‘Our 200,000 Fish-Fingerling Stocking Capacity Can Make Impact’
• Challenge Of Poor Quality Day-Old-Chicks Face Farms
WITH the massive degradation of the environment and unending oil spillage in the Niger Delta, finding table fish, either from fresh water or marine ecosystem, in naturally likely places as Yenegoa, Port Harcourt, Warri, Calabar and Sapele is getting slimmer by the day. Therefore, and increasingly, fish farming is taking root in the nation to cut down importation, which has had a heavy foreign exchange overhang in the economy.
This has led agro-investor and farmer like David Oromafuru Okpedo, a Justice of Peace to set up a 200,000 fingerling-stocking capacity, by the Ethiope River in Sapele, Delta State more than a decade ago. With an eye on species like Heterobranchus, Clarias (cat fish) and its hybrid, he hopes to make a mark on the food security status of the nation, as the potential of the farm becomes fully exploited.
On the poultry side of the farm project, there is capacity for 20,000 layers, producing hundreds of thousands of table eggs.
A practical farmer, who lives in his farm house, David has also planted a few hundred oil palm trees, which are already fruiting, that make the wetland environment a beckoning tourist attraction in the making. David talks of his expectations, impact and challenges so far.
Entry into agri-business
I did work in Mitchel farms (now defunct) between 1982 and 1990. I worked about eight years and I drew my inspiration for my farm project from there. When I left the job, I came about the merchandising side of agriculture; I was selling poultry drugs and chicken feeds and up till now, I still have an outlet where we sell these things.
I know that if you want to be an agriculturist, marketing of the agricultural produce are just not enough because one needs to take the products to a larger market and that brought about the establishment of the sales outlet. Moreover, I also wanted an outfit that would consume part of what I market, so it eventually led to the farming venture.
The Mitchel farm experience was poultry, but as can be seen, this led to other things; you come across people who are in poultry that equally have fish farms and palm plantations and I felt that I must replicate that before my retirement and that is what led me to all these.
At the time you were setting up this, which side did you start with?
It was the poultry, because I was equally distributing poultry feeds; I started with selling day-old chicks, which I bought at that time and then hired a farm, where I paid N2, 500 and when the owner saw the eggs I was churning out, he thought I was making so much money that he increased the rent to N5, 000. He did not even stop there, he gave all sorts of trouble and in 1996, I just felt I had to look for a permanent site and since fish would be part of the plan, I had to look for a location close to the river (R. Ethiope); it was real bush then, but now it is all developed.
On sourcing start-up funds
Of course, it was my little savings that took me into merchandising. In fact, when I left there, the direct management I was working with was not happy about the way I was asked to leave, knowing that I was instrumental to the thriving sales unit from where I left. We had an expatriate manager at that time, who said that even if I wanted to leave, I should still market their products. I still go back to the company to buy their products for my shop; for some people, they would not have gone back if they were treated the way I was.
The manager recommended me to their headquarters to be a major distributor and so that man actually encouraged me, while I was buying I made more profit and it really prompted me to opening a bigger shop because I got my goods on discount and I was able to raise some money to start up the farm.
Government’s involvement in financing of agriculture
It has been less than expected; although at that time I was not supposed to be a beneficiary because I was working under organisations that were beneficiaries.
I may not know much about it, but I do know that those people I was supplying the products were basically complaining because they sourced funds themselves. So far, government will give all the best of policies, but they have not followed up on the implementation, at least to practical farmers I know of. There is hardly any farmer around here that has gotten government’s assistance. I happen to be the Secretary of Poultry Association of Nigeria in the state, up to this point and so I can speak on behalf of so many farmers. I am known at the headquarters as a representative of Delta state. The best the government does is that they could say farmers should take a bag of improved maize seedlings at subsidised rates, sometimes seedlings for oil palm farmers and poultry farmers could be given broiler chicks for Christmas to raise the birds and distribute to others.
Quality of day old chicks
As at that time, there were properly organised hatcheries like in Mitchel farms, before operation stopped, Obasanjo farms, CHI, etc. These are known hatcheries that still maintain their standard till date, but so many things happened along the line. So many of their workers who know how to produce day old chicks hired farms to hatch eggs and sell them.
That is exactly what is happening at some poultry product markets; a lot of people will then bring their day-old chicks from different mushroom hatcheries and line them up in the street and distributors buy from them and supply to unsuspecting farmers.
