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Making fishers of men

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IMAGE: Lekan Sote »

Can you imagine the Ijebu monarch, the Awujale, Oba S.K. Adetona, beside a stream, with hook, line and sinker in hand, patiently waiting for a fish to bite his bait? And, as soon as that happens, he jumps up, with a whoop of joy, and quickly reels in his line to draw out his catch? Okay, that may not happen, because such a public exhibitionism may not become a regent of the gods. But as Grand Patron of the Ijebu Development Initiative for Poverty Reduction, an Ijebu community organisation, he is making fishers of other men at the Eriwe (Fish) Farm, near Ijebu Ode, Ogun State. Apart from giving IDIPR, formerly known as Ijebu Development Board on Poverty Reduction, office space within the Aafin Awujale, he occasionally puts in a word on behalf of the project with governments and other facilitators. He is already asking the Ogun State Government to grant a 100-year lease of the Eriwe land to the fish farmers. The intense fervour of the cluster of Eriwe fish farmers has successfully attracted government backing; it is a practical solution to the national problem of unemployment. Others should study the scheme in depth, borrow the idea, to establish their own fish farm clusters or other mono product clusters that would flourish in their habitats.

In Ijebu, Eriwe means “eri iwe”, “bathing water or stream”. The village was formed between 1300 and 1400 AD. Travellers, visitors and weary merchants, coming into Ijebu Ode, then a citadel of a great civilisation, would freshen up at the stream and change into more comfortable and presentable attire. Oral tradition says that in 1492 some Brazilians who came to trade at the legendary Ejinrin Market bathed at Eriwe before proceeding to Ijebu Ode. The bank of the stream later became venue for celebration of Easter. In 1962, the Western Regional Government acquired it for a farm settlement. But because of its large water reserve, it was kept as a water reservoir, with plans to convert it into a man-made lake. This project was partly implemented, later abandoned, but kept in view until 1990. By 2002, IDIPR obtained government permission to convert 50 of the 156 hectares of the land to fish ponds, through cooperative schemes. Later, another 50 hectares was released, until the balance 56 was released. Agape and Bethel were the pioneers of the current 56 cooperatives. Between 2002 and 2012, the scheme had sold fish worth about N750m. The Eriwe Farm Village is not about fish alone. Other products are piggery, poultry, bee-keeping and feed mill.

To join the fishing scheme, you undergo a two-day fish farming training programme, after which you are assigned to a cooperative (usually of 20 members). A plot of land is allocated to you for a token annual lease of N5,000. You can have as many as three ponds on one plot. The land at Eriwe is now getting exhausted, and new farmers can get land allocation at Imodi Ijasi, between Idowa and Ibefun, still near Ijebu Ode. To access funding from the IBIPR, a prospective fish farmer must have at least one-third of the resources needed to properly set up a pond. The IBIPR will only release counterpart funding after the prospect has dug up his pond, as clear demonstration of serious intent. Feed millers too are encouraged to provide credit if they see concrete evidence of resolve. Those young men pounding the streets of Lagos searching for jobs need to check out this option. The technical committee that oversees this project is led by Dr. Bola Babatunde Adekoya, a former Director of Fisheries in the Ogun State Ministry of Agriculture, who has a PhD in Biological Anthropology.

Adekoya revealed a forward integration plan that adds value to the fish coming out of Eriwe before they get to the dining table of the consumers. The Fish Export Development Association, with the bulk of its 300 members from the Eriwe Scheme, has identified a progression of fish markets from the local Nigerian market, to the West African sub-region, the African region, and the International market. To make it acceptable to international markets, FEDA fish will pass through certain essential guidelines from production to handling, packaging and freight. The fish will be smoked in kilns and premises duly certified by the Federal Department of Fisheries, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria. But the most stringent certifications are the European Union guidelines. Because of image problem, fish processed in Nigeria is sent to Ghana which has the EU certification. With moderate screening, they send the fish to Europe and Saudi Arabia. The respect that Ghana had achieved for the impeccable integrity of its cocoa beans in the world commodities market has been transferred to its fish export. There is a fish collection point in Onitsha, Anambra State, but its facilities only meet the standards for markets such as Sudan, Morocco and Niger Republic. To obtain the EU certification, FEDA’s fish ponds and processing centre must meet EU standards. And prospective EU buyers and governments must be able to monitor them via satellite cameras. There must be proper documentation, labelling and barcodes to enable easy tracing of the source of each batch of fish. The packaging must also disclose nutritional details and expiry dates.

The Nigerian Export Promotion Council has shown interest in the Eriwe Scheme, and is encouraging FEDA members to use strength of its cooperative to achieve proper certification. Those in Nigeria who have the certificate (about five of them) do not have the capacity to meet the quantity required abroad. The FEDA hopes to be the first, and biggest, cooperative to export processed fish. Its scope is being widened beyond Eriwe to the entire Ogun East Senatorial District. The FEDA President, Bamidele Oyenuga, hopes that his group will soon contest the Nigerian fish market with the foreign imports. If contemporary Nigerians like former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, could make a fortune from trading in fish between Northern and Eastern Nigeria, it should be possible to reverse the trend of Nigeria becoming solely dependent on imported fish and other foodstuffs. Historical records testify that no major part of pre-colonial Africa suffered famine. And Basil Davidson has noted that as a result of colonial policy which diverted farming into cash crop commodities, impoverishment increased in Africa. In Gold Coast (Ghana) for instance, while production of cocoa increased, that of food crops dropped. He observes that impoverishment has been greater where there have been higher cases of white settlement, like Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), South Arica, the Congo, where African land and labour were taken away from food production for the benefit of mining and cash crops like tobacco. Even semi-colonial Egypt grew cotton instead of food.

Even though Davidson argues that substantial subsistence farming survived to an extent into post-independent Nigeria, importation of food has reached alarming proportions. There is actually a threat to national security. To reverse the twin dangers of food scarcity and unemployment, stakeholders must explore avenues like the Eriwe Fish Farm scheme. But the initiative must not be limited to fishing. A certain Japanese general saw a moving parade and stayed in front of it, and looked like he was the commander. Nigerian leaders should take a cue from this private initiative that has beaten a new path to the future.

Article Credit: Punch Newspaper

Updated 7 Years ago

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