Building the Food Supply Chain: The Role of Agricultural Technology

The “African Farmers Stories”, a platform to profile farmers across the continent and to examine and acknowledge their critical role in feeding the continent, took to Twitter in a tweet chat hosted by Edobong Akpabio of Agrocentre. He spoke with Samson Ogbole, a farmer and founder of Soiless Farm Lab, on building the food supply chain, as well as his work in the Nigerian agricultural space in implementing more efficient agricultural techniques via agricultural technology.

Samson Ogbole’s journey in agriculture started as a research supervisor at International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) during his NYSC, working under the Yam Improvements for Income and Food Security in West Africa programme (YIIFSWA) and being groomed in agriculture, agribusiness and agricultural research and technology before he took the entrepreneurship route.

He was well aware of the science of agriculture through working in agricultural research, but not of the business or management aspects of agribusiness and so partnered with others to co-found PS Nutraceuticals International Ltd, before leaving to start Soiless Farm Lab in January 2020, an agricultural technology enterprise with interests in soiless farming such as through aeroponic techniques which involves growing plants in air or mist, without the use of soil.

Samson believes aeroponics technology has the potential to end land conflicts and greatly improve food production in the country. Soiless Farm Lab also runs tissue culture laboratories, conducts research into different growth systems and their health implications, and has interests in utilizing artificial intelligence in agriculture. Samson’s driving force in being involved in the agricultural sector is food and health, he says, and having studied Biochemistry, agriculture offered the perfect balance.

Speaking on the role of agricultural technology in stabilising the food supply chain, especially post-Covid19, he highlights that local farmers, when taught newer techniques that improve yield and reduce waste willingly pick up these skills and encourage others to adopt them. He also notes that agricultural technology is more than the use of mobile applications and machinery, but also includes the use of tools such as planters and weed covers to reduce human labour and farm sensors for real-time monitoring of crops.

He emphasizes that Nigerian agribusinesses must collaborate to mitigate the infrastructural and security challenges in the agricultural sector in order to thrive. Farmers and stakeholders in the sector must examine their goals in growing a particular commodity, by identifying potential buyers and their needs. This allows them to extrapolate the yield required from farmers growing that commodity and also allows them to identify the infrastructure needed to meet that yield. This approach gives both farmers and other stakeholders a target to reach, whether through commodity production or by keying into the gaps in production caused by inadequate infrastructure and improving them.

The race to prevent a food crisis is not a competition among farmers and other agribusiness enterprises, but rather a race against hunger, malnutrition, obesity and unhealthy eating.

The role of the government in addressing the food chain, Samson believes, is dependent on results. He opines that either politicians or experts in the agricultural sector who are employed by the government are capable of helping the sector by pushing meaningful policies, but that this will mainly be encouraged by positive results in the sector, such as profitable adaptation and implementation of foreign policies or by proffering local solutions that yield results, and that government policies will catch up to the agricultural sector when results are apparent and it is thriving.

Agricultural technology is an enabler of a broader solution to build an efficient food supply chain in Africa, and these solutions must be healthy for the farmer, the consumer and the environment. Samson insists that agriculture is not “the future” or “the new oil”, because there was never a time when food, shelter and clothing were irrelevant, and food production cannot be seasonal as hunger is not seasonal. Nigeria must find a way to sustain Nigerians and provide them with food, and states need to draw a clear plan for boosting local food production, or Nigerians will seek out alternatives.

The African Farmers’ Stories series is brought to you by Support4AfricanSMEs. Tweet interviews by Edobong Akpabio of Agrocentre. Interview edited by Oluchi Buchi-Njere. 

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