By Josfyn Uba And Christine Onwuachumba
Angel Adelaja was used to be an epidemiologist but now she has a long, interesting resume. She has worked as a research analyst for the Federal Government. Adelaja also served as the Special Assistant to the President on Wealth Creation, as well as Special Assistant to the Coordinator, National Poverty Eradication Programme. She was a also a research consultant to the Economic Development and Partnership Office, Osun State.
As a social entrepreneur, Adelaja began channelling her expertise towards finding solutions to agricultural problems facing Nigeria’s everyday people, especially issues to do with limited land.
It was in the course of her work that Adelaja came across hydroponics, a subset of hydro culture, the method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water without soil.
Today, Adelaja, a high-tech farmer is the brain behind Fresh Direct Produce and Agro-allied Service, a leading agro-allied company growing fresh vegetables and distributing meat across the country. In October 2015, she emerged winner of The Venture, powered by Chivas Regal, a competition for innovation.
Adelaja spoke to Daily Sun recently on some burning issues in her field.
What were you doing before going into agriculture?
I am a trained epidemiologist but I have always had the love for agriculture and promoting the opportunities available within the sector in Africa. I served as technical assistant and research consultant to the director-general of the Office of Economic Development and Partnership in the Office of the Governor of the State of Osun. I was also the Special Assistant to the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Poverty Alleviation and National Coordinator of the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) and the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Wealth Creation. Under these roles, one of my major pushes was for programmes that funnel youth into emerging sectors, especially agriculture.
What’s your goal in all of these?
My goal is to create pathways to ease other young people into profitable agricultural ventures to empower them with employment and strengthen them to also be successful employers of people. I’m not just focused on agriculture, but youth entrepreneurship in general.
You were one of the 30 entrepreneurs selected by the Presidency a few months ago. What does this mean to you?
I was one of 30 entrepreneurs selected to showcase my business to the Presidency. I’m honoured to be selected over the thousands of start-ups who participated. It is great to have such accolades for our business and we hope that government can work to build an enabling environment for indigenous start-ups, indigenous technologies and innovations to compete internationally. Right now, my company is in a position to get investors to further develop our technology and scale up our business not only in Nigeria but Africa; it would be amazing for the Nigerian government to protect that opportunity by preventing a foreign company from coming to compete with more money and influence. I hope the Aso Villa Demo Day would be the first step in not only recognising local start-ups, but helping to protect them for competitive advantage.
What would you describe as the turning point in your career?
I don’t feel there’s been a turning point. Rather, I’ve been on a long journey where every experience has moulded me and gotten me to where I am today as an entrepreneur.
Who are your role models and mentors?
I have quite a few mentors in different sectors, professional, personal, male, female. I was raised to seek mentorship. My mother is a great mentor to me and she encouraged me to always seek mentorship and would make sure I had close mentorship from my teachers, professors and employers. I have four advisors on my board who are mentors and father figures to me (one being my actual father), I have “aunties” who are pioneers and the epitome of success in a variety of fields such as governance, business, media, agriculture and in my faith.
What is the focus of Fresh Direct Nigeria and what makes it different from others?
Fresh Direct Nigeria is city farming using stackable container farms! We bring fresh premium organic produce closer to market with our container farm technology. Using hydroponics and vertical farming within a shipping container, our container farms are able to grow directly in urban areas. This means that production is brought closer to market or at market with ease.
We are developing and managing urban farm campuses as Nigeria’s first truly “urban farm” with our Fresh Direct Container Farms. Eco-friendly agriculture using less land and water but guaranteeing 15 times higher yield! A 20-foot container can grow the same amount as a football pitch and a half. That is 3,000 heads of lettuce or more every month. This means that if I dropped a Fresh Direct farm in someone’s house today, they could be making their first sale in four weeks time or less.
This is the solution that youths are looking for. It is not back breaking, it is fun, and there is less set-up costs compared to rural agriculture. Plus, there is no headache getting produce to market when growing in the city.
The high-end produce market is relatively untapped in Nigeria and demand is currently serviced through the import market, which is rapidly becoming inaccessible due to the high cost of importation and foreign exchange.
Customers such as luxury hoteliers, restaurants, supermarkets and specialty stores are looking to source these highly perishable products from reputable providers without having to source foreign exchange. That is where we come in.
What are some of the memorable moments in life so far?
The most memorable moments for me come from my childhood, experiences with my teachers, the fun of just being a child, the simplicity of it all. Fast-forward and I think the most memorable moments for me in adulthood have been my work in Osun at the Office of Economic Development and Partnership, working with a boss who believed in me and gave me great responsibilities. It was a phenomenal experience to be part of a team whose goal was to build sustainable development programmes in the state and to tangibly see results.
Who or what do you consider as the greatest influence in your life?
God is the greatest influence in my life, followed by my parents.
What types of books do you like to read?
I read mostly motivational books for business development, leadership and personal development but I read a lot of online articles from Foundr, Forbes, TechCrunch and AgFunder to stay current in my industry and in start-up space in general.
How do you make farming more attractive to youths?
What if we could make agriculture exciting for youth, lower the risk, do it year-round regardless of location, with little to no land, no soil, cutting out long transportation times with the use of a simple technology? Fresh Direct is solving the problems typically seen in traditional farming using container farms. Fresh Direct Nigeria is focused on helping youth enter agriculture in a way that is not backbreaking, is fun and lowers the risk of failure with the use of technology. So yes, we are radically changing people’s outlook on agriculture in style.
What is your advice to young people in this recession?
We are more talented, wise and resourceful than we are given credit for. We just need to use our creativity to look at things differently. For every problem, there is a solution and for every crisis, there is an opportunity. If we can take advantage of such opportunities, we can build needed business that can stand the test of time.
Where do you hope to take agriculture to in the next five years?
Right now, we are an early stage company but we hope to be able to take onboard 10,000 youth in areas that cut across agriculture and urban farming, distribution, sales/marketing, ag-tech and automation and much more.
Hopefully, in the next five years, Nigeria and Africa will be self-sufficient in high quality premium produce.