With about 200 million people to feed, Nigeria is battling with food security and is yet unable to produce all the food it needs. Coupled with that, farmers still lose a significant percentage of produce from post-harvest losses because of poor roads, lack of storage systems among others.
Most farms are located in rural areas because that is where the land is. The markets, however, are in the urban areas and in taking the food from where it is harvested to where it is needed, a lot of damages happen to the produce. Studies carried out on post-harvest losses in some Nigerian communities show that as much as 20 – 30% of total grain production, 30 – 50% of root and tuber and a usually high percentage of fruits and vegetables are lost after harvest.
Nigeria produces about 1.5 million tons of tomatoes a year, but over 900,000 tons is lost to rot.Nigeria’s Ministry of Agriculture
What if farms were located closer to the urban markets and farmers could cut down post-harvest losses by selling to the farm as soon as the produce is ready?
Agritech startup, Fresh Direct, is making this possible through its combination of hydroponics and vertical farming. The company was founded by Angel Adelaja in 2014.
Fresh Direct’s different approach to agriculture
Hydroponics is a soilless technique used to grow crops in nutrient solutions instead of in the soil. Fresh Direct grows different crops in vertical stackable containers and develops its own hydroponic system using technology and locally-sourced materials. This includes the use of metres and sensors to monitor the conditions of the plants in the stacked farm.
The container farms allow people in urban areas as well as people who have never farmed before to grow agricultural produce directly in places that are closer to the market. By using stackable shipping containers, the volume of crops that can be cultivated on a piece of land is increased exponentially. This allows the farmer to get as much as 10 times more yield using only 7 per cent of the land that would be required if traditional farming methods are used.
“It has a lower barrier of entry because you do not need to go find land to start. You do not need a green house. You can start in your kitchen, closet, balcony or backyard.”Angel Adelaja
Since the planting does not require soil, this system of farming is more appealing to youths because the back-breaking work that characterizes agriculture is absent. However, what this mode of farming removes in stress, it adds in creative thinking.
According to Adelaja, “What you avoid in back-breaking work you face in advanced thinking. It’s a higher level of thinking needed to calculate nutrients needed or design a system”.
The startup does not provide educational materials for city farmers, instead, it organizes periodic training to help farmers and intending-farmers get their footing.
Fresh Direct is gaining traction by involving more youths
Fresh Direct plans to get 10,000 youths interested in its Agritech model of farming. Already, the startup has urban farms in Abuja as well as mini-campuses in Osun State.
It teaches people who want to learn about urban farming as well as set up their own vertical farming containers. These teachings are provided in the form of periodic training that are organized by the startup. A training costs between N10,000 and N30,000 depending on how extensive the trainees want to go in urban farming.
After the training, Fresh Direct helps the trainees to get financing for the container farm with a collateral-free micro-loan that is obtained from banks. The problem of access to the market is also removed through the startup’s network of ready off-takers. After the produce is harvested, the city farmer can sell directly to Fresh Direct’s market.
Fresh Direct has raised N3 million in a pre-seed round
Since it started in 2014, Fresh Direct has raised funds from one disclosed round. It raised N1 million naira from Chivas Venture in 2016 in a pre-seed round. It raised an additional N2 million from She Leads Africa.
While players like Farmcrowdy are helping to make funds available for farmers in the country, more lucrative ways of farming like the vertical method and hydroponics can help farmers maximise their production and get more urban dwellers into the agriculture sector.
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