For some people, challenges are insurmountable mountains that ordinarily make progress unachievable. Yet for others, the same set of challenges are seen from a different perspective. For the latter, challenges are stepping stones to greatness. Those in this category see challenges as an aid for success, they see half filled cups rather than half empty ones. To this category belongs Chinedu Nzelu, the chief executive officer, Kingdom Aquarium, Ejigbo, Lagos State. Inspite of challenges in the industry, he still sees fish farming in Nigeria as a very lucrative and dynamic business.
For his doggedness and resourcesfulness, Nzelu who is a chief consultant in the fishery industry, has won several awards and luarels both at home and abroad. Since the inception of Kingdom Aquarium, which is over a decade old now, Nzelu has toured various countries cutting across different continents, from America to Asia and Europe in a bid to learn the latest techniques and innovations in fish farming business. And he is not selfish with the knowledge acquired. At every opportunity, Nzelu shares his knowledge with other people in the business as well as up-and-coming ones in the industry.
Nzelu does not only grant free consultancy services on how to succeed in fish farming, he also has the latest fish farming equipment in stock, which he gives out at subsidised and affordable rates to people in the industry. He accuses government of neglecting fish farming and agricultural sector in general. To substantiate his claim, he pointed out how successive governments in the country have been subsidising fertilisers and providing tractors and other farming equipment to crop farmers, but when it comes to fishery, nothing is done. This, he said, is in spite of the fact that in nearly every meal, there is always fish to garnish the food.
This, perhaps, explains his passion for the fish farming business and, for this purpose, the Kingdom Aquarium boss has resolved that in 10 years’ time, he will build his own Aquaponic pond and embark on training Nigerians on how to grow their vegetables without using animal manure so that everyone could have access to healthy vegetables that are not seasonal. This, he says, will in turn capture government’s interest. Even before his 10-year target, in the next five years Nzelu also plans to make his pond a tourist attraction, which people will have to pay to visit. Owing to its proteinous benefit, Nzelu says, Nigerians love catfish; and to meet this demand, he says he has perfected plans to import some species which he would develop in Nigeria.
Lack of government support notwithstanding, Nzelu, in this interview with Morenike Adewetan, advert executive,speaks of how he got motivated to start the fish farming business from a small number of fingerlings (juvenile) and grew them into large quantity; why he is not averse to raising competitors in the industry; the challenges in the fish farming business, and what government should do to help fish farmers among others. Excerpts:
How did you get into the fish farming business?
I wanted to have a small pond in my house for kitchen use, so that I will always have fish to eat because I love eating fish. I went somewhere along Ago Palace Way (Okota, Lagos) to buy 500 juveniles from fish sellers there. When some of my friends come around I give them fish on their way home, sometimes they demand for more and they tell me they want to pay for them and I will reply by saying they are not for sale. It got really bad. And around that time I was having challenges in the business I was doing, and I decided to go for a course on fish farming in Nigeria, later I proceeded to attend a course on the same purpose in China and South Korea. And that was how my farm started. I started building up on it.My experience in China prompted me to go to the United States for the same course on Aquaponics which is a sustainable food production system that combines traditional aquaculture, raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks with hydroponics, cultivating plants in water in a symbiotic environment. In aquaculture, effluents accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity for the fish. This water is led to a hydroponic system where the by-products from the aquaculture are filtered out by the plants as vital nutrients, after which the cleansed water is recirculated back to the animals. Because most of the vegetables we eat are grown using different kinds of manure, for instance animal wastes, insecticide that are not good for human consumption, I’m looking at growing good vegetables that is good for human consumption through this means.
So far, what would you say are the challenges facing fish farmers in Nigeria?
Some of the challenges are that farmers are being left alone, no help from the government, and the cost of the fish meals is really on the high side. There is also the problem of electricity. Most times I buy diesel to power my eight generators. Then there is the challenge of water, I dug borehole at my farm to enable me get enough water to use, all these cost money and government is not supporting us. The little they are doing is not getting to the right channel and the right people. Due to this scenario, farmers are not able to produce enough fish for the consumers, this is why we still depend so much on imported fishes. Then the issue of finance… farmers don’t have enough access to fund even financial institutions are not willing to give loan and their interest rate is highly frustrating. Investing into the wrong fish too is also another problem that farmers face. Poor road network is another thing because most times fishes are transferred from one location to another. At times, due to the poor state of the roads, fishes die in transit and this becomes an economic loss to either the buyer or the seller. So government should try to help us like our counterparts overseas. There, government is doing a lot for them. Government subsidises a lot of things for them as a way of encouragement. They get their fish meal from the right source but here we get our own from importers who are profit conscious. That is why as I said earlier, in Nigeria, it takes over N350 to feed a fish to maturity while in Europe it takes only N100.
Has it always been like that, what was the state of agriculture in Nigeria before the discovery of oil?
Agriculture was the main source of generating revenue before oil was discovered in Nigeria. By then, Nigerians were into different types of agriculture ranging from crop farming to peasant farming and plantation agriculture to mention but a few. As soon as oil was discovered, agriculture was discarded but now we are beginning to realise the importance of agriculture.
What is the place of modern agricultural practices and training in fish farming business?
The fish farming business is very lucrative if you are determined and can also employ the modern equipment in the business. Fish farming is a very dynamic kind of business. It is a business with new innovations almost on a daily basis. This is the reason why I always travel out of Nigeria to where fish farming businesses are done on mega scales, to know the latest. Those that complain of not getting enough from the business are those who could not cope with the dynamism in the business, or those that have refused to change. For instance, new ways of managing the water in the pond has been discovered, so that there would be increased level of oxygen for the fish, and this has drastically reduced the mortality rate of fishes in the pond, as experienced some time ago. Today, due to better management, most of the fingerlings put in the ponds survive and grow to maturity.
In the area of modern fish farming practices, Kingdom Aquarium appears to have gone several miles ahead of competitors. What, in this respect does Kingdom Aquarium have in stock for other fish farmers?
This is what makes us unique. Apart from breeding and selling fish, we are also into the sales of the latest fish farming equipment. We bring the machines that fish farmers use in Europe and Asia to Nigeria so that Nigerians can equally be getting the kind of result that they are getting over there because in business, the rightful application of technology is everything. We have in stock, the polygon fish pond which is a collapsible leather material. It is to ease the rigour of having to get bricks or blocks. There is also the auto feeder which can be operated automatically or manually, making fish feeding easier. We can also supply complete line of pelletizer for fish feed production and also complete line of extruder for floating fish feed production, including project design, installation and services of feed, storage and other machinery.