Catfish Farming in Nigeria: What it takes to succeed

The business of catfish farming in Nigeria is not difficult to engage yourself in if you have the resources to do so. Catfish farming involves growing catfish to table-size, marketing them and selling them at a good price. It is a viable business that many people have gone in and out of for various reasons. Some have succeeded at it and made handsome profit while others have failed and abandoned it altogether.

Nonetheless, more people want to get into the business of catfish farming in Nigeria and they want to get it right. They want to succeed at it and make profit and so I get regular emails and calls from such people on what they need to do to operate a viable catfish business in Nigeria. I will try and answer them in a simple way that has worked for me.

My advice is to start small. Start with growing say one thousand (1000) pieces of juvenile catfish to table size in 15 weeks and selling them. Here are tips on the basic things you need and how to go about it.

Catfish posing for the camera
Catfish posing for the camera

1. Facilities

  • Half plot of land;

  • Constant supply of fresh water from well or borehole;

  • 3 Ponds each of about 8 square metres in area. The ponds can be made of concrete, tarpaulin, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC);

  • Plastic containers and one square metre of net.

2. Good breed of juvenile catfish  

  • What are fingerlings? Catfish aged 0 – 4 weeks.

  • What are juvenile catfish? Catfish aged 4 – 8 weeks.

  • What are the catfish species commonly grown in Nigeria? Clarias gariepinus, Heterobranchus bidorsalis, and hybrid of Clarias and Heterobranchus (Heteroclarias).

  • Which catfish breed is best for growing in Nigeria? All 3 mentioned above will do well if properly managed.

  • How do you know a good catfish breed? They are healthy and lively at the fingerlings stage.

3. Three – four months feeding budget.

It is important to ensure that you have a reliable supply of feed for the duration you grow your catfish. As of October, 2016 you need about two hundred thousand naira (N200, 000) to feed 1000 pieces of catfish from juvenile to table size in 15 weeks. Some brands of bagged floating catfish feed available in Lagos, Nigeria are Coppens and Vital feed which as of October, 2016 cost N11,500 and N5,800 per bag respectively. A bag holds 15kg of floating catfish feed.

4. Catfish farming activities

  • Feeding. Catfish are carnivorous animals. You feed the catfish 2 times daily in the mornings and evenings. You can feed 3 times daily too but be consistent with whichever number of times you choose to feed your catfish. When you feed the catfish spread the feed over the area of the pond so that every fish has a good chance of feeding well. Feed till satiation. Use quality feed. The cost per bag of quality feed might seem high but the aim is to grow the fish from juvenile to table size as quickly as possible in less than 16 weeks. In the long run feeding with quality feed saves time and money.

  • Change the catfish pond water regularly. Endeavour to change the water in the pond every 3 days. In the first month changing every 4 days will be okay.

  • Like human beings catfish grow at different rates. Sort the fish by size every 3 – 4 weeks and keep catfish of similar size in the same pond.

  • Catfish in the ponds should be spaced out. Overcrowding of catfish wastes feed and slows growth.

  • Favour the faster growing fish. Feed them well and prioritise their spacing. If you do it right they should hit table size in 10 – 12 weeks.

  • Sell your catfish as soon as they reach the marketable size you aim for. When you clear the faster growing fish you can space out the remaining fish to occupy the pond space vacated by the faster growing fish.

  • Catfish eat more feed as they grow older so the longer you keep them in the ponds when you can sell them at a good price the more costs you incur. A substantial cost of operating a catfish farm goes to buying their feed.

5. Marketing

The profitability of your catfish farming activities depends on the effectiveness of your marketing. Your marketing should begin the day you decide to go into the business. You should keep abreast of:

  • The price people buy their catfish from sellers in the market.

  • The price sellers buy their catfish from the catfish farms.

  • How sellers buy their catfish from the catfish farms.

  • The cost of catfish feed.

  • The total costs of running your catfish farming business.

6. Recording
Records are very important to your business. Types of records you should keep are:

  • Purchase records. This includes the day you buy your fingerlings or juveniles, the quantity you buy, and the cost. You should also record the quantity of feed you buy, the days you buy them and the frequency with which you buy them. Also record the frequency with which you feed the catfish.

  • Financial records. You should record the costs of purchases you make as well as the value of sales you make. Record the money input to the business and the sources.

  • Customer Records. It is important that you know the people that buy from you and why they buy from you.

