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Growing Food Out of Thin (but Moist) Air in Nigeria

Soilless Farming in Nigeria an Alternative Amid Land Losses & Soil Degradation
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Soilless Farming in Nigeria an Alternative Amid Land Losses & Soil Degradation

Tech savvy farmers in Nigeria are using a farming technique known as aeroponics, in which plants are grown in humid air. The practice is not well known in Nigeria, but those using it are on a mission to make it more popular.

In the town of Abeokuta, the technique could make a big difference in a country where violence and desertification have made huge amounts of land unfarmable.

Biochemist Samson Ogbole is popularly known as Nigeria’s smart farmer.

He and his team are growing crops without soil at a tech-based farm they started three years ago in Abeokuta, in southwest Nigeria.

Working to end food scarcity

They say they’re on a mission to eliminate seasonal food scarcity in Nigeria.

“Because we’re the ones controlling everything that the plant requires, we’re not depending on seasons,” Ogbole said. “So it’s no longer seasonal farming, it is just farming anytime of the year, meaning we can plant anytime of the year, we can harvest anytime of the year.”

But setting up the smart farm was not easy. It required startup capital of more than $180,000, Ogbole said.

“We were called wizards, demons, that we are doing something unnatural. So it took a whole lot to try to convince people that there’s nothing demonic about what we are doing,” he added.

Farming difficulties

In Nigeria, about 30 million hectares of farmland is being cultivated, instead of 78.5 million hectares needed for food security.

Widespread communal clashes, insurgency and desertification in the north are the top reasons arable land is lost.

And only 49% of the cultivated land is fertile, a situation that worries traditional farmers like Abubakar Ibrahim.

“I don’t have any other place that I’ll go to farm apart from here,” he said. “And here already the land has become weak. We’re just managing it for us not to stay idle.”

No land needed

In contrast, aeroponics does not require land other traditional farm work. Nutrients for the plants are automatically regulated in a recycling system, greatly increasing productivity.

Philip Ojo is director general of Nigeria’s National Agricultural Seeds Council. He says the government is encouraging new farming methods.

“One very good thing that is actually very important, particularly when you’re using it for yam or cassava, you discover that you can rapidly multiply planting materials that you can use outside there,” he said. “So it’s one of those new technologies that we are even promoting.”

Nigeria’s agricultural sector contributes about 40% of the country’s economic activities. The government wants to expand this percentage substantially.

For the moment, most farmers lack the technical know-how to enhance productivity and do not have access to high quality seeds to guarantee better harvests.

Tech savvy farmers like Ogbole are offering an alternative.