Large, long, heavy, with abundant flesh and thickness – that’s how Nigerians like their farmed catfish

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New research provides fascinating insights into the preferences of Nigerian catfish farmers – and it could help guide private and public investments towards the improvement of farmed species.

Nigeria is already the largest aquaculture producer in sub-Saharan Africa, where demand for fish is expected to leap by around 30 per cent by 2050. The country is also the world’s largest producer of African catfish and has around 285,000 catfish farmers – the majority of whom are smallholders. Selective breeding of farmed catfish species could help the country’s aquaculture sector respond to rising demand and compete with imported fish.

To better understand where to focus these efforts, scientists from WorldFish, the Institute For Future Initiatives, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the University of Ibadan – as part of the the CGIAR Iniaitive on Aquatic Foods – conducted a series of focus group discussions involving over 100 catfish farmers in Oyo, Ogun and Delta States. Aquaculture is well established in these States, featuring a range of intensive and semi-intensive systems.

They were able to establish the key preferences of farmers relating to both catfish production and consumption. From a production point of view, farmers in all three States identified the top five catfish attributes as being high stress tolerance, high disease resistance, high survival rate, a robust body, and fast growth.

Some of these attributes relate to the ability of the fish to withstand the effects of various stressors, such as changes in water temperature and quality. Other attributes – considered valuable but less important – were high feed efficiency, a shorter growing period, body ruggedness (indicating they are less prone to injury), and large fingerling size, with these varying in importance by State.

When it comes to consumption, farmers in all three States agreed that the top five attributes were large, long, heavy catfish, with abundant flesh and thickness – a sign that they would fetch a good price at market. The ranking order varied by State – for example, farmers in Ogun and Oyo identified body weight as the top attribute, while those in Delta prioritized body size. Farmers in all three States agreed that fish with a dark color, low body fat, and a large head were their least preferred – even though some of these attributes might appeal to consumers.

“This work provides much-needed insights into the minds and preferences of Nigerian catfish farmers,” said Timothy Manyise of WorldFish, lead author of the research published in the journal Aquaculture. “Armed with this knowledge, we now have clear pointers to strategically guide investments towards the improvement of catfish species and ensure future selective breeding programs prioritize on the most important attributes.

“Having said that, while some of the preferences identified by producers can be targeted through breeding programs for improved catfish, other can be targeted through better management practices,” he said.

Click to read: Farmer perspectives on desired catfish attributes in aquaculture systems in Nigeria. An exploratory focus group study.

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