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Smart Farming: A Pathway for Agricultural Revolution in Nigeria? III By Professor MK Othman



The second part of this article was published two weeks ago. In the aforementioned article, hydroponics fodder production, as one of the smart farming techniques was discussed. Hydroponics fodder production is a viable strategy to address the perennial and deadly conflict between the herders and farmers in Nigeria. This fodder production involves supplying cereal grain with necessary moisture and nutrients, to enable germination and plant growth in the absence of a solid growing medium. The resulting green shoots and root mat are harvested and fed to livestock. The grain responds to the supply of moisture and nutrients by germinating, sprouting and then producing a 150 – 250 mm long vegetative green shoot with interwoven roots within a short period of 7 to 10 days.Wheat harvested as feed and hay is a significant source of forage for livestock producers in most arid and semi-arid regions because it can be an inexpensive and readily available feed source. Forage wheat has good yield and has been found to have higher nutritive value and lower fiber concentration than other small grains.
Readers may agree with me that apart from Boko Haram insurgence, Herders – Farmers conflict is the most lethal and perpetual conflict in Nigeria. Unlike Boko Haram insurgence, herders – farmers’ conflict is spontaneous and erratic, which occurs in many rural areas of both south and northern parts of the country. Losses of lives and properties due to this singular crisis are colossal especially in recent times. The conflict takes place in rural areas where news and events are under reported and mismanaged due to poor infrastructure and inaccessibility. The fundamental cause of the conflict is resource use; pasture and water. However, other factors such as religious and political differences as well as ethnicity are manipulated thereby inflaming the conflict to unmanageable proportion.
With this gloomy picture of the conflict, it is certainly the nation’s responsibility to search for genius innovation to resolve it on a sustainable manner. The innovation must be seen to create a win -win result for herders, farmers and indeed the rest of the population.  Can hydroponic system be one of such innovations?
Smart farming in form of Hydroponic system is certainly one of the innovations used to massively produce animals’ fodder in a very short time. As mentioned in the second part of this article, hydroponics is a system of growing crops without the use of soil. This is done by physically ‘feeding’ the plants with water for the crop to germinate, grow at high-speed rate. Example a crop (barley) grown via hydroponics grows to a height of up to 15cm in 7 days as compared to 12 weeks when grown in the soil. Food grown through this system is nutrient rich, hygienic and reliable, which can be done throughout the year as it is not at the mercy of external weather conditions, For the production of fodder, barley is preferred in hydroponics rather than maize or sorghum as barley has a high protein level of as much as 23% compared to other grains with a high protein level between 12 and 19%. In the absence of barley, millet is a better substitute to maize as it can gives 17% protein. Hydroponics system uses very small parcels of land. A hydroponic shelter measuring 5m long by 3m wide can produce 240 kg of fodder for cattle daily. The fodder is also 90 to 95 % digestible as compared to 40% of animal feed made from un-sprouted grains. The advantages of fodder produced hydroponically are numerous; there is an increase in the butter fat content of milk, a 14% increase in cows on a diet of this fodder was recorded by many herders, a 21 % minimum increase in milk production over regular cows were noted and increase in appetite was similarly observed while female animals were observed to come on heat quicker with fodder produced using hydroponic system.
Greenhouse technology is another smart farming technique with high potential in Nigeria. Greenhouse offers golden opportunity to farmers in Nigeria and elsewhere for crops growing anytime of the year and makes the maximum use of land. The greenhouse technology provides plants exactly what they need – a perfect climate, a right amount of sunlight, nutrition, exact amounts of water, carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, proper ventilation and hostility to pests and diseases. The other benefits are that crops of good quality and higher yield can be grown, water requirement is lower compared to crops grown in open space, while the low labor-intensive method helps in controlling pests and diseases. Farmers can achieve 8 – 10 times yield of crops as compared to the open crop cultivation.
Greenhouses are equipped with screening installations, heating, cooling, and lighting and may automatically be controlled by a computer system. The transparent materials used for a greenhouse act as a barrier to air flow and is used for trapping energy, warming the air near the ground and preventing it from rising and flowing away. Glasshouses are used for growing some crops throughout the year such as lettuce and other vegetables. Crops are protected against adverse climatic conditions such as wind, cold, dust storms and blizzards, precipitation, excessive radiation, extreme temperatures, insects and diseases.  Light and temperature control allows glasshouses to turn in arable land into cultivable land and can be useful for crops production where such crops cannot survive the environmental condition especially in the harsh deserts. The closed environment of a glasshouse has its own unique requirements, compared with outdoor production, pests and disease infestations and extremes of heat and humidity, are also controlled. Glasshouses are often used for growing vegetables, fruits and flowers. Also, glasshouse production require relatively small amount of area compared with field-grown produce and, the return on investment can be good if the requisite markets can be found. Glasshouse-grown vegetables cannot compete with comparable field-grown crops based on price; therefore, Glasshouse-grown vegetables often are marketed to buyers based on superior quality and off- season availability.
In Nigeria, the use of greenhouses has been confined to research institutes and tertiary institutions where they are often used for on-going research. Private ownership of greenhouses is not too popular until recent years when Dizengoff West Africa Nigeria, a member of the United Kingdom Balton CP Group and few of the organizations have introduced greenhouse farming system into the Nigerian market. Although, past and present crops of Nigerian leadership have repeatedly restated Government commitment to the food security programmes. They have not been able to harness greenhouse farming as one of the many options that have been used elsewhere which could possibly be introduced in the Nigerian environment. As such, greenhouse farming is grossly underutilized/popularized and there is need for government to invest more in this agricultural sector. This will certainly make Nigeria a self-sufficient nation in the area of food production especially in areas like Vom in Plateau State. Plateau has been identified as a place where many exotic plants such as Passion fruit, Irish potatoes, Cabbage, Roses, other ornamentals, Turnip and Strawberries can be grown because of the temperate nature of the Jos – plateau climate. However, greenhouse technology can be adopted in every part of Nigeria both in urban and rural areas, which will certainly creates a pathway for the country to be one of the leading nations in food production.
Greenhouse technology is handy for increase productivity and poverty alleviation but not accessible to many Nigerians because of prohibitive cost. This prohibitive cost of construction and maintenance of the convectional greenhouse is one of the major reasons why many people became aloof to the technology. This is because majority of Nigerian farmers are peasant farmers and cannot venture into the business of greenhouse farming without support from government in form of grants and/or subsidy.
Obviously, this astronomical cost makes it discouraging to most Nigerians thereby making the technology unpopular. This teething problem associated with conventional greenhouse made Researchers in National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services (NAERLS), one of the research centres of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria to source for locally made materials to construct the greenhouse. The feat was achieved and a greenhouse was constructed. Although, not all the materials were locally available but the significant percentage of the materials were locally sourced. The cost implications of the locally made greenhouse are half the price of the conventional/imported materials of the standard greenhouse. The locally made greenhouse is 30 by 12m2, which can contain 1,056 stands of tomatoes.
In conclusion, the development of low cost greenhouse technology and hydroponics by NAERLS have offered opportunity to the majority of the Nigerian  farming population to enhance their productivity for food security and income generation. Fortunately, NAERLS is ready to partner with relevant agencies to train farmers on the acquisition and management of greenhouse technology. Governments at local, state and federal levels should extend their support to this improved method of crop production. This is way; Nigeria may be on a path for green/agricultural revolution as the nation marches toward the year 2050 when it will be expected to have 450 million people.
Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.

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