Oluwadarasimi Adedapo, also known as Farmer Simi, is a soilless farmer in Ogun state, and a student of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) studying Crop Production and Protection. The 23-year-old vegetable farmer tells us about her experience in the agricultural sector.
PT: Can you put us through your journey in agriculture?
Ms. Adedapo: I deal with vegetables a lot majorly because I want to increase vegetables in every household’s diet. I have a company, SIMI AGROPLACE, that produces different species of exotic leafy vegetables and vegetable nurseries through hydroponics, sales of both fruity and leafy vegetables, setting up home gardens, and also training people on soilless farming and home gardening.
I also have an organisation called AgVille, an agricultural firm aimed at fostering a more sustainable impact by increasing youths’ involvement in Africa’s agricultural sector. We have a community of ‘Agrominds’ with participants majorly from Nigeria and Liberia and a few others from Uganda and Tanzania. I am also a project manager.
Initially, I saw agriculture as a general way of life but definitely not a career path. But when I got admission into the Obafemi Awolowo University and I realised I would be studying crop production and protection, I decided to seek more knowledge about the sector and what it really entails. From attending agro webinars and conferences to asking questions from experts and connecting with them, I realised there was a lot about the sector that one person can’t just go into to start solving.
This boosted my interest and made me realise I could play my own part in the sector in my own little way. The first issue that caught my interest was the issue of higher institutions producing a lot of graduates who studied agriculture but are not functioning in the sector. That prompted me to start AgVille. My second interest began when I started my soil-less farm after getting my first grant courtesy of the soil-less farm lab and Weforgood Foundation. I naturally love working with vegetables but starting the business of it and working in the vegetable value chain made me realise how much people consume unhealthy vegetables, especially households, and since then I picked up the responsibility to improve the quantity of healthy vegetables people eat.
PT: Okay tell me about your funding. How are you able to secure funds to do these projects?
Ms. Adedapo: For SIMI AGROPLACE, I got a grant to set up my farm before I started my business at all, so it was quite easier, and the organisation that I got the grant from placed me under the mentorship of an official at Soilless Farm Lab which has really helped me in maintaining my business.
PT: What is the size of the land you cultivate?
Ms. Adedapo: It’s a quarter of a plot and I have over 1000 plants of lettuce on it. I use hydroponics and it helps me to grow quite a large number of plants in a small space.
PT: Okay so tell us about soilless farming, how it works, and the challenges you face.
Ms. Adedapo: Soilless farming is simply producing crops without soil. One can use aeroponics, aquaponics, and hydroponics. I use hydroponics majorly which is the growing of plants using the water medium either directly inside nutrient water or inside substrates (like cocopeat and rice hull, vermiculite, etc) which are irrigated with nutrient water. This tech is way easier than conventional farming. For advanced countries, it’s fully automated with electricity but for my system, I employ locally outsourced materials to set up and it doesn’t require electricity. It’s also sustainable as the substrate can be reused and most of all is that it helps in the proper production of crops that are healthy for the plants, the environment, and even the people that would consume it.
PT: Let’s talk about labour on the farm because your farming system is different from the ones people are used to. So how are you able to let people understand this method? Do you train them or do you have a place to get people who have been trained to do the work on the farm? How do you do it?
Ms. Adedapo: I train most of the workers or I employ some of them who have been trained before. I don’t require many people to work with; majorly one or two persons are fine. So, I get them trained for a while then monitor their work before trusting them with the plants.
PT: Aside from farming, what else do you do; your hobby?
Ms. Adedapo: Aside from farming, I am into agricultural advocacy, majorly through ‘agro-schooling’. I currently work as the project manager of Ypard Osun. Then also, I am into teenage personal development, enlightening teenagers on different aspects of life so they can become better leaders and I work more with that at Teens Literacy Foundation as their Project Director.
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PT: How has insecurity affected your farming activity?
Ms. Adedapo: I have not been personally affected but it has affected some other farmers I get produce from. Insecurity is a national issue and there is little individuals can do about it. I think the only way that it can be reduced and not totally solved is through cluster farming whereby they can easily watch out for each other or contribute to getting security to monitor their farms. But it’s really a big issue for the country as a whole.
PT: Does your method have any impact on climate change?
Ms. Adedapo: Yes. Soilless farming is climate-smart. There are no harmful emissions from the farm; this method helps to maximise water so there’s no water wastage that leads to an increase in the soil water or pollution of the soil water table, and no destruction of the soil activities as we don’t plant directly on the soil, no application of excess nutrients, insecticides or pesticides. It is a very safe method for growing crops.
PT: As a young woman in the adult space, are you intimidated?
Ms. Adedapo: Yes, but my age and stature (I look very small and younger than my age) have been way more of an advantage than a disadvantage. Most of the time, people appreciate the fact that I got involved in the sector very early and I am also creating impact. I think the only time I have been intimidated a bit was when I was invited to a programme to train undergraduates on soilless farming.
I was recommended by someone and I guess he told them quite a lot about me. But on getting there, I guess they were quite surprised at my look and stature that one of them was saying a bit jokingly he doesn’t think there was anything I want to teach them that he doesn’t know. I didn’t allow it to get to me though, I just did my thing and I guessed at the end even though he didn’t so much acknowledge it, he was impressed. But on a larger scale, I have been more accepted and supported in the sector.
PT: Do you have a market for your produce?
Ms. Adedapo: Yes, I have a standby market that buys all the produce from my farm though I still outsource for more markets. Then, I have farms I get more produce from when I need more.
PT: Do you get support from family?
Ms. Adedapo: Yes, I get a lot of support from my family. In fact, they are my biggest support system. My mother is my major marketer, my siblings also assist me on farm and with sales. Though at first, when I decided to settle for agriculture, they were a bit skeptical but when they saw my interest in it, they gave me their full support.
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