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Jim Miller, Tunde Atanda, Godwin Asala, Wen Hui Chen
Aquaculture and Inland Fisheries Project
FAO - National Special Programme for Food Security Office, Abuja, Nigeria

Miller, J., Atanda, T., Asala, G. & Chen, W.H. 2006. Integrated irrigation-aquaculture opportunities in Nigeria: the Special Programme for Food Security and rice-fish farming in Nigeria. In M. Halwart & A.A. van Dam, eds. Integrated irrigation and aquaculture in West Africa: concepts, practices and potential, pp. 117–124. Rome, FAO. 181pp.


Fish farming started in Nigeria more than forty years ago, but aquaculture has never contributed substantially to domestic fish production. Poor agricultural extension services have neglected to point out the benefits to local farmers. The Nigerian government invested in more than 50 fish farms, including a few with feed mills, but most of those lie abandoned today. Nigeria now seeks import substitution with increased domestic production through aquaculture and agriculture-based fisheries. The Nigerian Special Programme for Food Security is launching 80 small (2.5 ha) irrigation schemes, which are to include integrated irrigation-aquaculture (IIA) demonstrations. Benefits of IIA include increased efficiency in water use and added value to agricultural by-products. As an example, rice-fish trials in Niger State used a local swamp/lowland rice variety (FARO15) integrated with Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) over a four-month production period. The results indicate significant advantages in rice-fish farming, such as a ten percent increase in rice yield and more than 50 percent increase in revenue due to income from rice and fish. There are many small dysfunctional irrigation schemes from past projects scattered around the country. Communities in these areas desire to use these schemes, but the Government owns the land. Local farmers hesitate to invest in rehabilitation as they fear the Government may repossess the land.Clearly, development of the commercial aquaculture industry and inland fisheries remain the best solutions for increasing domestic fish production and meeting the large demand for fish.


Integrated irrigation-aquaculture (IIA) is only beginning in Nigeria. With poor agricultural extension services in the country, there has been little effort at increasing public awareness for viable integration of agricultural activities, even though the benefits to rural farmers have been well documented during the past twenty years. Benefits of IIA include increased yield, improved water management with multiple-use of water, heightened synergies, increased revenues and poverty reduction. However, this situation is changing with the paradigm shift towards a private sector-driven economy. Projects are now in place to encourage integrated agriculture enterprises, offering hope for development of a more dynamic agriculture in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Special Programme for Food Security (NSPFS)

The four-year Aquaculture and Inland Fisheries Project (AIFP) has a budget of US$6.9°million, and is a component (called Annex II) of the NSPFS (US$45 million). The NSPFS is entirely funded by the Nigerian Government and has five annexes as follows:

Annex I is the pivotal Food Security Project and includes smallholder irrigation, production and marketing of field crops and horticulture, livestock production, breeding and nutrition, aquaculture, farm mechanization and agroprocessing. Integrated aquaculture is included as a diversification strategy to assist rural farmers to increase income and improve household food security.

Annex I was launched in 109 sites in all 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in January 2002, but Annex II was only launched in July 2003, corresponding with the release of funding. The NSPFS programme is also strengthened with assistance to be provided by a total of 524 Chinese technicians (including 70 in aquaculture) in the framework of the South-South Cooperation Programme ($US22°million). At the time of preparation of this paper (2003) twenty-nine Chinese are already in the country assisting farmers in rural areas and several are already working with private fish farmers. The remaining Chinese will arrive towards the end of the year.

More than 70 percent of Nigerians live in rural areas and over 65 percent of the labour force is occupied in the agricultural sector. Thus the programme’s focus on expanding farm activities through integrated activities and increasing on-farm revenues can diversify livelihoods and improve rural economies in areas where poverty is heavily concentrated. The NSPFS Programme empowers communities and farmers through its “bottom-up” approach. Farmers benefit from “packages” of their own choosing and all activities are implemented on a cost recovery basis, with farmers repaying the cost of their package to the programme. The long-term perspective of this programme is to eliminate rural poverty.

