From time immemorial, new crises or challenges have always driven new ideas and innovations. Crisis spurs innovation, and most life-changing solutions came from innovators at the worst of times.
History has shown that periods of significant upheaval and stress inspire reinvention to overcome constraints, overthrow old assumptions and achieve new imperatives.
For instance, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a team at Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals in the United Kingdom invented a tool called ‘Black Box’ to treat COVID-19 patients – a life-changing innovation that literally saved people’s lives.
Faced by an international acute shortage of ventilators, the team of consultants, nurses, physiotherapists and physiologists at the hospital decided to try something different – and it worked.
With the Black Box, the hospital was able to prevent sleep apnea, a disorder that stops breathing during sleep, among patients. The team was so successful that Warrington hospital recorded the lowest number of COVID-19 deaths in the northwest of England, according to a report by the London Business School.
Away from the Warrington hospital’s Black Box and on to hydroponic farming. This system of farming has revolutionised agriculture across the globe.
For Nigeria, this can be a real game-changer in ensuring food availability as the country is confronted with multiple crises threatening food security like the farmer-herder crisis, climate change, Boko Haram insurgency, banditry and inflation.
Think of hydroponic farming this way: you’re a farmer, but you don’t do all that is expected from an average farmer. You don’t need to buy a piece of land to farm, you don’t need to cultivate the land, you don’t need to rely on rain or sun to plant the crops, and you don’t need to be afraid of an armed herder invading your farm with his cattle and destroying your labour.
Hydroponic farming, also called indoor or soilless farming, solves these challenges and many more. It is a real game-changer in agriculture.
Still don’t get the gist? Simply put: hydroponic farming is a system of growing crops without soil. In the hydroponic system, the plant roots grow in a liquid nutrient solution or inside moist inert materials. The liquid nutrient solution is a mixture of essential plant nutrients in the water.
The plant roots are suspended either in the static liquid solution or in a continuously flowing nutrient mixture. The hydroponic growing system requires continuous attention to the crops, though, unlike the traditional farming system.
A hydroponic farmer in Nigeria and founder of BIC Farm Concepts, Mr Debo Onafowora, said his company had trained 5,000 Nigerian small-scale farmers in hydroponic farming.
Onafowora said his company hopes to train 100,000 Nigerian agri-preneuers by 2025 in a bid to solve Africa’s food shortage.
“With hydroponics, we use at least 80 per cent less water and 90 per cent less land, and there’s less deforestation. People cut down forests to grow food, which contributes to climate change. You don’t need to destroy forests to grow food,” Onafowora said.
Apart from Nigeria’s insecurity problem which has threatened agriculture, the country’s population has been projected by the United Nations to increase to 400 million by 2050 from about 200 million currently.
Clearly, Nigeria’s huge population and projected rapid growth will drive the demand for food, which means the country must embrace any solution to sustain its citizens and avert a food crisis.
Already, there seems to be a crisis at hand as figures by the National Bureau of Statistics last week showed that the total trade of agricultural imports exceeded exports by N503bn in the first three months of the year. This is as the inflationary figure stands at a depressing 17.93 per cent. NBS also confirmed that food prices in the country had increased.
Growing his hydroponic farming in his uncompleted building in Abeokuta, Ogun State, agricultural entrepreneur, Femi Bello, said he started about five years ago after he underwent training.
Bello, who said one could start a vegetable farm with about N500,000, said he had on his farm vegetables such as kale, lettuce, thyme, and basil – all grown in trays under energy bulbs.
He advised youths to embrace this type of farming, saying it was a profitable venture. He said all his plants needed were nutrients, water, and sunlight to grow.
Where advanced technologies are used, Bello said sunlight was not even an issue, adding that setting up a fully functioning hydroponic farm might cost about N2m.
“Without going to any farm, I grow my hydroponic farm in my yet-to-be-completed building. I may make up my mind to turn the building into a farm. I harvest vegetables within 25 days. And then the farming cycle continues. It is a continuous process because one doesn’t depend on natural resources,” Bello said.
“From one farm, I earn a profit of about N50,000 monthly,” he added.
Highlighting the benefits of hydroponic farming, a food security expert in Ibadan, Oyo State, Dr Akinsola Oladeji, said they include higher productivity than the traditional farming system, prevention of wastage, year-round farming, prevention of pests and weed, among others.
Oladeji appealed to youths and the unemployed to seek opportunities in agriculture while encouraging investors to support such farmers.
He said, “Hydroponic farming is a game-changer, and for us in Nigeria, it is an initiative young people, especially the unemployed, can explore. There are opportunities for funding in agriculture both locally and internationally.
“I think employed people can also seek opportunities in this game-changing farming method. It’s not a crime to have an additional income source.”
According to a 2020 report by the International Trade Administration, Nigeria spends about $10bn annually on imports from Europe, Asia, the United States, South America, and South Africa.
In 2019, food and agricultural exports to Nigeria from the US alone reached $595.5m, up by 93 per cent from 2018. Nigeria is also said to import processed vegetables, among others.
“With massive investment in agriculture, Nigeria can solve its problem of food shortage amid the mounting security crisis,” Oladeji said.
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