A farmer weeding his vegetable farm

Peter Uzoho who visited some farms in Lagos, reports that improved subsistence farming can help the country out of the woods

Prior to the discovery of crude oil in Nigeria, agriculture was the mainstay of the country’s economy, contributing greatly to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). At the time, the major export goods were from agricultural products like, cocoa, groundnut oil, rubber, palm oil, cotton, to mention but a few. There were farmers who focused on producing for commercial purposes, and with the aid of improved equipment, they were able to meet local and international demands for such products.

Also then, subsistence farming was prevalent among the rural dwellers as their prime target was to produce for the family’s sustenance. Farming was jointly done by the father, mother, the children and labourers and everybody put great effort to ensure that work was done. There was food security as no one cried of hunger. There was no clamour for employment; everyone both men and women, old and young, were busy doing one farm work or the other and were confortable.

Some of them were into poultry, some in livestock and fishing. While others focused on vegetable farming and were making it; feeding their families, paying school fees, and taking care of other family responsibilities.
Interestingly, the rate of crimes and social vices witnessed today in the country, resulting from idleness was not present. Then farming was not only seen as a source of production and livelihood, but also as a culture among the people and cherished by all.

Unfortunately, crude oil came and the country shifted her focus to it. Agriculture and its attendant benefits were consequently relegated to the background. The policies and programmes of government on agriculture only ended up in mere rhetoric. For many decades only a few gave attention to the agricultural sector as crude oil was booming.
However, as the price of the crude oil continues to dwindle many have observed that it has become imperative for the nation to go back to basics, particularly subsistence farming, to ensure that Nigerian families at least become self-sustaining ones again. Farmers on their part have been calling for more government support to enable them increase their output.

THISDAY visited the Iyanu-Iba Vegetable Farm in Ojo, Lagos, where assorted types of vegetable plants are cultivated, leafs and nuts produced, and farmers there could not hesitate to call for more government support to them.

Along Iyanu-Ipaja/Iyanu-Iba Expressway, opposite Lagos State University Main Campus, Ojo, situates the popular Iyanu-Iba Vegetable Farm, on the land belonging to Ojo Military Cantonment, under the Federal Ministry of Defence. Various Plants on the farm,flaunting their magnificent green leafs on both sides of the road, tell the beautiful atmosphere of the place.Daily, men and women, youths and even university graduates, decked in varying farm costumes, engage themselves with one farm activity or the other. From tilling soil, watering, nursing, planting, transplanting, weeding, harvesting, to marketing of the produce. Located randomly in the farm are huts where farmers use for rest during break time and as shield during rainfall. Buyers in their large numbers troop into the farm in search of their individual customers to buy the high valued commodity.

In his own portion in the farm, he was busy clearing some weeds to pave way for easy harvesting of the already matured green vegetable, one of the farmers and a retired Nigerian soldier, Mr. Moses Attah, told THISDAY that the military allowed them, the ex-service men to be farming on the land to chase criminals away from there, as it used to be a hide-out for armed robbers, kidnappers, rapists and all sorts of criminals.

“The land belongs to Ojo Military Cantonment under the Ministry of Defence. Most of us are farming here because we are ex-service men. We have been using this place while in the army. It’s really because the cantonment has not developed this area, so they allow us to be using it. This place used to be a dead place about seven years ago; it was here you see armed robbers, kidnappers, hired killers, rapists and all kind of criminals committing their criminal activities. So the military allowed us to be occupying this place by using it as farming or gardening to scare criminals away from here.That’s why this place has been established like this”, Attah said.

Attah said they started the farm as a family business but now it has grown into a large business, adding that they used to send some of their produce to abroad.

“We started it as a family business. Like myself, when I come back from work then, I would organise my wife and my children; we all go to the farm to do the work as a family venture, and today it has turned to a large business. I established the first moringa farm in this place. Initially, we had people from U.S. and other foreign countries whom we used to send moringa seeds and other produce to. Now the moringa is commonly used by Nigerians but we don’t have enough to sell again. We produce assorted types of vegetable here, like green, bitter leaf, scent leaf, pumpkin leaf, water leaf, Spanish onion, curry, plantain and many others”, he said.