Thus, the Government has marshalled significant efforts and financial support towards improving agricultural production through the NSPFS, with FAO designated to manage these efforts. As regards the AIFP, it is noteworthy that the Government has focused its efforts on private sector aquaculture development (see Appendix 1). Towards this end, the AIFP has been designated as the most appropriate vehicle for providing assistance to private fish farmers for increasing domestic fish production and creating a sustainable aquaculture industry. Aquaculture development is expected to take a similar path as that taken by the poultry industry, which today is completely privatised and successful in Nigeria.

Nigeria is also a participant signatory to the FAO 1999 African Aquaculture Review (FAO, 1999; see Appendix 2), which proposed a five-year framework for regional aquaculture development with targets including divestment of Government fish farms, most of which have been abandoned.

AIFP objectives and target group

Because the AIFP is to provide technical backstopping to Annex I in aquaculture, in effect, there are two target groups of fish farmers. While the target group for Annex I is the smallholder farmer practicing integrated agriculture, the Annex II target group are 50 private fish farmers whose principal agricultural enterprise is aquaculture. The AIFP seeks to address the complete value chain in aquaculture including inputs (fish seed and feed), support for farmer-driven professional groups, financing and marketing. Annex II also targets members of inland fishing communities to empower them in co-management of 43 small water bodies.

Need for increased domestic fish production

Fish farming was first started in Nigeria over forty years ago and yet aquaculture has never substantially contributed to the domestic fish production. Government at all levels (federal, state and some local Governments) invested in more than 50 fish farms, including a few with feed mills, but most lie abandoned today, never having contributed to solving the constraints facing the private fish farmers: fish seed and fish feeds. Nigerians are large fish consumers with a total consumption estimated at more than 1.3 million tonnes. National fish production is stagnating at some 450°000°tonnes, due to years of over-fishing and lack of management. Nigeria is one of the largest fish importers with some 800°000°tonnes annually contributing to a loss of jobs to overseas fishermen and a negative impact on the balance in trade. Nigeria now seeks import substitution with increased domestic production through aquaculture and culture-based fisheries-development, which can increase rural employment, improve food security and reduce rural poverty. This calls for a great increase in production of fish seed and aquaculture feeds in the country.

Present fish production from aquaculture is estimated at 25°000°tonnes, while fish production from largely unmanaged inland waters amounts to 150°000°tonnes. The potential for increased production in both areas is great as Nigeria is blessed with more than 12 million ha of inland waters and suitable soils for aquaculture development. In recent years, more investors have been entering catfish farming. There exists a large unmet demand for catfish and market prices are more than double those of other species. Additionally, a number of highly intensive recirculating, closed aquaculture systems have been developed in the country with European technical assistance. Currently these catfish farms and other large catfish farmers are importing some 4°000 tonnes of high quality fish feed from Europe. In a recent study, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) predicted catfish production to increase by 40 000 tonnes over the next four years (Irene Arias, personal communication, 2003). Other indicators support this appraisal as two feed companies are launching fish feed production facilities.

Table 1. Estimates of smallholder farmers cultivated area (000 ha) for rice farming in Nigeria, 2000 (PCU, 2001).

(000 ha)
(000 ha)
(000 ha)
Kaduna 230.00230.00
Niger 205.42205.42
Kano 81.6081.60
Kogi 45.0045.00
Nassarawa 45.0045.00
Gombe 38.0038.00
Katsina 30.0030.00
Yobe 30.0030.00
Plateau 29.6029.60
Kwara 29.0029.00
Bauchi 22.4322.43
Zamfara 22.1022.10
Jigawa 21.0021.00
Sokoto 20.0020.00
Anambra 12.4812.48
Ogun 10.2810.28
Enugu 10.0010.00
Osun 9.009.00
Abia 8.428.42
Fct 6.426.42
Delta 1.501.50
Oyo 0.700.70
Akwa Ibom 0.120.12
Cross River 0.100.10
Total7.941 586.901 594.84