7. Know other farmers and farms around you. Let them know you too.

Understanding the above steps, implementing them and being committed to the enterprise of growing, marketing and selling your catfish are key to running a viable farm. When you master how to grow 1000 pieces of catfish to table size you will be better prepared to scale up the farm to grow 10, 000 or even 20, 000 catfish. That is when the real business begins.

Another step up the value chain of catfish farming in Nigeria is having the capability to process and preserve your catfish. This will be the subject of another write-up.

The current president of the African Development Bank and former minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Nigeria, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, sees farming as a business. I see farming as business too and I encourage people who want to engage in farming to see farming in the same way.

Food will always sell because people will always eat.

Ugochukwu Ukwuegbu
For Divine Fish Farm

Catfish Feeding in pond
Catfish Feeding in pond
Catfish weighing 1.2 kg on a scale
Catfish weighing 1.2 kg on a scale
Catfish in a plastic container
Catfish in a plastic container

The Great Prospects In Fish Farming in Nigeria

Following is a speech presented at a World Food Day event held on Saturday, 18th October, 2014 by the Managing Director of Divine Fish Farms.

The Great Prospects in Fish Farming in Nigeria

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I would like to recognize Mr Duro Kuteyi (Chairman/CEO, Spectra Nigeria Limited), Mr. Kayode Oyeleye (Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture), Mrs. Bisi King-Paul (of Unilag 103.1 FM), Mr. Babawale Ojoye (CEO of Yoshinto International Limited), Mr. Keme Abuede (Managing Director, Conspicuous Cakes), Mr. Rufai Adeleke (CEO, Microres Limited), Mrs Lilian Eze (Founder, Just Events Academy), and Mr. Fabian Odum (Food Scientist).

Good morning Lydia and the crew of Gourmet Guide on Unilag 103.1 FM. Good morning to everyone here at the Food Fair.

My name is Ugochukw Ukwuegbu and I manage Divine Fish Farm. I am here today to talk about ‘The Great Prospects in Fish Farming in Nigeria’.

The word ‘great’ is a big word. It is a word we can use to describe men like Nelson Mandela, Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers.

‘Great’ is a word we can use to describe countries like the United States of America, the United Kingdom and China.

However, when you put the word ‘prospects’ after ‘great’ when describing something you mean the thing is not yet great, but that it has the potential to be great.

When we talk of countries with great prospects the countries that come to mind are countries like Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, India and Brazil.

When we say ‘Great Prospects in Fish Farming in Nigeria’, we are saying that fish farming can be great in Nigeria but it is not yet great. We are also saying that though fish farming has richly rewarded Nigerians there is still much room to accommodate and reward more people.

This is a product of fish farming. It is processed catfish which has been packaged and branded. What now are the factors in Nigeria that make this product have great prospects?

From my experience these are the factors:

1. Market – Does catfish have people that will consume it in Nigeria? Nigeria is a country with an estimated population of over 160 million people.

2. Factors of Production – Is there the land, water, labour, capital, feed, fish and other farming inputs necessary to grow and process catfish in Nigeria?

3. Can the fish be marketed to the customer? Can it be sold to the customer? Can it be delivered to the customer? Can the expectations of the customer be met at the right price?

4. Business – Can a business be made out of catfish farming in Nigeria? Can the business be sustained? Can the business be scaled up?

5. Are there the people that can make it happen in Nigeria? The answer is yes.

The answer to all these questions is YES.

There is a source that suggests that youth unemployment in Nigeria is as high as 40%. Among this high number of unemployed youth are senior secondary school leavers and polytechnic and university graduates. Many of them have returned to higher institutions to enroll in advanced learning programmes.

I am example of this last group. I am currently pursuing my Masters in Mechanical Engineering here at the University of Lagos. In one of our classes our professor said that the reason a lot of us were enrolling in MSc programme is because we are jobless.

This begs the question, why are there so many highly educated yet unemployed youths in a country with great prospects in agriculture?

I am an educated young Nigerian engaged in catfish farming and I want to tell you my story.

Divine Fish Farm StoryOverview

Divine Fish Farm began in 2008 when my mother received a loan of six hundred thousand naira (=N=600,000). She used the money to construct three fish ponds in a portion of our compound near Sango Ota, Ogun State.

We stocked two thousand pieces of catfish fingerlings in the ponds, fed them to table-size and sold them after six months to market women who come in groups to our house to buy fresh catfish in wholesale quantities. These market women retail the catfish in nearby markets.

The running cost of growing the first set of catfish was about three hundred thousand naira and we made sales of about four hundred thousand naira.

