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Driving nature-based food habit in Southeast Nigeria

A regenerative model that empowers ordinary farmers to produce healthy food, inspire healthy living, drive economic growth & conserve nature

Photo of Glory Brendan-Otuojor
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Development Impact Pathfinders Initiative

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Abuja

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Nigeria

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Imo, a state in Southeast Nigeria, covers an area of 5,530 KM^2

What country is your selected Place located in?

Nigeria

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Imo state is my state of origin and place of birth. It has a beautiful landscape and good climate with adequate rainfall. The people are hardworking and forward looking. Agriculture is an important activity in Imo state, however, modern farming is not yet fully embraced as such, productivity is low. To complement local production, food and vegetables are sourced from other regions of Nigeria or imported from abroad. This heightens the price and availability, making nutritional foods and vegetables less accessible for the poor in the state. Imo state has a vibrant youth population who are always eager to learn new things. Therefore, it is an important place to begin our project. Also, other Southeast states of Nigeria see Imo State as a role model; therefore, siting our project here would serve as a model that can be replicated in the other states.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Imo is one of the 36 states in Nigeria located in the southeastern part of the country. The land area is estimated at 5100.1 square km. The state lies within Latitude 5˚ - 6˚ North of the Equator and Longitude 6.5˚ and 7.5º East of the Greenwich meridian. Apart from Imo River and Oguta Lake, the state is blessed with many inland waters such as the Igwu, Otamiri, Nworie and Ogachi rivers. Imo state has over five (5) million people (NBS 2016 projection) and the population density varies from 230 to 1,400 people per square kilometre. Generally, about 80 percent of the people engage in agriculture.

The State is divided into three agricultural zones, namely Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe zones.The zones are further broken down into blocks. A block is an agricultural area covering a specified number of villages and supervised by extension agents. Again, each block is further divided into circles or cells. Each block contains eight circles. A circle is an agricultural area containing a number of farm families. Thus, the Owerri zone has 18 blocks and 144 circles; Orlu and Okigwe have 10 blocks and 80 circles each. In all, the State is made up of three zones, 38 blocks and 304 circles. The economy of the state depends primarily on agriculture and commerce. One of the major primary agricultural produce is palm oil but the climate also favours the growing of other tree crops, roots and tubers, cereals, vegetables and nuts. 

The rainy season begins in April and lasts until October, with annual rainfall varying from 1,500mm to 2,200mm (60 to 80 inches). An average annual temperature above 20 °C (68.0 °F) creates an annual relative humidity of 75%, with humidity reaching 90% in the rainy season. The dry season experiences two months of Harmattan from late December to late February. The hottest months are between January and March. With high population density and over farming, the soil has been degraded and much of the native vegetation has disappeared. Heavy deforestation in the state triggers soil erosion that is compounded by heavy seasonal rainfall. Imo state has a youthful population whose skills can be harnessed to advance urban agricultural evolution in state.

People of Imo State and indeed the entire southeast region of Nigeria appreciate food culture. Harvest of food crops are always accompanied by celebrations and thanksgiving at religious houses and open field festivals. In recent times, food festivals have become platforms for promoting peace, building relationships, connecting people and promoting tourism in the region. In fact, some politicians have used the food festival platforms to carry out their political campaigns and announce their interest to seek political office.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

5000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Eating healthy is a growing trend that has increased the demand for organically grown foods all over the world. Fish, vegetables and herbs have great nutritional values and are important sources of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and dietary fibres that are essential components for a healthy living. 

Research shows that many life threatening diseases like cancer, diabetics, obesity, heart diseases and others linked to unhealthy food habits are on the increase. In Imo State and other Southeast states of Nigeria, many people are becoming more conscious of the food they eat due to the rising incidences of these life threatening diseases in the state. As a result, the population of households that need healthy vegetables, herbs and fish to maintain a healthy living is on the increase. Unfortunately, growing nutritious vegetables and fruits like tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, strawberries, watermelon, lettuce, green beans and cabbage have been a challenge in Imo state and other southeast states of Nigeria due to the following conditions: 

1. Most vegetable farmers in Imo State are subsistence women farmers who culturally have limited access to farmlands and financial capacity to buy improved seeds or use better methods or techniques to improve vegetable cultivation. 