Integrated aquaculture in Nigeria

The National Institute for Freshwater Fisheries Research conducted a National Aquaculture Diagnostic Survey and noted that 48 percent of all the fish farms evaluated practiced integrated agriculture(Ayeni,1995). Fishponds are integrated with poultry, pigs, rabbits, sheep, goats, and cattle as well as with rice, plantains and bananas, fruit trees, vegetable crops, etc. Poultry was the most popular integration as 50 percent of the fishponds were associated with chicken farming. This was followed by sheep/goats/cattle at 38 percent, while pigs were integrated with 14 percent of the ponds surveyed. Rice farming was observed to be the least integrated with fish farming at only 1.6 percent.

Since 1995, integration of fishponds with poultry, pigs and livestock has become more popular and this includes many of the 1940 fish farms in the country (AIFP, 2003). Although clear information is not available, rice-fish farming is also on the increase. In fact the Government is excited about using IIA to extend rice-fish farming throughout the country to increase both rice and fish production. Other benefits of IIA include increased efficiency of water use and added value to agricultural by-products used as nutrient inputs. This translates into reduced pressure on natural resources and the environment. Clearly, development of the commercial aquaculture industry and inland fisheries remain the best solutions for increasing domestic fish production and meeting the large demand for fish.

IIA can be developed through use of the numerous irrigation schemes in the country. Nigeria has 99 irrigation schemes located in 26 States with a total area of 47°000 ha. Opportunities could arise for IIA to be included in these schemes. The estimated potential for irrigated lands in Nigeria is up to 868°000°ha, offering much potential for private investors in agriculture.

Currently, the NSPFS Programme is launching 80 small (2.5 ha) irrigation schemes which are to include IIA demonstrations. At those sites having suitable clay soils, fishponds will be built within the irrigation system to demonstrate multiple water use and synergies encouraging increased production. This is a significant commitment on the part of NSPFS, which can greatly encourage aquaculture development in Nigeria. Ezenwa (1991) identified over 1.5°million°ha of swamp areas in the Niger Delta, and many more hectares of large areas for rice farming in Anambra, Imo, Benue, Plateau, Niger and Cross River States. He predicts bright prospects for rice-fish farming.

Rice farming in Nigeria

Rice is a major staple and the most popular cereal crop consumed in Nigeria with a demand estimated at 5°million°tonnes. Domestic production is placed at only 3.2°million°tonnes, resulting in a 1.8°million°tonnes deficit, which is met by imports. In spite of various policies put in place -including the goal of self-sufficiency in rice production by 2005 - domestic production has not increased significantly to meet the ever-increasing demand. Nevertheless, of all the crops in Nigeria, rice is the most commercialized.

The potential land area that could be put under rice production is estimated at about 4–6 million hectares, but out of this only some 2°million ha (40 percent) are currently cultivated. This includes some 250°000°ha of irrigated rice and about 160°0000°ha of lowland rice grown in swampy areas that periodically flood. The seven states of Kaduna, Taraba, Niger, Benue, Borno, Kano and Adamawa make up half the area in rice cultivation in the country. Thirteen other states with large areas of rice cultivation include Kogi, Nassarawa, Bayelsa, Ekiti, Gombe, Yobe, Katsina, Kebbi, Kwara, Ondo, Bauchi, Zamfara, and Sokoto. Rice production in all states is presented in Table 1.

Rice is one of the few crops grown nationwide including all agro-ecological zones from the Sahel to the coastal swamps. The major rice production systems in Nigeria include rainfed upland rice (30%), rainfed lowland rice (47%) and irrigated lowland rice (16%). Less common is the deepwater rice production which amounts to some five percent of the total.

