The world is embracing modern technologies in food production. Agronomics experts have continued to wonder if Nigeria, with its potential to produce foods, feed its large population and export for foreign exchange (forex) gains, would ever tackle its food crisis, considering vast lands, which have remained forests and hide outs for criminals who pose security threats to the country, and the continued use of hoes and cutlasses by farmers in many communities.
There is a new farming system that can deal with the problems of oil spillage in the Niger Delta and revolutionise agriculture in that area; it is called hydroponics. With lands that are expensive, what is in the mind of an average farmer is how to maximise it, and it is hydroponics, which can grow crops soillessly and vertically in commercial quantity, that provides the potential to addressing the problem of food insecurity in the country.
The technology, if commercialised, can create thousands of jobs. This is because it comes with a programme for training people to work in greenhouses. There is no university that offers any training on the agrotech in Nigeria except Landmark University that just started training people on greenhouse technology.
This form of farming is the controlled environment agriculture or green house, which requires a train-the-trainer programme for people who want to work in the green houses. However, there are trained greenhouse agronomists and farmers who are setting up greenhouses yet there is a problem of skilled workers to run them.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of BIC Farm Concepts, Mr. Adebowale Onafowora, who pioneered hydroponics farming in Nigeria, “this is one of the problems that prompted our training people who will work in greenhouses. The numbers of failed greenhouses too were due to personnel. So we talk to them and send staff to train them for the farmer so that he can start his greenhouse. The opportunity for job creation in the industry is huge. With a minimum of a million naira, a young person can start hydroponics farming.”
Onafowora said if Nigeria must address food security, there is need to grow food commonly consumed in the country in commercial quantity including fruits, vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, tubers, and rice, among several others. This is where government needs to come in because 80 per cent of the beef consumed in Lagos comes from the North. The largest cattle market in Nigeria is in Mubi Town, Adamawa State, and most of the animals that leave Adamawa for Kara region, in northern Togo, Lagos and other places come from Niger, Cameroon, and as far as Mali, before they are sold.
He stated that Lagos consumes a minimum of 4,000 herds of cow daily, asking, “where do they come from? Is there any farmer that has 100 herds of cow in a ranch in Lagos? But with hydroponics farming, we can build ranches in feed lots.
“The problem is with feeding, and we have perfected a system where you can keep 1,000 – 10,000 herds of cow in about 100 hectares of land, which is not much for that quantity. The normal prescription is 100 hectares of land. You cannot put less than 500 cows but with hydroponics fodder for them, you can put over 10,000 cows and some other feeds substitutes that can be grown on the fodder centre,” Onafowora added.
An Ekiti-based farmer, Prince Sanmi Adekunle, also spoke on modern farming. He said, “the major challenge we have is funding. We have been on the journey of funding for a long time. We have been helping ourselves to grow, even up to this level; we’ve been having meetings, contributing, and embarking on one programme or another to attract government assistance in moving agriculture forward.
“When we talk about agribusiness, it has a value chain. A harvester of cassava may not be the person to process it, take it to the selling point before it gets to the consumer. So, when we discuss agribusiness, we should at the same time think about agriculture value chains and that is when it is going to add value. For instance, if you are producing and you don’t have the market outlet to dispose of your produce, and make more money, how are you going to continue in it?” he asked.
According to him, there is need for sustainability, which can only come from agriculture. He called on the government to assist farmers with funding, stressing the need to pay more attention to agriculture so that oil can play second fiddle in the country’s economy. He added that Ekiti State has fertile lands and that manual farming is no longer helpful and fashionable.
“We need to go into mechanised farming and increase the value chain so that when you produce, you already know the sectors where the end product is going. This will enhance productivity and the economy of the state in particular, and the country at large,” he said.
Adekunle, who also spoke on the challenges of farming in Ekiti State, said, “they are enormous. One of them is that nobody is getting assistance from any place. When farmers don’t have money to go into mechanised farming, what can you do? We are not pen or portfolio farmers.
“What we need is government intervention through funding. I have hectares of cassava farm. I have gone round the state to assess some farms. I discovered that among those farming, there were no harvesters, planters and reapers for rice production. People are farming manually. And how many hectares or plots of land can a farmer cultivate in a day with such system? But if we have implements and machines, what they would cultivate for a farmer with such implements in a day, 10 people cannot manually perform it in two weeks,” he said.
He also identified agricultural potential of the state saying, “Ekiti State is known for agriculture. Apart from yam, which is processed into different categories of foods, we also produce cassava and rice. Ekiti State also produces tomatoes in large quantity. Starting from Ifo, Igbemo, down to Ijan, we have a river called Opese, where tomato is farmed. Our people are turning to okada (motorcycle) riders because they don’t have implements to engage in productive ventures, and electricity is another headache for business owners in Nigeria,” he said.
He appealed to the Buhari-led government to help the farmers to alleviate poverty in the land through funding, adding that if this is done, it would reduce rural-urban drift as people would remain where they are, when they have something to do for a living, and with potential for expansion.
“But when there is nothing to do, there is influx of people from rural to urban areas, who often constitute nuisance,” said.
Adekunle urged politicians to desist from buying motorcycle for people, noting that such is dangerous; instead, they should buy them farm implements, and help them improve on their farming skills. “We have knowledgeable people but when they have turned okada riders, they become delinquent,” he summed up.