Orija Oladimeji has been incurring huge post-harvest losses due to the unpredictable nature of the “hoe and cutlass” mode of farming he inherited from his parents. His story changed when he decided to adopt greenhouse farming, the first of its kind in his Akanbi Ade village of Kwara State.
“I had to deliberately set up these greenhouse systems due to the dynamics in weather fluctuations that caused a lot of headaches to farmers’ activities in this area,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Oladimeji is a former Kwara-based radio presenter, a public health communicator and farmer from birth.
Amidst the devastating impacts of extreme climatic events on healthy and sustainable food production, Mr Oladimeji said his appetite for climate smart farming became irresistible after he caught a glimpse of similar demonstrations at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
“The weather here in this part of the world is highly temperate and can be very hot. The dynamics of the temperature is something that gives farmers a serious headache. Sometimes it becomes too hot and too cold for the plants. So we need to get the temperature controlled, that’s why we installed this greenhouse,” he said.
Greenhouse farming is one of several climate smart models being practiced by some Nigerian farmers in order to mitigate the devastating impacts of climate change on food production.
It involves growing an improved crop seedling under a protected and enclosed environment where the humidity, temperature and water exposure to plants can be controlled, thereby preventing unnecessary pest and disease infestations on crops planted due to weather fluctuations.
Mr Oladimeji, who is the founder of Ibujeran farms, said his farm output as a result of the greenhouse system adoption has been very wonderful.
He explained that he had harvested more than 300 small-sized tomato baskets this year and that he is making plans for the installation of more greenhouses on his farm.
Specifically, the farmer said because of the well-controlled nature of the system, tomatoes and other crops grown can withstand a longer shelf life than other crops grown outside such conditions, thus curbing post-harvest losses.
“The tomatoes produced here can be kept on the table without refrigerating for three weeks and it won’t go bad because the moisture content is reduced when compared to tomatoes grown ordinarily,” he said.
Mr Oladimeji said: “The major benefits of greenhouse setups is that a farmer can predict products output once he goes by the due procedures.”
However, he noted that the major constraints for greenhouse set up is the managerial skills (from top to low management level), high cost of seeds and that farmers will have to invest in training employees if they want them to work in the greenhouse.
“Many don’t know what a greenhouse is,” he said. “They don’t know how to heap the bags. They are only used to heaping outside generally. Knowledge for this is very scanty.
“As you can see we treat and bag our soils. We fry (burn) the soil to reduce the pathogen level, then mix it with manure at the point of frying before bagging it in quantities at specific distances before planting our improved seedlings.
“Finance and government policies are also major challenges we face, because each of these greenhouse setups you are seeing are in millions of naira,” he added.
Climate change an ‘enemy to Nigerian farmers’
Many farmers, including those interviewed for this report, have posited that a switch from the usual traditional ways of farming to a more sustainable agricultural practices became necessary in order to avert the traumatic experiences of extreme climatic events such as flooding, droughts and weather fluctuations that have consumed a large chunk of farmlands, coupled with the perennial farmer-herder clashes in the country.
Analysis by SBMIntel, an Africa focused research firm, revealed that about 79 per cent of Nigerian farmers that grow fruits, vegetables, cassava and maize were estimated to have been affected by the ravaging effects of extreme climatic events (drought and flooding) in 2020.
The research which was conducted in seven states of the country showed that the harvests of 26.3 per cent of Nigerian farmers were greatly affected by extreme weather conditions.
Of the seven states surveyed, the report noted that the majority of the respondents (73.7 % of farmers) had their farms in the South-west States, 10.5 per cent had their farms in Benue and the remaining 15.9 per cent were equally distributed between Nasarawa, Osun and Katsina states respectively.
While this subsist, several farmers in Kwara and Nasarawa states who shared their experiences with PREMIUM TIMES said the switch to climate-smart models such as integrated agriculture, sack farming, greenhouse farming, hydroponics among others have significantly improved their yield and, in turn, their livelihoods.
Like Mr Oladimeji, Tosin Olonijolu, an integrated farm manager at Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority (LNRBDA), said climate change manifestation pushed them to embrace integrated agriculture.
“What led us to an integrated system of agriculture is the effect of climate change on Agricultural productivity vis-a-vis the explosion of population growth.,”
He said due to climate change effects, food production in Nigeria has been growing at a slower pace while the population keeps increasing at a geometric progression.
“We want to use our current model of agricultural practice (integrated farming) to let people know that they can run their agricultural activities effectively and efficiently while causing less havoc to the environment,” he added.
The farm manager said most agricultural waste generated is carbon oriented and that if not properly harnessed, it gets liberated into the atmosphere increasing the atmospheric temperature which leads to climate change.
“The major goal is to promote zero waste production where any agricultural waste that is produced is being recycled in the farm for other usage,” he added.