The majority of rice producers are small-scale farmers who grow different varieties on less than 0.5°ha of land, and produce less than a tonne of paddy in any given season. Still, average rice production is estimated at 2.1°tonnes/ha/year. Traditional farming methods fraught with drudgery due to lack of mechanization are used, making Nigerian rice production more costly on a per hectare basis in comparison with neighbouring countries due to lack of best management practices. In lowland areas, farmers depend on annual flooding that is virtually impossible to control and does not allow for efficient use of fertilizer application.

Rice-fish farming in Nigeria

At present, rice-fish farming is primarily “captural” in practice whereby wild fish that enter the flooded rice fields from irrigation canals and streams are trapped in the fields, and allowed to grow along with the rice. When the rice is harvested, fish are captured for consumption or sales. Visits with rice farmers in Adim, in Cross River State, revealed up to 92°kg of fish were harvested per ha of rice under such conditions (NSPFS, 2003). Most fish harvested in such conditions are catfish (Clarias or Heterobranchus species), which are much sought after by consumers who pay 300°Naira or more per kilogram (1.00 US$ = 126 Naira; 1993 official exchange rate). Tilapia and other species sell for only one third to one half this amount. It is obvious that the sale of fish caught in rice paddies contributes significantly to farmer’s incomes as 92 kg of mostly catfish could have a market value of 25°000 Naira (US$190) or more. In considering an average rice production of 2.1°tonnes per ha with a value of US$777 (US$370 per tonne), income from wild fish adds more than 20percent to the value of the rice to the farmer’s revenues.

On-farm adaptive research trials (OFAR) in rice-fish farming have been undertaken with favourable results in Lagos, Niger and Imo States as well as in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) near Abuja through the Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) extension staff. Rice-fish trials in Niger State used a local swamp/lowland rice variety (FARO15) integrated with the tilapia Oreochromis niloticus over a four-month production period. Results were compared with a non-integrated rice field of the same area as the integrated field. The results indicate significant advantage in rice-fish farming (Table 2). Results could actually be more interesting if catfish were included as they sell for a higher price.

Table 2. Comparison of rice farming with rice-fish farming in Niger State (Yaro, 2001).

Comparison ParameterRiceRice-fish
Rice production (kg/ha/yr)3 0513 357
Fish production (kg/ha/yr)0690
Gross revenues (Naira/ha)45 20059 955
Net revenues (Naira)14 87422 962
- Increased rice yield (%)
- Increased revenues due to fish (%) +54

This technology was extended to twenty rice farmers in Lagos State using the Small Plot Adoption Technique (SPAT). Results from these trials showed an average of 18.7°percent increase in rice yield in the rice-fish plots over the sole rice plots (Kogbe et al., 2000). Other encouraging findings were obtained in rice-fish trials in Niger State, Abuja FCT, Borno State and Gombe State. These were conducted in 18 experimental plots at the National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI) Rice Experimental Farm, Badeggi (Niger State), at Iddo and Gwagwalada Farms of Abuja ADP in the FCT and at the Dadin-Kowa (Gombe State) outstation of NIFFR. These experiments evaluated sole tilapia (O. niloticus), sole catfish (C. gariepinus), sole common carp (Cyprinus carpio) and mixed tilapia and Clarias systems using improved FARO8, 15 and 37 rice varieties. The growth performance of the fish species and rice yields were considered to be encouraging.

The NSPFS is making efforts to sensitize and create awareness of the rice-fish culture technology through farmer participatory demonstrations. These are directed to convince farmers of the technical and economic viability of rice-fish farming in lowland/swampy areas, fadamas (floodplains) and irrigation schemes. So far, on-going demonstration plots have been established in Ondo State at Ogbese with two 0.5 ha and four 0.25 ha plots in each location. In Abia State four other plots have been installed at Okafia, Amiyi, Umuobasi-ukwu and Ogboko-Ozuitem.

A past World Bank assisted project supported rice-fish trials under the National Agricultural Research Project (NARP) for rice-fish research by the School of Agriculture, Federal University of Technology in Minna, Niger State (Gomna et al., 2000; Yaro and Lamai, 2000).

