A strategic key to making the most of small scale farming is to diversify activities and to engage in off-season venturing through irrigation.
Agricultural production is not only beneficial because of the effect it can have on the nation’s revenue profile, it is particularly important as a complement to salaries and other incomes in households.
It constitutes a strategic hedge against food insecurity. Our forefathers lived that way. A typical family in those days, cultivated the earth, and also engaged in animal husbandry.
The practice can be revisited as an ‘innovative’ way to support low income earners, protecting them from the uncertainties of the times.
Benefits of diversification: my farm in Kaduna
I practised this while I lived on an estate which had grounds that I could convert into a small-scale farm. I grew grains, legumes and vegetables; operated a fish pond, and manned a poultry.
None of these ventures was big but it was fully integrated and supported our food needs and also helped pay other bills.None of these ventures was big but it was fully integrated and supported our food needs and also helped pay other bills.
The grains and legumes, especially corn and soybeans were useful in feeding my birds while the waste from the poultry was converted to manure for the farm and also helped maintain the pond.
Water drained from the pond was a marvelous ‘fertigator’ as it not only watered the farm but also supplied soil enriching micro-organisms to our Guava and Paw-paw fruit trees and our modest herbarium.
Cast-off leaves from beans, soy and groundnuts harvest could be composted to make manure or sold to keepers of ruminants who found them especially valuable during the dry season.
With support, many more unemployed and inadequately employed persons can get actively engaged, extend their frontiers through off season farming and forward integration to add value and create markets for their produce.
That level of venturing would dignify their lives and save them the trouble of reporting to work for long months even when they are not sure of getting paid at the end of each month.
Official venality is readily premised on the fact that the salary is meager or delayed but those who can subsist with agriculture can choose to live honestly and enjoy food security.
Profitability and diversification are veritable twins
While I lived in Kaduna, I knew a family that survived comfortably on farm proceeds from the extra half plot of land within their premises.
The couple had retired and were both ill but, with the help of their children and occasional farmhands, sustained a snailery, a small plantain and banana plantation, cereals and legumes farm and a poultry.
They often stored their grains till the dry season when it would attract higher prices before selling. Oftentimes, they sent their produce as far as Onitsha and other south eastern and western states for higher returns.
Irrigation: two eye-opener events
Two events I attended sometime back, have given me ideas I would share here on how small farm holders can earn more from their investments:
Engr. Ademola Olorunfemi’s 2009 inaugural lecture on how irrigation farming can help Nigeria attain what he called ‘Food Sovereignty’ was quite instructive. It added empiricism to what a large scale farm manager, Danladi Budha had told me 10years ago about how irrigation was the primary reason their 400hectare farm holding was profitable.
They invested in irrigation facilities which enabled off-season farming. According to him, rains usually wash farm inputs away resulting in lower yields whereas with low pressure irrigation in the dry season, the nutrients remain within the active root zone; providing better harvests than rain fed crops.
Let’s get strategic
So, government can, through the state agricultural development programmes, assist the unemployed, teachers and other low-paid workers to acquire farmlands and small scale irrigation facilities and also take an interest in mopping up their harvests for proper storage to prevent post-harvest losses.
Agric-preneurs who can afford it need not wait for government help. Nigerian government and other estate developers could include the establishment of farm-estates across the country in housing projects to provide both shelter and food security for occupants.
The second eye-opener event was a Raw Materials Research and Development Council, RMRDC convened manufacturers’ expo where I met a small scale fish farmer who told me she had received training at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi on how to process her harvest.
Her first attempt at fish farming had been a fiasco because she could not readily sell off her matured fish. On occasions when she took them to the market in search of buyers, she often had to trade off at give-away prices or risk being left with rotting fish at the end of the day.
However, with the technology she acquired, she could extend the shelf life through processing and sell the seasoned and dried fish at higher prices.
Government can assist in the commercialization of such kilns for distribution to fish farmers and sellers to alleviate post-harvest losses.
Another engaging thought is that such farms can enable a rediscovery of an affordable boarding school system in Nigeria.
About 20 years ago, former Director of erstwhile British Council Kaduna, Late Dr. Philip Adegbile showed us round the farms he maintained within the grounds of a boarding school he had just started at Doka, Kaduna.
The holdings which included a small cattle ranch, poultry, pig and guinea pig pens, grains and vegetable farms, plantain and banana shrubs, and orchards, provided practical experience for students and also provided quality food for both boarding students and resident staff.
Obviously, farming is profitable but it is even more so when it is done strategically. This reduces costs and delivers better returns.