That is why the big hatcheries now stamp their cartons with an identification mark to say that these chicks were gotten from this hatchery on a particular date. So, a farmer who knows how to look for quality will check the carton, but so many farmers don’t even know about this. I have been in distribution and that is how I am able to know.
They use these conventional feeds instead of the prepared one to feed these chicks, which reduces the immunity of the parents. By the time they pass it on to the chicks, when you rear them within a short time, it is weakened and immune system compromised.
Curtailing incidence of poor quality young chicks
The hatcheries have a union that does quality control as marketing activities go on for day-old chicks. When the rudiments of production are not followed, the result is poor quality chicks and most farmers do not know. These so-called middle men or backyard hatcheries are part of the people frustrating the poultry business; you buy 5000 birds and before you know it they are reduced to 3000 because of their reduced immunity; as the sick ones keep dropping, the farmers keep losing at the end of the day.
Measures to ensure that Bird flu does not creep in
When it happened years back, it affected all of us, and so we are hearing about it again. In terms of bio-security, most farmers are not sensitised; most people go into farming because there is no other thing to do. There is sheer ignorance among a greater percentage of farmers.
Lately, we see resource persons, who come to teach farmers about livestock bio-security, but they mainly monetise the services these days; before you know it you are asked to buy a pack containing CDs and other materials, and a local farmer does not understand some of these things. The veterinary drugs, too, are mostly substandard and monitoring by regulatory agencies becomes very necessary at this point.
Challenge of poor quality of feeds
It is a major problem; animal feed management is like a computer, what you put in is what it brings out. If you give a quality kilogram of feed to a fish, and it is sustained, say for about three months, with good conversion rate, it will translate to very good weight of fish.
The chicken, too, needs a standard feed for a long time for there to be consistent production. If you are using 65 per cent fishmeal, it has to be continuous for you to have a stable production and have a consistent chart. Whereas, some of these feed millers we patronise will just mix things together, raise a particular protein value and churn out feed for the market. At the end of the day, the birds will suffer it because the poor result will be obvious. When such happens, money will not only be lost from egg production but drugs procurement because it will manifest as an ailment whereas it is the feed.
Between imported and local feed
There are local feed products that are better than the imported brands. These days, people import feed that has the capacity to float, and package them into Coppens (a popular imported brand) bags, seal it the same way like the real one from Holland; and it is a big problem. I know these things because I sell feed and I make for my chicks and fish. Due to the fact that I compound feed, the quality is assured, but the same cannot be said of many products.
Some of us know that buying from the open market is a risk; we have no option because there are no resources to buy quality materials to produce feeds.
In those days, the grain silos that used to be for the strategic reserve were being managed by government, and government sold to farmers at times of scarcity or otherwise. Although, they are being revived, farmers are not getting as much as they should and at lower price.
Registration for GES programme, knowing the number of farmers
It took place here and I have the number of farmers here, it went from that point to the south-south region and the leaders in the six states of south-south met in Port-Harcourt; we put a committee in place to oversee all these.
There is general apathy in attendance of meetings of the body. I was the treasurer of the committee, but if you call for a meeting, people will not come because they believe that the leaders have cornered all the fallout of the promises made by the government.
There was a time the state government brought a policy about rearing some birds, they distributed to the leaders to raise the birds. I was supplied 6, 000 chicks and feed to rear them for four weeks, and at maturity, the Ministry of Agriculture gave notes to farmers to come to my farm and take some of the birds.
Our members misunderstood it and turn against us; up till date, I have not been able to explain to some of our members that I had nothing to do with the sharing formula of the birds. I can tell you that more than 80 per cent of those who took those birds were not farmers. They just presented papers for collection, and note that the longer you keep those birds; the more cost is incurred feeding them. Up till now, I have a bill of over N300, 000 in the office of the former Commissioner of Agriculture.
Way forward for agriculture
In the developed world, agriculture is taken separately from other sectors of the economy. It is usually supported like every other business; government provides inputs, extension officers and gives soft loans; sometimes, they enjoy special interventions.
In Nigeria, banks set about 20-23 per cent interest rates. Besides, once the credit is given, their agenda is that the repayment starts immediately and this is where government should come in. There is a budget for agriculture and I think it is not enough.