By Ozioruva Aliu
BENIN CITY – NIGERIA has been dubbed giant of Africa but she has not been able to attain food sufficiency for her citizens hence several reports of billions of dollars being spent annually to import food to support local production.
With the continuous clashes between farmers and criminal herdsmen, alternative sources for food production are being sought and one of such is greenhouse farm which is being pioneered in Nigeria by Wells Hosa Greenhouse Farms limited situated at the outskirt of Benin City. The farm sits on 26 hectares of well-tended land with 14 greenhouses.
It is believed that with greenhouse technology, Nigeria can meet her food sufficiency and export to other countries.
A visit to the farm a few days ago showed a facility that is ready to lead the pack in providing the perfect alternative to food sufficiency and reducing the effect of farmers herders clash on food production and this could be achieved through public-private-partnership or multinational participation to achieve quality agro-produce.
General Manager of the farm, Bright Okunbo, speaking through the Deputy Managing Director, Jose Lugo, said replicating greenhouse farming is the way to go.
The farm currently grows different varieties of fruits and vegetables including Roma, cherry and beef tomatoes, bell pepper, habanero pepper, and cucumber and it has displayed the potential of feeding a section of the society, according to Mr Lugo.
He said “You need to get the right greenhouses, designs, right components, 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, biotechnology is the future of Nigeria,” he added.
Continuing, he said “Twenty 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 completely different story; instead of exporting oil it now exports food to other countries of the world,” he stated.
On his part, the Business Development and Marketing Manager of the farm, Clement Albert-Umoru, said Nigeria would become a major player in the global agriculture market if the greenhouse technology can be promoted.
“I honestly think it is the way to go. The greenhouse technology is in an enclosed environment to prevent intruders from coming in and eating up your crops or the kind of issues we have in open-field agriculture. Yes, if the government decides to enter this kind of business the country will be better for it.
“The biggest advantage in greenhouse farming lies in the potential to utilise space. For example, if you need 100 hectares for cattle and you use the same land for crops in the greenhouse it shows you can get the full potential and capacity of what you planted. If few states invest in this it can feed the entire country,” Mr Albert-Umoru explained.
Mr Albert-Umoru, however, noted that one of the 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.
He said “Every business has it’s ups and downs. For a hydroponic farm of this nature our biggest challenge is actually acquiring soluble fertilizers. We want to use the medium to appeal to the 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 terms of replication, he said “Other states and private sectors come to see if they can 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 their seriousness for partnership we are ready. 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.
Umoru stated, “Our products are already in the United Kingdom, Holland, and France and we would get to the stage where we can get our products around the world and compete with people who started planting it and that is the focus,” he said.
The company’s Admin Manager, Kingsley Erinmwionghae, said in line with its vision of deploying technology in achieving quality agro-produce, the farm ensures that state of the art facilities were implored to achieve a high yield of crops for the local and foreign market.
He said the success of the greenhouse and the harvest was made possible with the careful adoption of hydroponic technology for growing plants in a controlled environment using mineral nutrient solutions in water without any soil.