The Tilapia From China, By Aliyu Modibbo Umar

Aliyu Modibbo

The last time I wrote on the “banana invasion”, a handful of my friends, wondered why I am writing on what appeared to them as mundane issue. “Why not write on the burning issues of the day,” one of them queried. “Such as?” I enquired. My friend continued by recounting my enormous experience in government. “You worked for over 10 years in the Villa, have been Minister three times, you should give us your perspective on the political maneuverings going on in the country.”

Now, to me that is the problem. Everyone is speaking too much on politics and neglecting lively discourse on trade, agriculture and similar things that provide the citizens of our country the means for day-to-day survival. “For now, I will continue to write on issues on lopsided trade policies which places our farmers and industrialists at disadvantage by allowing unfair competition.” I politely responded.

One of those major Nigeria contradictions that caught my attention recently, is the importation of Tilapia, a fish which can be produced in abundance in Nigeria. If you recently savored, a perfectly baked tilapia fish at home or at that favorite bukka joint anywhere in Nigeria, most likely it is imported from China. Yes, you heard me correctly, that tilapia you just ate and washed down with whatever your favorite drink is, most likely imported from far away China. My new knowledge that we are consuming tilapia from China was prompted from the reaction of my cousin on the article on the foreign banana importation.

My cousin, who joined me for dinner, noticing fat baked tilapia on the table, exclaimed, “I bet you that fish is from China.” I immediately protested. How can I think even remotely that Nigeria would import tilapia, which is a common fish from Lagos to Maiduguri? Didn’t the Ministry of Agriculture embark on an extensive programme to introduce tilapia fish farming in Nigeria to boost its production but mostly to provide jobs for the populace? My cousin must be joking I thought. But to my utmost surprise, and to prove to me that he is not lying, he placed a call to his fish seller. “Madam Bukka, the tilapia you are now baking, where is it from?” “China,” she responded on the speakerphone. “sebi, you have my BB pin? Send the picture of the tilapia in the carton to me, now.” After a few minutes, my cousin gave me his blackberry with an “I told you so grin on his face and when I looked at the screen of the phone, it was staring back at me! A Chinese packaged tilapia fish in Nigeria.

For a moment, I began to imagine the ordeal the Chinese tilapia had to endure before getting into my wife’s cooking pot. First, I reckoned it had to be harvested at a Chinese fish farm, then it will be marketed dead or alive by a Chinese entrepreneur, who will clean up, sprinkle some preservatives on it, then package it in a box with Made in China boldly printed on it, ready for shipment to us knowing that we buy anything in Nigeria.

A cursory investigation reveals that China is the largest exporter of tilapia in the world. Other leading suppliers are Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand. It is reported that Iran and India have started massive tilapia farming. According to OA Fagbenro et al in their paper title, 60 Years of Tilapia Aquaculture in Nigeria, our country with over 25 species of tilapia is the second largest producer of farm-raised tilapias in Africa, after Egypt. Being the second largest producer of tilapia in Africa, one would have thought that Nigeria should be exporting tilapia to other African countries and not importing from China or any other country for that matter.

Nigeria has no reason to allow massive importation of tilapia to the detriment of the potential for massive tilapia production in our nation. Raising a tilapia farm is not as they say, rocket science. Rather, it is an endeavor that can be done with over 90% locally sourced fish farm requirements and a little aquaculture input sourced locally. So why should Nigeria go through the same embarrassment of having to allow massive importation of tilapia into the country? On a daily basis our fish and shrimps stock worth billions of Naira is stolen from our territorial waters and to compound the embarrassing situation, we spend billions of naira also to import tilapia from China.

Something doesn’t quite add up here. If we forget financial technicalities and just do a simple arithmetic, it is disheartening the amount of money that should have been earned by Nigerian entrepreneurs that we so freely allow to take a flight to far away china or the employment potentials and opportunities that we carelessly throw overboard as it were. Something fishy must be going on here! I think, and rightly so too, that Nigeria as a matter of urgent need should really re-examine its import policies especially in food related items that we have or ought to have advantage in. Since the last time I wrote about imported bananas, I have noticed that instead of abating, more new labels of banana have made it to Nigerian market.