Looking to the future

Development of rice-fish farming in Nigeria can be greatly facilitated through use of the irrigation schemes in the country. Several large schemes are operating in the North and fish farming could be integrated within these large farms. Additionally, there are many dysfunctional small irrigation schemes, originally set up by World Bank and other development projects, scattered around the country. Communities in these areas desire to use these schemes but hesitate to invest in their rehabilitation because they fear repossession of the Government-owned land.Thus ownership is a problem which can best be solved by a clear transfer of such lands to the communities through a privatization plan. Until this occurs, these largely abandoned Government irrigation schemes will remain unproductive.

A big boost to IIA regional development could occur with a framework for “on-farm adaptive research” across the region. Protocols for this need to be established and agreed among participating countries, supported by sharing of information through an online IIA network. Neither rice farming nor fish farming are traditional practices in Nigeria and water management in general is often inadequate. Much needs to be learned from others regarding successful approaches and opportunities developed elsewhere.

In Nigeria we are excited about the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for IIA to create rural employment and increase on farm production and revenues.


Ayeni, J.S.O. (Ed.) 1995. Report of national aquaculture diagnostic survey. New Bussa, Niger State (Nigeria), National Institute for Freshwater Fisheries Research, 106 pp.

AIFP. 2003. Inventory of fish farms in Nigeria. AIFP Project Document. Abuja, Aquaculture and Inland Fisheries Project.

Ezenwa, Z.I. 1991. Fish production through exploitation of aquaculture potentials of the estuaries and floodplains of Nigeria. In Proceedings of the 4th Annual Seminar of Committee of Directors of Research Institutes (CODRI), Dec. 1991, pp. 49–60. Lagos, CODRI.

FAO. 1999. Africa Regional Aquaculture Review. Proceedings of a workshop held in Accra, Ghana, 22–24 September 1999. CIFA Occasional Paper No. 24. Accra, FAO, 50 pp.

Gomna, A.K., Yaro, I. & Lamai, S.L. 2000. Evaluation of the growth performance yield and survival of Oreochromis niloticus at different stocking densities in rice-cum-fish culture system. Journal of Science, Technology and Mathematics Education (JOSTMED) 3(1): 149–155.

NSPFS. 2003. Mission Report/Fisheries, 21 September – 6 October 2003. Imo, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ondo and Kogi States. Fisheries Team. Lagos, Special Programme for Food Security, 19 pp.

PCU. 2001. Proposal for Vietnamese assistance with rice production in Nigeria. PCU Annual Crop Production Figures 2001. Abuja, Nigeria, Project Coordinating Unit, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Yaro, I. 2001. Feasibility of adopting integrated rice-cum-fish culture system to enhance the development of conventional aquaculture participation in Niger State. In A.A. Eyo & E.A. Ajao, eds. Proceedings of the Fisheries Society of Nigeria (FISON), pp. 31–36.

Yaro, I. & Lamai, S.L. 2000. Determination of optimum stocking density of the fingerlings of the Nile tilapia, Oreochromis niloticus, in rice-cum-fish culture in Niger State, Nigeria. Journal of Nigerian Association of Teachers of Technology 3(2): 528–536.

Appendix 1
Summary of the Aquaculture and Inland Fisheries Project Nigeria, 2003 (AIFP, 2003)

