has reduced market access for fish farmers in the country, as majority of the fish being produced locally are smoked and exported to the US, Canada and Europe.
“As of March 1, 2018, Nigeria has been ineligible to export Siluriformes fish and fish products to the United States due to deficiencies found during the initial stage of the equivalence process,” said Maria Machuca, public affairs specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), USDA in an email response to BusinessDay questions.
“Specifically, Nigeria failed to fully address information requested in the Self Reporting Tool (SRT) before the due date. The SRT is a questionnaire that FSIS uses to help assess whether a country’s food safety inspection system is equivalent,” Machuca said.
She stated that the FSIS is willing to work with the country, if Nigeria is also willing to pursue the process that is deemed equivalent, saying until that is achieved, fish products from Nigeria will not be eligible for export into the United State.
The country has recorded tremendous growth in its fish production as output increased from less than 500,000MT in 2011 to 1.1 million MT in 2016, data from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture states.
Key stakeholders who spoke with BusinessDay said the sector growth will be halted owing to the recent ban by the US government, adding that if not quickly addressed, the diversification drive of the country will also be hampered.
“Our attitude in Nigeria is always lackadaisical. When we are asked to do things we neglect them. If we had done what we were supposed to do, our smoked fish would not have been ban in the first place by the US,” Tayo Akingbolagun, national president, Catfish Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN) told BusinessDay.
“It is a huge loss on our part because a lot of infrastructure has been put in place to increase local production of fish in the country. A lot of investments are at stake and this would lead to job losses and would affect fish contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“Our profit margins will shrink because we generate it from mainly from our export sales. A fish we sell for about N1,000 here is being sold for $14 in America,” Akingbolagun said.
Data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that the country’s fish sector grew 4.05 percent in the fourth quarter in 2017, snapping two straight quarters of contraction. But the growth is expected to halt in the first quarter of the year.
As a result, catfish farmers have started counting their losses as their profit margins are fast declining owing to cancellation of future contracts to supply to African diaspora in US and Canada.
Richard Agetu cofounder Richsi Nigeria Limited, makers of Ejazuki smoked fish, who exports smoked fish to Europe and the US said: “We recently got an order of 50kg of smoked fish from Canada but our courier company that helps us in delivery across the globe told us they can no longer deliver the smoked fish to the US and Canada because it has been banned.”
“This is not good for us as money we would have made from that business deal has been cancelled,” Agetu said.
He called on the Federal Government to quickly attend to the requirement requested by the US government to allow farmers carry out their businesses without fear of rejection.
Reacting to BusinessDay questions on the recent ban, Muazu Mohammed, director of fisheries, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FAMARD) said the ban by the US government on the importation of all kinds of catfishes is temporary pending when certain certifications and quality standards are met.
“Template guidelines were however provided for compliance. Following this, Nigeria government had already engaged the services of consultant in carrying out all the necessary product quality laboratory analysis on all exportable fish and its related products in line with the template provided for necessary compliance to enable US lift the ban on Nigeria,” Mohammed said.
“The report will soon be submitted for onward transmission to the US,” he added.
Nigeria’s artisanal production (fish that is farmed locally) which comprises of catfish and tilapia is put at 694,867 metric tons per annum.
Josephine Okojie and Bunmi Bailey