2. Soil erosion is a major environmental problem that affects agricultural productivity in Imo State. As soil nutrients are lost by erosion, farmers have to use inorganic fertilizers to enhance soil fertility. This method leads to water pollution and contamination of our water bodies. 

3. High rainfall and humidity in the state increases the growth of pests that affect vegetables and flowering plants, resulting in the use of pesticides that are harmful to human health. 

4. High and increasing population density has intensified the pressure on land, forests and other natural resources in the state, leading to increasing rural poverty and out migration. All these conditions limit the production of organic and chemical-free vegetables in the state. 

On the other hand, fish farming is gaining momentum in Imo state especially among the youth population. However, most fish farmers still operate small-scale farms ranging from homestead concrete ponds (25-40 metres) to small earthen ponds (0.02-0.2 hectares) with technologies that does not meet sustainability standards and practices that are environmentally compliant. A study by Ike Nwachukwu and Onuegbu Roseline in 2007 showed that the level of adoption of aquaculture technology in Imo State was low due to poor economy that raises the inflation rate and making the farmers to continuously experience dwindling disposable income that could have been ploughed into the farm. 

In addition, there are inconsistencies in some of government policies regarding the importation of feeds that makes the farmers to abandon the ponds and allow the fish to die due to unavailability of feeds. These weaken the production of fish in the state.

With regards to culture, Imo state is known to celebrate food cultures, however, vegetables and fish are not captured during those festivals and are not yet regarded as foods to be celebrated.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Naturefarm Hub is about empowering ordinary farmers to produce healthy food, inspire healthy living, drive economic growth & conserve nature. Naturefarm Hub will help achieve an inclusive, self-sustaining and climate resilient agriculture practices and food system that is community owned. The farm will be built through a public-private partnership. Microfinance banks will provide the finance for the construction of the farms while experts and consultants in aquaponics, hydroponics and vertical technology will be engaged to build the farms and provide training to farmers on how to manage them.

Upon completion, the farm will be opened to young men and women who are interested in owning a farm through a leasing process. There will be different repayment plans for selected farmers to choose from. The cost of building the farms and the training will be paid through the repayment plan.  Successful farmers will be asked to pay a commitment fee (which will be a percentage of the total cost of the farm) before they take ownership of them. Next phase of repayment will begin when the farmer starts to sell their produce. They will remit profits in an account that will be opened with a partner financial institution. They will also pay monthly service charges for maintenance of the farm. This is to make farmers to take responsibility of the development of their farms.

A farmer will lease the farm for a period of 10years and will have the option of renewing the lease or buying it over entirely. We anticipate that with this kind of model, farmers would be able to produce enough vegetables and fish to meet the demands in the state and generate sufficient income.

Naturefarm Hub will run an agri booth camp for aspiring young agripreneurs who would be trained on modern farming systems. The booth camp would be facilitated by farm owners. There will also be entrepreneurship, business development and management programs to equip participants with skills on how to effectively manage food and agribusinesses. The Hub will have a physical marketplace for direct sales and marketing of farm produce while an app that will link farmers to consumers and food companies will be created to enable online ordering and delivery.

In addition, Naturefarm Hub will organise agro-tourism and food festivals annually to bring together, consumers, farmers, tourist, food companies, policy makers and other stakeholders to appreciate food cultures and be connected to our food systems and nature. Hopefully, this will bring about behavoural change in eating and consumption habits. It will also enable us to build a healthy food network and community that can influence food policies, promote sustainability in the food sector and raise awareness about agricultural pollution.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

With our vision, the problem of access to land, technology and skills by peasant vegetable and fish farmers will be addressed since they will be able to own farms in our Naturefarm Hub and have access to modern agriculture technology and agribusiness management skills through our specialized training programs. As a result, farmers will be positioned to produce more nutritional vegetables and fish and earn higher income. Also, since they will not need to pay for the farm at once, the challenge of lack of capital to start farm business will be addressed. 

With steady supply of fresh and organic vegetables to markets and stores in Imo state and Southeast, consumers will have access to healthy, nutritional and organic foods that will enhance their health and reduce life threatening diseases linked to unhealthy food habits.

Locally producing vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, etc will eliminate the hassles and high cost of having to transport vegetables from the north by middle men, generate more revenue to the farmers in the region and reduce the carbon footprint of transportation.

Our vision will also create jobs and new career opportunities for women and youths in our communities and reduce youth unemployment in the state. There will be seasonal, temporary and permanent jobs for harvesters, labourers and sales persons.

