By Alex Elvis
The experience from a recent visit to Wells Hosa Greenhouse farm also known as Greenhouse Farm in Edo State narrates a success story about Nigeria being a leading food producer in the world if only such project is replicated in other parts of the country. No doubt this initiative by the Edo-borned business mogul, Captain Wells Hosa Okunbo holds potential in meeting food need of Nigerians and creating jobs for the teeming unemployed youths in the country.
It is not out of point to therefore states that with this technology-driven farming initiative, Nigeria, just as many other nations of the world, might have just found another solution to avert a looming food crisis in the future as predicted by experts.
It is not, however, overstatement to state that greenhouse farming technology has the potentials to create potentially massive revenue that can surpass crude oil if Nigeria is ready to invest on genuine farmers and not portfolio farmers, said Retson Tedheke a commercial farmer in Nasarawa State.
In a time of continuous change and development with high concern for security, health, the environment and resources, all year round cropping, longer growing season, while still maintaining low cost per square feet with high yields, Nigeria needs this kind of initiative, and the brain behind the initiative, Captain Wells Hosa Okunbo must be commeneded.
The good news, however, is that this technology driven farm, which was established four years ago, had grown in lips and bounds and now exports its products to United Kingdom, France, Holland and other countries. This is an allusion to my earlier stand that Nigeria has the potentials to feed the world if adequate provisions are given to farmers with policies that encourage investors in the sector.
This is so as greenhouse farming technology does not only provide better alternative for food security but also reduce the risk of clashes between farmers and herders, a situation that has forced Nigerians in their millions out of farming in the last few years, resulting to a drastic drop in the food production and supply chains.
The challenge of food security has remained daunting in Nigeria recent in times, especially for government and commercial farmers amid the ever exploding population of the country, farmers and herdsmen clashes resulting in food shortage, poverty and hunger in the country.
To this end, food security, job creation through agriculture as a major policy of diversification, has in the last few years remained in the front burner of the Buhari’s administration, which has continued to dominate most parts of the Government’s Green Alternative policy roadmap.
The greenhouse farms which seat on 27 hectares of land currently grows varieties of fruits and vegetables, including roma, cherry, beef tomatoes, bell pepper, habanero pepper and cucumber and mention a few.
Of course there are also greenhouse farms spread across the country but only a few have lived to see the light of the day due to numerous challenges the average Nigerian farmer is faced with.
From creating employment to battling insecurities, creating market opportunities to providing vocational educational opportunities, creating communal connections to building inter communal trust, processing to supporting food security and export opportunities, greenhouse farm hold the potential towards food sufficiency and jobs creation to the teeming unemployed youths.
Honestly, greenhouse technology in an enclose environment prevents intruders to come in and eat up your crops or the kind of issues we have in open field agriculture. Yes, if government decide to enter this kind of business the country will be better for it; it is the way to go.
The growing concern by stakeholders and agro-based investors beyond food production and jobs creation are also the benefit of encouraging farming in an enclosure also called greenhouse farming or hydroponic farming.
The biggest advantage in green house farming lies in the potentials to utilize space. For example, if one needs 100 hectares for cattle and use the same land for crops on greenhouse, it shows that one can get the full potential and capacity of what was planted. If few states invest in this it can feed the entire country.
Greenhouse Farms Challenges
Mr Clement Albert Umoru, Business Development and Marketing Manager of the farm has these to say on the challenges faced, “Of course every business has its ups and down. For a hydroponic farm of this nature our biggest challenge is actually acquiring soluble fertilizers. We want to use the medium to appeal government to ease the legislation on the ban on fertilizers in Nigeria because if we must go far on this bio-tech agriculture we need soluble fertilizers for this kind of farming.
“No doubt, the future of this country is fully agriculture because we have not tapped up to 10% of the potential in agriculture in the country. We also want to see how we make the name and bring other people on board so we can replicate the same in the state and other people can join.
In term of replication he said, “Other states and private sectors come to see if can they replicate this but of course you know everything involves money. We need to maximize what we have here first. So when we see people commit money into it to show your seriousness for partnership. We have had some states show interest but when they hear about the cost implication of doing full hydroponic they step out but the interest on return is very high.”
He noted that some of teething problems confronting greenhouse farms in Nigeria is the difficulty in procuring soluble fertilizers owing to the ban placed on it by the Federal Government and however appealed to the relevant authorities to come to the aids of hydroponic farmers.
Giving an insight into the journey so far, Umoru further stated: “The farm started in 2017, it was basically construction while real planting started in 2018. We have gone through the learning curved and of course you know the learning curves differ from one farm to another and we have settled for real business.
“As at last year, we were accredited and certified to export our products, basically Habenero pepper, we have the red, yellow and the orange. This business was set up to make money and as you know we are pioneers in the business. Now, we are just working on implementing our 2020 calendar and as you can see we are expanding and clearing some greenhouses so that we can plant some good products.
“Our products are already in the UK, Holland and France and we would get to the stage where we can get our products round the world and compete with people started who started planting it and that is the focus.”
On his part, the General Manager, Bright Okunbo represented by the Deputy Managing Director, Mr Jose Lugo, replicating greenhouse farming is the way to go, adding that hydroponic farming hold huge economic potentials for the country and capable of meeting the food need of Nigerians with the right technology.
“When people talk about replicating greenhouses it goes beyond to buy or acquire it but to have the technological know-how. You need to get the right green houses, designs, right component and the technology. The technology we are applying here is not the same you will apply in places like Abuja; you need to do the adjustment according to the site.
“This is the most important aspect of it. For me, bio-technology is the future of Nigeria. Our chairman is interested also in building the technology in Nigeria by also training engineers for the future”.
Lugo also expressed confidence that Mexico model and success in green house is possible in Nigeria even as his hailed the initiative of the chairman, Hosa Okunbo for being the pioneer in green house farm in Nigeria.
“You see, 20 years ago in Mexico, we started to build greenhouse farms like what we have in Wells farms. As at that time, we had about 2,000 hectares in the country. Twenty years later Mexico has more than 50, 000 hectares but today is a complete different story; instead of exporting oil it now exports food to other countries of the world.
“So, coming here to Edo State is like I am starting all over again, however, despite the climate we are getting results, we can do it in other places successfully with the right technology”.
It is partinent to mention that greenhouse farming technology does not only provide better alternative for food security but also reduce the risk of clashes between farmers and herders, a situation that has forced Nigerians in their millions out of farming in the last few years, resulting to a drastic drop in the food production and supply chains.
Though the Nigerian government has continued to pledge its readiness to partner states and other stakeholders in formulating policies and programmes in the agricultural sector to ensure food sustainability, the concerns are: apart from poor funding in the sector, insecurity in most farming communities across the country has not only left many in frustration but also forced them out of farming.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s key mandate and effort in developing the agro- sector aimed to stimulating economic drive in the country is however confronted with some challenges by investors aside the farmers herders clashes.
However, there are those who have devised alternative means of farming through greenhouse farming technology that is currently gaining grounds in some parts of Nigeria, particularly in Edo State where the technology now serves not only as an alternative to food security but also agro learning centre for prospective agropreneures in the country.
Stakeholders and researchers in the agricultural sector have raised concerned that if urgent steps are not taken by government to end the farmers /herders clashes, Nigerians maybe in for it since most farm lands are either been destroyed by herders and bandits, thereby denying farmers access to it due to illegal occupation.