Today we can grow two thousand pieces of catfish with three hundred thousand naira and sell them for four hundred thousand naira after four months. We also provide consultancy services to other fish farmers. What is more is that we can still do better with our current capacity.

We have made improvements since we began the business six years ago in 2008. For example, last year, 2013, we invested in a brick oven for processing our catfish.

Adding value to our catfish by processing them allows us get better returns. The main effect is that a catfish growth and sales cycle that used to take us six months now happens in four months.

Processing our catfish also means we can have customers far from our farm. For example we have a customer in a catering school in Surulere, Lagos. We also have a customer in the United States of America (USA) to whom we export processed catfish.

Divine Fish Farm as a Business

The first thing anyone will ask you if you say you want to start your own catfish farm is if you have reliable source of water. (This of course assumes you already have the piece of land on which you want to construct or install your pond).

You will also need feed for your catfish, electricity to pump water, a little knowledge about how to grow the catfish, attention to the business, patience and keen interest to see you through each cycle of the business which begins when you stock the catfish as fingerlings and ends after you sell them all four to six months later.

In the beginning we relied a lot on the experience of other catfish farmers in our locality around Sango Ota, Ogun State.

We went further by going on the Internet to research catfish farming. We got material from a University in the Mississippi area of the USA which was very useful.

We learned from the material and with time that factors necessary for optimal catfish growth are quality of fresh water, quality of feed, feeding, and surface area of the fish pond in which the catfish grow.We have also received business training along the way because at the end of the day the catfish farm is a business and it is important to make profit to pay the bills and contribute to putting bread on the table.We have learned to balance the books, improve our marketing and broaden our customer base.For me it has been a great practical business learning experience. A catfish farm business with an annual capacity of six thousand fish and one million three hundred thousand naira turnover is a micro business.

With my experience in the business it would not be too much trouble for me to scale up the business or even to venture into a new agro-based business.

Gourmet of Catfish

Fresh catfish is a delicacy. It is widely enjoyed as catfish pepper soup in homes. Catfish pepper soup is popularly called ‘point and kill’ in bars and restaurants.

Fresh catfish is also great for cooking stews.

There is also processed catfish. The processing in our farm is a systematic smoking and drying of fresh catfish in brick ovens using firewood and charcoal.

The catfish that emerges at the end of the process is a tasty delight. It will transform your soups and stews. You can also use it to cook jollof rice, beans, yam porridge and other meals.

Expectant mothers love pepper soup cooked with dried fish.

Some Nigerians even use the processed catfish to drink garri. Once I delivered processed catfish to a doctor at his clinic in Surulere and right in front of me he opened one pack and started chewing on a piece of fish. He so loved it that he finished one whole piece before I left his office.

Nutritional Benefits of Catfish

Catfish helps you meet your protein needs and boosts your intake of vitamins and healthy fats and fatty acids.

Catfish is low in calories and fat.

Eating catfish is a tasty way to boost your intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both of these nutrients play a part in heart and cognitive health. Consumption of these fatty acids is thought to be associated with reduction in blood pressure and reduced risk for certain cancers, inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, and even mental decline.

Catfish Farming as an Avenue for Self Employment

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is a farmer, onse said that if you want to become a billionaire then you should go into farming.

Food will always sell, and in Nigeria with a population of one hundred and sixty million people, there is a large market for good food at the right price.

I encourage young Nigerians who have the interest and who have access to the factors of production needed to start a catfish farming business to try it.

Catfish farming is something you can do in your backyard if you live in a compound owned by your family.

If you have the opportunity and the will, go start something. When you succeed it will open other doors for you.

But then it does not have to be catfish farming. Nigeria is blessed with so much arable land in the rural areas and if you come from an area where farming is practiced extensively you can give it a try. It is a move that will require a lot of bravery but if you have completed higher education then you should be sufficiently educated to pull it off.

Agriculture has a long chain of production which includes planning, production (crop production, fruit production, and livestock production), harvesting, processing, marketing, distribution and sales. An enterprising young Nigerian should be able to find somewhere to plug his skills into. You do not have to be engaged in the physical farming itself to be involved in the economy of agriculture in Nigeria.

Furthermore, agricultural methods in Nigeria’s rural areas are largely primitive and if you are equipped with some capital and the right education you can do wonders.

One thing I am sure about is that there is vast potential in agriculture and one piece of cheering news is that government at the state and national levels in Nigeria are allocating resources to implement agricultural reforms in Nigeria. One of their problems is that not enough young people are tapping into their programmes.

Ugochukwu Ukwuegbu
MD, Caseray Solutions Limited