The farmer explained that the practice is a specialised system of mixed farming that involves growing of different crops and rearing of livestock (cattle, goats, sheepskin, pigs, poultry birds) on the same farmland devoid of the usage of any inorganic inputs (fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides).
In this model, he said all agricultural waste produced on the farm is recycled on the farm for the benefit of other segments of the farm.
“Animal waste often collected from the ranch and poultry are processed into organic manures to boost crop yields healthily, while plant leftovers such as husks from maize and sorghum plants are processed to feed the animals,” Mr Olonijolu said.
Also, he said instead of flushing off fish pond waters, they are collected and used as fertigation to irrigate crops during drought on the farm.
Fertigation is explained as the application of fertilizer with irrigation water.
With this, the farmer said they are able to grow significant staple crops like maize, sorghum, yams and soybeans all-year-round.
“We have been able to harness our livestock waste and use them as organic fertilizers in the process of recycling,” Mr Olonijolu said, adding that by next year, they hope to be able to use livestock waste to generate energy (biogas concept).
Sack or bag farming
Another climate-smart model being adopted by the LNRBDA farmers is the sack farming practice.
“When we realised that one of the causes of the clashes between herders and crop farmers has been linked to climate change due to scarce resources to satisfy our ever increasing unlimited human needs, we conceptualize sack farms of yams and other crops,” Mr Olonijolu said.
Sack farming entails growing a wide-range of food crops in soil-filled bags within a limited space of an environment, where much crop production can be done on small expanses of land.
Akanbi Mohammed, one of the farmers at LNRBDA, said sack farming affords them the ability to grow yams all year round.
“We don’t buy sacks since we have poultry, so we make use of poultry feed sacks to grow our yams, then irrigate them with wastewater from our fish ponds, ” Mr Mohammed said.
He said the major challenge a farmer will face is the fact that the farmer will have to fill up all the sacks with a good soil and create stakes for the yam tendrils to climb as it sprouts.
“Unlike the regular yam mounds, a farmer will not face much trouble of weeding, and weeds that will grow on the sacks won’t pose much stress on the crops planted,” he added.
He said the beauty of sack farming is that it poses less stress and it helps to maximize the uses of the land when compared to yams planted on soil hips.
Just like farmers at the LNRBDA integrated farm, the Nigeria Farmers Group and Cooperative Society at Gaate community of Nasarawa state are also using a similar model to grow a wide range of agricultural commodities and highly nutritious livestock grasses all year round.
In addition to this, the NFGCS farmers delved into the hydroponic model of growing nutritious livestock feeds (cattle and sheep) in the ranch all year round.
The farmers said the concept of a hydroponic farm is that water is substituted for soil, and that they make use of baskets to grow substantial quantities of grains (maize, rice, sorghum) within a small area mainly to feed their cows.
“We have planted over 700 baskets like this, and every seven days, we harvest these grasses to feed the cows,” Retson Tedekhe, the farm manager said.
He said when they plant about 1 kilogram of maize or rice in a basket, after seven days, a cow will be able to eat everything from the roots, to the seeds and to the sprouted leaves.
“These plants are of very high nutrients for the animals and help to restrict the movement of our cows, thus preventing them from eating up crops planted,” he said.
He said if a kilogram of maize is planted in a basket, it multiplies to about 6-10 kg on harvest to feed the cows.
He said these plants can be harvested, processed, dried and stored in a food bank to feed cows all through.
Awoniyi Olabisi, a commercial agriculture specialist with LNRBDA, said the climate smart model is the most appropriate thing for farmers to do now because farmers don’t have control over the weather.
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“Climate smart Agriculture are Agricultural practices or farming systems that we can use irrespective of the weather; whether there is drought or flood,” he said.
Mr Olabisi said the advent of greenhouses is one of the ways to practice climate smart agriculture because temperature, insects and water application can be effectively controlled.
Lawal Maroof, an integrated water resource management deputy director with LNRBDA, said many farmers are still suffering because they still keep to the usual traditional ways of farming even when the weather pattern has changed.
He said greenhouse technology is an option now for farmers to adopt.
“It is expensive but quite affordable now, farmers can come together to purchase one for a start and with that they can grow their crops 2-3 times annually,” he added
Oyewumi Bello, Principal Irrigation Engineer at Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority, said farmers should adopt climate smart models in order to ensure sustainable agro-systems production.
“Climate-smart agricultural systems, such as greenhouse technologies, guarantee controlled environments for vegetable products. Products from these greenhouses are often healthier and more durable compared to the open field cultivation,” he said.
He urged farmers to also consider water-saving technologies for cultivating crops during the dry season and that there are arrays of water-saving irrigation systems that are available for use across scales.
Also, the irrigation engineer said farmers should consider the use of a closed farming system (integrated farming system) where waste and byproducts of one unit is utilised as inputs for another.
“For example, maggots from the poultry unit can be used as finishers for the catfish production,” he added.
This story was produced under the NAREP Climate Change Media 2021 fellowship of the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism.
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