Fish make up about 41 percent of the meat in the average Nigeriandiet, but domestic supply falls short of that, forcing the country to spend $500 million a year on imported fish.

Efforts are under way to improve and grow the country’s aquaculture industry so it can meet a greater portion of that demand. Charity Oche, executive secretary of the Fisheries Society of Nigeria, or FISON, said fish farming is an important strategy in the fight against hunger, malnutrition and poverty in developing nations such as Nigeria.

“Aquaculture is considered the provider of direly needed, high-quality animal protein and other essential micronutrients because of its affordability to the poorer segments of the community,” Oche said. “In addition, it provides employment opportunities and cash income.”

Nigeria could meet its entire demand for fish in a short time if the country’s land and water were properly used. Nigerians have farmed fish since the 1950s with tilapia.

“For decades, fish farming was promoted as a subsistence-level agricultural activity, with thousands of small farm ponds built across much of sub-Saharan Africa, most of which contributed little to the supply of fish,” Oche said. “These ponds did not achieve significant production. However, in some areas, they helped farmers reduce risk, and many continue to contribute modestly to rural food security.”

The Nigerian government is now emphasizing aquaculture as an important business. In collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Farmer-to-Farmer Project, FISON arranged for two, one-week training sessions for those in the industry to monitor the health of farmed fish and develop a reporting system.

Skip Jack, a Mississippi State University professor of pathobiology and population medicine in the College of Veterinary Medicine, was in Nigeria in June teaching catfish farmers, veterinarians and students about health issues related to their fish.

“I taught how to manage animal health,” Jack said. “The catfish they raise are a whole different genus from those produced in the United States, but a living body’s response to disease is very similar across species.”

Oche said aquaculture is growing steadily in Nigeria, and capacity is building. “Dr. Jack showed us the importance of fishhealth to national development.”