This is in addition to tomatoes, pepper, carrots, onions, mushrooms, and vegetables that are easily grown in Nigeria. If you, doubt my claim, please visit any market, anywhere in the country to attest to this. It is demeaning, it is disheartening, it is uninspiring and it is destructive to the commercial fiber of our country and indeed a great threat to food security and job creation. No other nation that I know of would allow food to be taken out of the mouth of her citizens so brazenly as it is being done here in Nigeria.

We import mangoes while we have several species of mangoes rotting away stretching from Keffi all the way to Ogoja. We are importing peanuts, when the groundnuts of Kano are grown all over the country. There is imported bitter kola and kolanuts when the country can produce enough for its local consumption if not for export. Where and why have we acquired this psychological crave for things that are imported? Nigeria as a nation should step up her act in order to restore confidence in our locally manufactured goods and farm produce.

If it continues unabated like this, the impact would be too devastating to our collective psyche. Driving through a busy street the other day, I caught a glimps of the various food items displayed. I saw beans, I saw yam and I also saw garri. And in a split of a second, I just thought could it also be that the garri and yam that I saw are imports from Accra or Lome? At the rate at which we are careless about importations in our country, anything is possible.

Dr.  Aliyu Modibbo Umar, Publisher of the Hausa language Newspaper, Rariya, was a cabinet minister of Commerce, and later the Federal Capital Territory under the Obasanjo and Yar Ardua administrations.



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  • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

    will be more helpful if you list the number of trade imbalance you corrected when you served as Commerce Minister. These yesterdaymen should go home and get a proper job.

    • I love Naija

      The paid commentator. Doing your job as usual. Well done oooooo.

  • Okoro omode Adoo

    Well not bad importing your Tilapia, you ate it and shit it somewhere and story of your Dollar, But what about this new trend now, My Housemaid is from Philippine and I pay $1000 amount to my agent In Dubai and now the girl fixing my nail is from Thailand. A Nation on the verge of collapse

  • femi odere

    I stumbled
    upon your Tilapia article and i must say it’s another instructive one for those
    of us that reads almost anything without any opportunity or the right
    connection to leadership to effect any meaningful change. Ugwu is right on
    point when he said it would be “helpful if you list the number of trade
    imbalance you corrected…as Commerce Minister. The trouble with virtually all
    you guys in the power corridor is that you never saw anything wrong with
    anything when you’re in that corridor. But some of you will start to point at the
    ills of society and govt as soon as you’re out. But how could you see anything
    wrong when your being there was for purely personal interest in the first
    place. Pure and simple. And I just answered my own question. You mentioned that
    we should be “embarrassed” as a country. Did you not recall the
    president under whom you served tell the whole world that nothing embarrasses
    him and he never bothered himself with reading the country’s newspapers? Those
    commentaries alone would have given him, and you inclusive, the booth in a more
    civilized country. Fact is that we’re a people locked into a certain
    geographical space but pursuing 150 million mutually antagonistic interests. It’s
    a Noyau.

    • ACE

      question is did he hit the point straight on? is it proper for us to import tilapia into this country? i like the response of ministry of agriculture and not the garbage you belched here. sorry, it didnt go down well with me so i will ‘pass’!

  • Foluke Areola

    The Honourable Minister of Agriculture (HMA) Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) authorises and approves the issuance of Distant Water Fishing Licence Category C for the importation of frozen fish into the country. This is the only legal instrument
    for the importation of frozen fish and fish products into the country. This licence however is usually annotated “NON-IMPORTATION OF FARMED FISH”. The Federal Department of Fisheries (FDF) is the Competent Authority responsible for issuance of such licences after approval has been given. However the HMA has placed on hold the importation of frozen fish into
    the country since June, 2012 stating categorically “I do not approve fish
    importation”. FDF has therefore not issued any form of licence for importation
    of all fish and fish products into Nigeria, ever since.

