Interview with Olisaeloka Peter Okocha
Co-founder and Managing Partner of PS Nutrac – a company that installs aeroponic and hydroponic systems for soil-less cultivation in confined spaces – Olisaeloka Peter Okocha Jr. explains the advantages of these systems for food security.
Compared to traditional agriculture, how do controlled environment farming (CEA) systems contribute to improving efficiency and increasing yields ?
AEC systems can be aeroponic or hydroponic, or a combination of the two. In aeroponics, the roots are kept suspended in the air and receive essential nutrients by spraying. In a hydroponic system, roots are suspended in the water, where they get all the nutrients they need. AEC systems allow small areas to be cultivated all year round, unlike traditional agriculture, which depends on the seasons. Thus, while tomatoes need 4 to 6 months to reach maturity when grown in the open, 2 to 3 months are sufficient when grown in a controlled environment. It is thus possible to obtain four to six harvests per year, instead of one or two. This is a very important aspect, because hunger is not seasonal. Food production must therefore be ensured throughout the year.
In closed-loop farming systems, the use of water and nutrients is closely controlled and their intended reuse is planned – two characteristics that significantly reduce waste. Since these systems are generally used in greenhouses or indoors, rather than outdoors, they help to limit the occurrence of pests and mitigate the impact of extreme weather conditions, such as drought and heavy rainfall.
What role can policy makers play in facilitating the rapid adoption of ACS systems and thus alleviate the pressure exerted by the population explosion on arable land and water, which are limited resources ?
First of all, policy makers must be advocates and promoters of CEA systems. These are environmentally friendly technological solutions that can play an essential role in achieving food self-sufficiency and creating jobs and wealth. Once the value of these systems is recognized, policy makers will create an enabling environment for the promotion of FTAs, through legislation and incentives, which will encourage financial institutions to make funds available to support the widespread adoption and implementation of FTA systems.
The price of aeroponic systems can be a barrier to their adoption by small operators. How does PS Nutrac address this issue and help farmers improve their incomes ?
At PS Nutrac, we are aware of the real obstacles faced by small farmers who wish to invest in AEC systems, including high costs and the need for a reliable supply of electricity. Our team of collaborators is committed to continuously improving our existing aeroponic and hydroponic technologies to remove these barriers and facilitate access to these systems for small farmers. In regions where the electrical infrastructure is poorly developed, we encourage our customers to use solar energy to operate their AEC systems.
We are also pleased to be associated, as a partner, with the prestigious Yam Improvement for Income and Food Security in West Africa programme. As part of this initiative, PS Nutrac is deploying an aeroponics system for the rapid multiplication of tubers, such as yam plants. Once certified as « healthy and clean » by the National Agricultural Seeds Council, these plants are sold at an affordable price to smallholders for yam cultivation. Thanks to this program and these more productive plants, they can optimize their yields and thus maximize their income.
What motivated you and Samson Ogbole, co-founder of PS Nutrac, to stay in the agricultural sector? How can we encourage other young people to start farming and to cultivate, even in small areas ?
Agriculture was a vocation for all of us, Samson, myself and our team. Most regions of Nigeria and Africa, in general, are not self-sufficient in food production. We have identified this situation as a serious threat in the short term: a country that cannot meet the food needs of its population simply cannot develop or continue to develop. With our aeroponic and hydroponic systems, we aim to solve the problem of food self-sufficiency, ensure the production of safe and healthy food in terms of food safety and thus encourage