Blue Revolution for Nigeria

Published on 19th September 2011

Worldwide, half the fish consumed by humans are now produced by harvesting the sea. It is the fastest-growing form of food production in the world promising a “Blue Revolution” based upon greater productivity of the sea than that of land. Unclear climate change patterns threaten the promise of terrestrial agriculture advances to sustain a growing Nigerian population.

Africa spends over $50 billion annually on food imports and food prices skyrocketing, food security is becoming a matter of national security for the continent. With food security a top priority, the development of a sustainable marine aquaculture industry would help reduce Nigeria importing much of what it can produce at home. Furthermore, foreigners are buying African land to overcome the twin deficits of food and water in their native lands. Over 30 million hectares of African land are in foreign hands and the competition for traditional terrestrial farmland ownership will further threaten food security.

Dr. Adesina, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, recently provided a clear and realistic overview of the challenges and potential for agriculture to transform Nigeria’s economy in his comprehensive article Growing Nigeria’s Agriculture: “The days of treating agriculture as a development project are over. We will develop and transform the sector as a business that works for small farmers, medium and large farmers, that will unlock wealth and allow Nigeria to meet its food needs, while becoming a more player in global food markets, to help diversify income for the nation”.

Complimenting the Fisheries Sector

Nigeria’s complex straddling trans-boundary Exclusive Economic Zone (EZZ) is replete with migratory fish stocks that have attracted large commercial foreign fishing fleets that are exploiting its abundant natural resource. The once-rich EZZ is now over-fished and terribly stressed creating a crisis for those who depend on fisheries for their livelihoods and jeopardizing food security for the region. Since Nigeria’s wild fisheries have reached or exceeded their maximum sustainable harvest, marine aquaculture is being recognized as an imperative alternative for achieving food security.

At a strategic level, marine aquaculture may be the only realistic means of meeting the increasing demand for seafood in Nigeria, which annually imports nearly a billion tons of fish to meet the shortfall. When properly planned, marine aquaculture can co-exist with and compliment local and commercial fishing interests as well as offshore petroleum production. Moreover, it would help diversify Nigeria’s economy while adding value to its evolving fisheries, shipping and petroleum portfolio for more diverse and productive sectors.

President Goodluck Jonathan has called for the transformation agenda to focus on jobs, especially for the youth, proclaiming, "Unemployment among our youth is one of our biggest challenges. The time has come to create jobs and lay a new foundation for Nigeria's economic growth". In other countries, marine aquaculture has provided jobs for which the skills and experience of those previously engaged in the fishing industry are well suited. Thus, it would offer opportunities for the transferable skills of fishermen on a full or part-time basis. The downside of competition between marine aquaculture and the collapsing fisheries sector is specious and outweighed by the opportunities.

Fish Versus Terrestrial Livestock

As a source of animal protein, farmed fish are a godsend in a grain-limited world. The estimated amounts of grain are far more economical for producing fish than for beef or pork and on par with that of chicken. Whereas seven kilograms of grain are required to produce each kilogram of beef, and four for each kilogram of pork, only two kilograms of grain are needed to produce one kilogram of either chicken or fish.

In terms of how much of an animal is actually consumed by people, fish also transcend: approximately 65 percent of the raw weight of finfish are eaten, compared with 50 percent of raw weight of chicken and pigs and 40 percent of sheep. This is because fish are supported by water so they don’t have to put as much of their growth energy into bone structure resulting in greater edible mass. Fish are also low in fat, cholesterol, and high in omega-3 fatty acids which helps reduce blood clotting and in turn the risk of heart attacks - all notable advantages over other meats.

Industrialized animal production, with its huge carbon footprint, is under attack and increasingly not an option in a warming world. Fish cages located offshore in deep water have a lighter ecological footprint because the ocean environment is so vast and the water driven by wind, waves and currents is constantly moving. Consider the thousands of gallons of freshwater needed to produce a pound of food on land that could be saved by sea production of animal and plant species not requiring finite freshwater and diminishing land resources.

Furthermore, marine aquaculture is less susceptible than agriculture to the effects of climate change, which promises to be a game changer for how food will be farmed in the future. The rule of thumb among crop ecologists is that for every one degree Celsius rise in temperature above the growing season optimum, farmers can expect a 10 percent decline in yields.

Open Ocean Aquaculture

Marine aquaculture has several advantages over traditional wild-capture fisheries. Since cultured fish are kept in a relatively controlled environment, it is possible to monitor production and predict the output and harvest. This makes it possible to adapt the harvest according to market demand for ensuring the right size, quality, and volume of the fish at the most opportune time. These factors result in lower production costs and higher profits.

Offshore aquaculture is an emerging concept that uses submersible cages deployed in deep water to produce farmed seafood while minimizing the environmental footprint. Farming locations are sited where optimum currents and other favorable conditions soften the environmental footprint. One might think of “open ocean” aquaculture as analogous to “free range” terrestrial farming.

Nigeria oil-rich offshore waters are also rich with upwelling nutrients for growing shellfish. Nestled in the highly productive Gulf of Guinea ecosystem with bountiful natural and marine resources, Nigeria has the potential to become a major producer of shellfish for feeding its population and generating foreign exchange from exports as its vast non-renewable petroleum resources are depleted.

Like offshore fish farming, open ocean shellfish farming is a new paradigm challenging traditional methods in limited, congested, and increasingly polluted bays and estuaries. The open ocean upwelling supplies abundant food to promote faster growth rates for filter feeders and suspended long-lines prevent predation and parasites that impact shellfish farmed in calmer inland waters.

Unlike the Green Revolution, which was based upon chemical applications to increase production capacity, the Blue Revolution is based upon enabling technologies and biological solutions toward development of underutilized marine resources. With the certitude of climate change and the uncertainly of its impact on agriculture, investment in a marine aquaculture industry could be a smart hedge to assure food security for Nigeria.

By Phil Cruver.

President of KZO Sea Farms and a social entrepreneur who is passionate about the potential for the Blue Revolution for feeding the future.

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