    2. The reported importation of the Tilapia fish species is the usual work of smugglers
    and therefore illegal. It does not have the backing of the Federal Government as it has not been imported under licence. It has a correlation to the almost daily seizure of poultry products by the Nigerian Custom Service (NCS) inspite of Government ban on importation of Poultry products.

    3. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development through FDF carried out
    an exercise recently in March, 2013 during which the cold-rooms of large fish
    importing companies (Paramount Fisheries, Bharat Ventures, African Fish
    Company, C.I.C. Ltd., Premium Sea Food Ltd. Unifish Ltd and Admiralty Overseas
    Nig. Ltd.) were locked up for importing frozen fish into the country without

    4. The HMA has expressed at several fora that the importation of frozen fish especially
    illegally imported frozen farmed fish has huge detrimental consequences on
    local fish production and prices of locally produced fish. In his efforts to further protect local
    producers of farmed fish especially, the HMA has directed a total review of the
    procedure and requirements for the importation of frozen fish and has put in
    place measures to curb illegal importation of fish into the country. These include collaboration with the Nigerian Custom Service (NCS) and the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service an Agency
    of the Ministry operating at all exit and entry points into the country.

    5. FDF has held consultative meeting with NCS and her consultant – Crown Agents on the
    introduction and implementation of the Custom’s E-window project. The introduction of the new Custom’s E-windows operation is expected amongst others to drastically reduce illegal
    importation of agricultural products including fish through our ports. Pending the full take off of the E-windows operation, the HMA has directed FDF to request NCS for her intervention in
    stopping the importation of the banned farmed fish and products into the
    country; and importation of frozen fish without licences.

    6. A policy is also being put in place to effect a 25% systematic reduction in fish
    importation annually for the next four years while simultaneously increasing
    fish production to bridge the gap between demand and supply at an increased
    local production of additional 250,000 metric tonnes of table fish per annum. The objective of the policy is to gradually
    phase out importation to boost aquaculture production in ensuring the country’s
    self sufficiency in fish production.

    7. Under the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) Scheme, the FMARD will be distributing
    inputs such as fish fingerlings, fish feeds, water test kits nets, floats,
    sinkers, to fish farmers and artisanal fishermen in order to boost local fish
    production. Efforts are on to promote diversification and commercialisation of locally produced fish species such as Tilapia. It is important to note that the HMA recently commissioned the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanization (NCAM) Ilorin to produce 200 units of fish smoking kilns for
    distribution to fisher folks under the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA)
    to complement increase in local fish production.

    8. HMA is also very concerned about the inherent health implication of imported
    farmed fish from unknown sources with regards to management practices in terms
    of use of growth hormones and unwholesome fish feeds. Economically, this also
    has negative effects on the economy vis-a-vis market for the locally produced

    9. In conclusion, the observation of the writer is highly appreciated, while humbly
    soliciting his assistance in educating the unwary public about the health
    hazards associated with the consumption of imported farmed fish brought into
    Nigeria illegally. It is hoped that the writer has been sufficiently enlightened on some of the efforts of the Federal
    Ministry of Agriculture in promoting locally produced fish, creating employment
    for Nigerians and conserving the hard earned foreign exchange by reducing
    importation of fish into the country.

    Foluke O. Areola,
    Acting Director,
    Federal Department of Fisheries.

    24th April,2013.

    • I love Naija

      This is really enlightening, and well presented too. So the ball is in the courts of our customs and other agencies to prevent these importations. I’ll suggest that FMA starts a sensitization campaign to inform Nigerians about agricultural products that are imported illegally, focusing on the associated health risks and economic disadvantages.

      Madam Acting Director.

  • I love Naija

    This is very enlightening sir. Well done.