According to him the vegetables are sold by beds, and the prices fall in the region of N300 and N500. “We sell by beds and according to the size of the beds; the price ranges from N300 to N500 depending on the demand by the public. Women traders do come here to buy and then go to markets to resell.

On how they manage to get water to wet the soil and plants, especially during dry season, he said “We have about 15 boreholes which have been helping us. We have pumping machine that we use to pump water, to water the plants and the soil. We also have manual ponds where we get water when the pumping machine has problem.

According to Attah, labourers who work in the farm are paid during harvest and according to individual labourer’s production to encourage hard work and commitment.

“We pay our labourers on harvest and according to production. It is what they produce that will determine what they get; we do it like that to encourage hard work and commitment.

Speaking on the usefulness of the farm to them, he said, “The farm is really helping us a lot. We can feed our families. Everybody here is a bit comfortable.

Attah, who that the government of Lagos State and that of Federal Government were aware of what they were doing, revealed that sometimes they received incentives from them. “Lagos State government and Federal Government are aware of what we’re doing here. At times when we have seminar, they do send some agricultural experts to come and give us some education concerning the latest development in agriculture. At times they give us incentive”, he noted.

Another farmer, Mr Okey Kalu, found resting in his hut, told THISDAY that, though they had been managing to survive through the farm, but government had not been helping them.

“We’ve been managing it anyway, the only thing is that our government has not been helping us in terms of inputs”, said Kalu.“Fertiliser now is very high unlike before. We used to buy a bag around N4000, but now it’s over N8000.If we manage to produce, customers we come and buy it at a very low price”.

“We’ve been asking the government to give us a permanent land so that we would be able to do this farm work in a way that the country will be having more export goods from agriculture. There are a lot of agricultural businesses we have in mind but nobody wants to support us to do them. We cannot do much here because this land is not a permanent place for us to do a long-term farming; the military may decide to ask us to leave here, and we won’t have any option rather than to leave,” Kalu explained.

“We’ve also been requesting for loan from government to enable us expand our farming business, but we never got any”, he added.

“With the situation of things now, we need to go back to basics which is agriculture, because no matter what happens, we must eat food to survive”, said Mr. Jolasanmi Kayode, a farmer and an MBA holder in Finance. He said he had a background in farming being a son of a farmer and that he never regretted finding himself into farming. “As a son of a farmer I have the background in farming. From the onset I have been into farming; it’s quite interesting and I enjoy it. I have never regretted finding myself into farming. So, we urge more people to come into farming since it cannot be exhausted”, Kayode said.

Even though he admitted having some some challenges, Kayode said that with the effort of the farmers and the effort of the government and other institutions, they would be able to surmount those challenges, pointing a secured land as the most important thing they needed.

“Though we have some challenges, but I believe that with our effort and with support from government and other institutions, we will be able to surmount them. The most important one is having a secured land that we can be sure that no one will chase us away from it any day. If we have a secured land, we can be able to structure it and determine what to plant on it without fear of quit notice. And we’ve been crying to the government to help us with that.

“We also need some other things like wheelbarrows, water pumps, generators and some other little equipment that can assist us in our work. Government can as well, be sending agricultural scientists who will be educating us on issues like pest control, insecticides; how to apply insecticides or pesticides, the timing and all such issues to help us protect our crops”, he appealed.

“We’re just managing it here with our own strength; struggling with our individual effort to see what we can do. No help from anywhere and such can only result in feeding just few people”, said Mr. Abuchi Anichi, one of the farmers.
He mentioned transportation as one of their challenges, noting that if government could help solve the problem for them, they would be able to feed many people in the country.

“Here we find it difficult selling our vegetables because when customers come and buy and they don’t see motor to take them to market, it gets spoilt and they won’t come again to patronise us. This makes our matured vegetable in the farm keep wasting. It has made us cut down on our production rate, while people are looking for vegetable at the markets. If government can assist to solve this transportation problem for us, and we increase our production, we will be able to feed many people in this country”, Abuchi said.