The project is designed to increase the output of the country’s inland freshwater resources. It will provide technical assistance to fish farmers and farmers living around the country’s reservoirs and dams to provide them with technologies for increasing fish production, leading to improved food security. The project will start by quantifying and qualifying the country’s surface water resources while initiating an immediate programme of stocking under-utilised reservoirs and training neighbouring communities in improved management techniques. The project will also establish a favourable environment for the development of fisheries support services (i.e., seed and feed suppliers) as well as facilitate credit for project beneficiaries. At the end of the project, a sample of 43 dams and reservoirs will be under improved management resulting in at least a 50 percent increase in output. There will also be a core of 50 small-medium scale commercial fish farms producing ten times more than the current national average aquacultural production. The project will also assist with capacity building for the Federal Department of Fisheries and its sister institutions, providing formal and on-the-job training.
  1. Increased job opportunities in rural areas
  2. Food security and poverty alleviation
  3. Reduction in rural-urban drift
  4. Better use of Nigeria’s water and other natural resources
  5. Popularisation of aquaculture and culture-based fisheries as vehicles for improved domestic fish production
  6. Increased availability of fish, especially in those areas not having ready access to current supplies
  7. Capacity building at the Federal, State and local levels
Development Objective
Improved freshwater fish production and food security through increased aquacultural output including greater harvests from fish farms and culture-based fisheries.
Immediate Objectives
  1. To quantify and evaluate the country’s fish farms, hatcheries and other aquatic resources with fish production potential and develop a monitoring system
  2. To optimise the output from the country's dams, reservoirs and lakes through the adoption of improved culture-based fishery techniques
  3. To establish a core of small-/medium-scale commercial fish farms complete with necessary private sector support services including hatcheries and feed mills
  1. Comprehensive inventory of the country’s aquatic resources indicating high priority areas for development
  2. Information compiled for inventory available in an interactive database
  3. Six pilot dams stocked and communities trained in post-stocking management
  4. Detailed description of the country’s dams, reservoirs and lakes including present situation and potential
  5. Methodologies for enhanced management of, and production from, these resources
  6. Thirty-seven dams or reservoirs having improved harvests through adoption of recommended management methodologies
  7. Methodologies for economically viable small-/medium-scale commercial fish farming
  8. Functioning private sector support services including hatcheries and feed mills
  9. Credit available for small-/medium-scale fish farmers and support services
  10. A self-sufficient core of 50 small-/medium-scale commercial fish farms actively supporting NAFFA, FISON and similar producer support groups
Direct Beneficiaries :93 sites and 1 350 families
Indirect beneficiaries :1 770 communities and 53 100 families
Staff time :73 person years
Project period :4.25 years
Project budget :US$6 989 615

Appendix 2
African Regional Aquaculture Review Strategy 1999 (FAO, 1999)

- Initiate reduction of number of government stations
- Focus effort on selected areas
- Promote Farmers’Associations
- Promote farmer-to-farmer communication
- Focus on limited number of culture organisms
- Focus on locally available inputs and existing technology
- Improve national coordination
- Develop demand-driven research agendas through improved linkages with development
- Increase involvement of universities
- Establish informal exchanges
- Increase use of Farmers’Associations for collecting statistics
Within 1 Year
- Evaluate national training needs and capacity at all levels
- Incorporate social, cultural and economic aspects into research agendas
- Establish national information network
- Initiate national research programme on brood stock management
- Organize a regional feasibility study on credit for large-scale enterprises
- Organize annual meeting of African Aquaculture Group together with FAO
Within 2 Years  
- Establish aquaculture development policy including privatisation of fingerling
- Production, focused extension and participatory approach
- Create national Aquaculture Advisory Committee
- Select and retain stations for research and training (government funding)
- Establish national brood stock management programme
- Initiate regional research programme on brood stock management
- Develop socio-economic indicators of impact
- Promote private sector involvement and better management through long-term lease.
- Organize regional specialized training courses for commercial entrepreneurs
- Privatise seed supply for medium-to large-scale enterprises
- Initiate national and regional research programmes on formulated feed quality, involving government and private sector
Within 3 Years  
- Evaluate training regional needs and capacities (centres of excellence)
- Establish regional information network
- Revise and improve statistics collection
Within 5 Years  
- Elaborate national Aquaculture Development Plan
- Reduce by at least 50 percent the actual number of government stations
- Revise extension structure
- Improve understanding/knowledge of traditional systems and their potential for enhancement
- Develop national or intra-regional practical training for farmers, extensionists, administrators and decision-makers
- Establish regional specialized research network (centres of excellence)
- Establish national database

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