An integrated farm provides a good example of how strategic agriventuring can ecosystem where one form of life supports another thereby spreading costs over several interconnected ventures and mitigating losses.
Agribusiness can be a high risk business. A whole farm could be wiped off in one day by flood; a poultry farm could lose all the birds in a week due to one disease or the other, same for a fish farm and other forms of livestock farming. Fruit trees could be destroyed by fires, diseases or drought. There is no end to the list.
On a poultry farm, it takes about 6months for pullets to start laying eggs and some farmers have experienced epidemics on the farm, just when the birds were about to start dropping eggs. This means that the farmer would have fed them for six months, only to lose them without reaping any returns!
However, where proper management techniques or innovative ideas are introduced, the risks would be drastically reduced. One of the most creative ways to reduce the risk in farming business, open up more income streams and increase profitability is through integrated farming. Some years ago, I enjoyed a trip my colleague and I made to a farm resort owned by a medical doctor and his wife. I immediately fell in love with farming, not only as an occupation this time, but as a recreational venture.
The doctor-cum farm-owner had already contributed his best years to the medical profession and only worked on consultancy while his Caucasian wife, owned a small pottery business on the farm where she made interesting decorative ceramic pieces utilising the fine clay from the farm soil. It was always difficult not to find at least one foreigner at the farm during each visit as they loved to stay at the resort whenever they came on conferences in the city and they would not leave without picking a few ceramic pieces from the pottery as souvenir!
A tourist delight, we enjoyed a pleasure stroll through the shady, fruit groves as we walked towards the extremes where the couple had developed a fish pond from the natural streams that stretched across one end of the vast farmland. The water was clear so we could watch the fish wiggling deliciously by. They rushed towards the banks as pellets of feed were dropped into the water. From this point, the water was shallow enough for a guest to point at which fish he would love to have for dinner. The stead supplied various kinds of meat to the farm restaurant including snails, mushrooms, traditional stock like beef, mutton, fish and poultry; and even game.
From there, we hiked across the banks towards the left end, passing through neat rows of high yam mounds with vegetables, maize and other crops interspersed amidst the ridges. Then we got to the huts. These were actually chalets modelled after African village huts but had all the comforts of modern living on the inside. The quiet wooded areas and ravines provided game both for sport and for meat. Guests at the resort knew they could always get farm fresh food whenever they lodged there and they could spend long evenings enjoying fresh barbecues in the open; downed with freshly squeezed juice from the orchards.
Not forgetting Corporate Social Responsibility, the farmhouse ran a modest clinic where the villagers could come for treatment of minor ailments, child delivery, health clinics and immunisation. Visitors on the farm always found the villagers interesting and their presence also helped to provide hands and security for the large farm holding.
If you like the picture I have just painted, then you can see how integration and creativity can change the face of farming, reduce uncertainty and wipe the furrows off the farmer’s brows. These veritable farmers had discovered the secret of buffered venturing. They would not be floored if the fish in the farm died because they could fall back on the proceeds from the orchards; if the orchards failed, they still had the maize, the yams, and of course, the guests!
Another farm we visited within the period had also learnt to survive and spawn profit through creative venturing. On this farm, they had vast grounds for cattle rearing. Some of the grounds were used as grazing fields and picnicking resort while grains and legumes were cropped on large acres within the farm. The owners of the ranch imported exotic bulls with high productivity genes for milk and meat production which they hired out to other farms to mate their cows for a fee. The cattle dung served as manure for the grain fields while the grains and the plant stalks fed the cattle.
On yet another small holding, the farmer integrated fish and poultry farming with vegetable and grains cropping. Water drained from the fish pond was used in fertigating the farm crops while dung from the poultry fed the fish; and then grains from the fields fed the chicken. The state government also developed large rice fields where the swamps were utilised for fish farming. Wastes from the fish helped in fertigating the rice while the fish could pick worms and other nutrient rich organisms from the rice swamps. Fertigation is a coinage to denote that the waste-rich water both irrigates and fertilises the farm.