Engaging in urban agriculture will bring a major boost to economic growth and development in the state and other Southeast states of Nigeria. It is also capable of generating huge revenues and attracting tourism. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our regenerative and nourishing food vision is reflected in our mission to improve human health through a food system that does not undermine the ecosystem. This sits within the interconnected themes of Environment, Diets, Economics, Culture, Technology, and Policy.

Environment: By using aquaponics, hydroponic and vertical farming systems to drive our food vision, we are making it self-sustaining and resource efficient. The use of nutrient-rich water from fish ponds to grow vegetables will eliminate the use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides that pollutes the water bodies and degrade soil. This means that our food systems will not lead to environmental pollution but rather, promotes a symbiotic co-existence between plants and animals. 

Diet: Our food vision is eater-centric because we understand that when our people eat more of fish and vegetables, they will live healthier. Consuming organically produced fish, vegetables and herbs have great nutritional values and are important sources of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and dietary fibres that are essential components for a healthy living. Focusing on fish and vegetables will ensure that consumers have access to these dietary and nutritional foods. Also our food systems will reduce carbon emissions associated with transporting vegetables from long distances.

Economics: Our food systems will be cost effective but with potentials to trigger economic growth. Monies that could have been used to purchase fertilizers and pesticides would be saved for other purposes. It also create job opportunities for women and youths who will be engaged in the farm. Our food systems increases productivity and reduces pre- and post-harvest losses compared to traditional farming. 

Culture: Our food system promotes a culture of healthy eating. The people of Southeast have a culture of celebrating food systems. For example, new yam is celebrated by most communities in Igbo land with festivals that unit people and attract tourism to the region. Newly harvested products are also taken to churches and shrines to thank God or gods for bountiful harvest. By our proposed Agro-tourism and food festival which shall hold annually, we are infusing culture into our food system and uniting people through it. Also, with the aesthetic environment Naturefarm Hub and services that will be rendered in the garden,  tourists and fun seekers will be attracted to Imo State, thereby generating revenue for the state. Visitors will be treated to the delicacies from the farm.

Technology: Our food system is aimed at introducing modern agriculture to the region. aquaponics, hydroponics and vertical farming are nature-based systems of farming that eliminates most environmental impacts and pollution associated with traditional farming. This makes our food system planet and environmental friendly. 

Policy: It is expected that when a community is formed, they are more able to influence policies. Bringing farmers, consumers, businesses and policy makers through our agro-tourism and food festival, we plan to build a community that appreciate healthy food and can influence policies that promote sustainable food production.



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7 comments

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Spam
Photo of Charles Ikem
Team

Glory Brendan-Otuojor It was interesting studying your contribution. My comments: Addressing the challenges, paragraph 1/2 could be more specific on ideas/concepts to tackle the challenges described. Like how to tackle the limited access to farmland and soil erosion. You need to review the entire 'addressing challenges' section to be sure it addresses the challenges described. As it is, it is too generic and needs to be more specific on HOW?
On high-level vision/full vision, it will be good to explore/explain how the ideas might be implemented. Using the toolkit, a community model of ownership/management will be interesting to explore. Something like a vision to acquire lands and rent it to farmers (land as a service), or build a community of farmers/entrepreneurs who get the land and you manage it for them with installed facilities. We looked at this video of an agripreneur from Nigeria (FarmDirect) that uses containers in Abuja to farm tomatoes and it is really inspiring. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSwnq5mnyEw&feature=youtu.be
On techniques such as aquaponics, hydroponics, vertical farming systems.. who will build it? who will manage it, how will it be funded? These are important questions. Also, you talked about entrepreneurship/training. There may be many of them already. You can use explore a vision that is community-focused. Farmer-to-farmer education. experienced farmers can mentor less-experienced ones. You just stay in the middle and your job is to facilitate the interaction and grow the platform/network.
Community is very important, through that you can easily drive down other ideas/initiatives in your vision.
Now, in your full vision, you need to intentionally align the ideas to be sure it addresses the challenge themes. For example, how does aquaponics/hydroponics address policy/technology/culture. I see the connection to the environment though. I hope this helps and good luck :)

Spam
Photo of Glory Brendan-Otuojor
Team

Thank you Charles for this very helpful contribution. Your observations are noted and appreciated

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