Olisaeloka Peter Okocha's viewpoint
Olisaeloka Peter Okocha Jr., co-founder and managing partner of PS Nutrac – a company which installs aeroponic and hydroponic systems to grow crops without soil, in relatively small spaces – highlights the efficiencies of the system in ensuring food security.
Compared to traditional farming, how do controlled-environment agricultural (CEA) systems help to improve efficiency and increase yields?
CEA systems can either be aeroponic or hydroponic technology, or both. In an aeroponic system, plant roots are suspended in the air and fed essential nutrients in the form of mist, whereas plants grown using hydroponic technology have their roots suspended in water, which contains all of the nutrients they need. CEA systems ensure that people can grow crops in small spaces all year round, unlike traditional farming methods, which are seasonal. For instance, tomatoes take 4-6 months to grow in fields, whilst they only take 2-3 months to mature in CEA systems, which means they can be harvested 4-6 times per year, rather than just once or twice. This is really important because hunger is not seasonal, so food production cannot be seasonal either.
The closed farming systems ensure that water and nutrient usage is tightly controlled and reused, thus guaranteeing very little waste. As crops tend to be grown in greenhouses or enclosures, rather than in open fields, CEA systems also mitigate against the outbreak of pests and the impacts of severe weather, like drought and heavy rainfall.
What role can policymakers play in facilitating the rapid uptake of CEA systems to relieve the pressure of a burgeoning population on limited arable land and water resources?
First and foremost, CEA systems must be championed by policymakers as environmentally-friendly, technological solutions, which are critical components in the wheel towards food self-sufficiency, employment and wealth creation. Recognition will then lead to the requisite enabling environment being created, in terms of laws and incentives, and help to unlock capital from financial institutions for adoption and wide-scale implementation of CEA systems.
The price of aeroponic infrastructure can be a barrier to smallholders in acquiring the technology. How does PS Nutrac address this issue and enable farmers to increase their incomes?
At PS Nutrac, we recognise the high barriers to entry for smallholder farmers wishing to invest in CEA systems, including the significant costs and need for reliable access to electricity. Our team of highly dedicated individuals are constantly improving upon our existing aeroponic and hydroponic technologies to ensure we reduce these barriers to entry to make the technologies more readily accessible. In areas that have little electricity infrastructure, for example, we encourage customers to use solar power to run their CEA systems.
We are also honoured to be a partner in the prestigious programme called, Yam Improvement for Incomes and Food Security in West Africa. As part of this initiative, PS Nutrac is deploying an aeroponic system for the rapid multiplication of tuber crops, such as yam seedlings. The seedlings are all certified as clean and healthy by the National Agricultural Seed Council, and then provided at affordable prices to smallholder farmers for planting. The programme, thus, ensures farmers optimise their outputs with more productive seedlings and maximise their revenues.
What motivated you and PS Nutrac’s co-founder, Samson Ogbole, to stick with agriculture, and how can other young people be encouraged to get into farming – even in small spaces?
Agriculture was a mutual calling for Samson, myself, and our team. Nigeria and Africa at large are, for the most part, not self-sufficient in food production. We identified this as a serious threat in the near future; a nation that cannot feed itself, can simply not progress. Using our innovative aeroponic and hydroponic technology, we seek to address the issue of food self-sufficiency; ensure the food we grow is safe and healthy to consume; and in turn, encourage others to get involved in the space. We are conscious of the fact that this is a journey that we cannot do on our own, but will require collective action.
CEA systems, we believe, are the best way to encourage our youth to delve into agriculture. We have seen first-hand, that the technological aspect of CEA systems is appealing to today’s technologically inclined youth. Vast expanses of land are not needed with CEA systems. Barriers to entry into CEA system farming are decreasing by the day. Young people now have the ability to create wealth from agriculture, contribute towards food self-sufficiency, and ultimately towards national development.