Debo Abodunrin: Growing Herbs & Spices as a Lifestyle

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The spicy tinge of ginger lingers on his throat. Wafting through his nostrils is the fresh scent of cinnamon. He touches the soil and feels the tenderness of the earth beneath his feet as he walks through the maze of spices and herbs. The CEO, TruvisAgro Services Limited, Debo Abodunrin had turned his passion into portfolio with the power of his senses. Funke Olaode writes.

In many aroma-filled kitchens, food preparation is usually incomplete without the spices. Ginger, garlic and turmeric are some of the best-selling spices of our generation that Debo Abodunrin has cultivated for years starting off as a hobby. Almost everyone has a favourite spice and for Abodunrin, it is cumin. At 20, he saw his father’s farm for the first time and fell in love with soil.

Today, the demand for healthy diet has increased the interest in many assortment of spices owing to its acclaimed benefits. With the Covid-19 pandemic, patronage has soared for many of these popular spices for both culinary satisfaction and medicinal value. It’s no surprise that the former Oil and Gas executive and financial consultant would venture into herbs and spices farming on a commercial scale to keep up with demand which was a rarity in his teething days in agriculture.

Having co-founded the first telecoms consultancy which metamorphosed into the first family centric Mobile Virtual Network Operator, he sought after investment opportunity in agro business following a dogged research. First, Abodunrin and his team wanted fast growing crops and then, these must be in high demand with quick turnover. The hobby suddenly changed into a bankable portfolio.

“We further realized that there were not many serious enterprise farmers in the sector which meant there was little competition. Research showed that the herbs and spices industry is a $32bn industry with the projections to grow at 6% CAGR for the next 7 years. Secondly, we discovered that majority of herbs and spices are between 90-120days gestation. Next, we found out that majority of the industrial users import almost all their input. And finally, but most importantly we found a company that was prepared to take our products if we could grow to their specifications and signed an off-take agreement with us. As soon as all these were established, we knew we had a good business on our hands and swung into action,’’ he revealed.

During the lockdown, it was difficult to transport crops across the states due to the ban on interstate travel. Asides the travel restrictions, Abodunrin just didn’t want to expose his farmers to the infectious disease. His fears were allayed when the government deemed the agriculture sector as essential service and free movement was granted. Still, he began to rethink the farm operations to minimize movement. A few lifestyle changes took place. Farmsteads were built for the workers and more storage facilities were constructed.

“We adopted new health and safety measures as well as Covid-19 protocols on our farms. All the above measures helped to stabilize our operations and we are grateful to God that none of our team was infected and our operations went on smoothly throughout the period. The biggest effect of the lockdown on our business was mainly the general economic slowdown which reduced demand for our products and some bottle necks we faced in managing the logistics of finished products,’’ he said.

What started as a retirement plan has extended to big farmlands in Epe and Ayetoro. His education serves as an added advantage as he revolutionizes the practice of agriculture using technology. With drones, he could sit in the comfort of his living room and monitor his farms on his handheld devices.

“At TruvisAgro Services Limited, technology has become a critical factor of our success. We have invested massively in irrigation which enables us to farm all year round, but more importantly we have adopted UAV (Drones) assisted “Precision Farming”. This has been the most significant game changer in terms of our bottom line. By using drones to monitor our farms, we are able to improve crop yield by almost 40%, save time and reduce overall costs by 30%. The drone technology not only allows us assess soil quality; it also helps us in mapping,’’ he added.

Young children are taught in school that earthworm is the farmer’s friend; good weather, access to processing plants and favourable laws can also bring delight to a farmer. However, it can be depressing for a farmer if the crops are rejected due to contamination.

“Product contamination with aflatoxins and other micro toxins are among the main reasons why spices and herbs are rejected at European borders and this is another area that could do with government participation. The first critical step in value addition is investing in the food safety and quality of your product end to end,’’ he said.

Many of the spices he grows contain antioxidants which help to slow down the ageing process, reduce stress, rid the body of toxins and boost immunity. For him, spices are the surest way to healthy diet. While many spices could not survive in West Africa, Abodunrin and his team are gradually changing the narrative.

“One of the most outstanding outcomes of the technology is our ability to successfully grow crops like fennel and sesame in the South West for the first-time history,’’ he said.

Truvis Agro Services Limited (TRUVAGRO) was created as a solution to the disconnect between farm produce and industrial input. with a model that ensures farm produce gain easy access to industrial markets thereby deepening the value chain and enhancing sustainability for large and small-scale farmers.