• It can only complement commercial farming, says don
Revving up food production amid widespread insecurity in almost all parts of the country has underscored the need to improvise and maximise available spaces at home in villages, towns and cities for backyard farming.
Caused by the Boko Haram terrorism, herder/farmer clashes, ethnic militia attacks, banditry and kidnapping, insecurity has displaced thousands of farming households, communities and neighbourhood cluster processing centres, depleting food availability and pushing inflation to the extreme.
Apart from vegetables, agricultural scientists said various food crops, such as pulses, grains, roots and tubers, poultry and aquaculture could be done either at commercial or subsistence level.
Improvised techniques are used for vegetables such as leafy vegetables, tomatoes and others such as yam and potatoes. These are cultivated on flat beds if the premises are not floored with concretes. Sacks or vases filled with manured soil are improvised if the available space is concretised. Improvised techniques are termed subsistence farming for productivity is still very low, and manual operation somehow cumbersome.
In the commercial backyard farming, modern facilities such as greenhouses, borehole water facilities for irrigation and use of soluble fertiliser ensures ability to produce larger tonnes of fruits and vegetables such as tomato, bell pepper and sweet melons.
Though expensive, greenhouses present sustainable and dependable production of food round the year. Several cycles are produced yearly, pest infestations are minimal, and use of insecticides and residual deposits are reduced or eliminated.
Dizengoff’s (Nigeria) Integrated Project Manager, Sustainable Livelihoods, Mr Oscar Walumbe, an all-inclusive greenhouse kit for all season vegetable production would boost improved food security, job creation and sustainable income generation for small-scale farmers.
He disclosed that youth employment, reduction in rural-urban migration; growing vegetables nearer to market (cities, shopping malls, restaurants, etc.); improved food availability in the vegetable segment and transfer of knowledge and know-how are advantages of using greenhouses.
A greenhouse kit includes the greenhouse (tunnel – 24m x 8m); drip irrigation system to cover the growing area, farmers’ knapsack sprayer; vegetable seeds; fertiliser and agro-chemicals; nursery set; personal protective equipment such as overall, respirator and gloves.
Most greenhouses come with the size 8m x 24m, with control of environmental factors such as pests, disease, sunlight and rain. Off season growing, continuous harvesting up to six months, drip irrigation, safe and effective agro-chemicals for pest and disease control are features of a typical greenhouse.
Experiments in Nigeria and Kenya have been successful in terms of food security and youth employment in Kenya, with return on investments while maximising space like a backyard.
It enables growing of tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber and and melons all seasons in places closer to the market, such as Lagos and Abuja.
In a social media video circulating on the backyard farming, President of the National Association of Yam Farmers, Processors and Marketers (NAYFPM), Prof. Simon Irtwange, encouraged Nigerians, especially women, to embrace yam farming using sacks at the backyards.
“We are used to one harvest of yam every year, but we have realised that you can have two harvests of yam in a year. We can put yam under irrigation, and we can actually do dry season yam farming.
“What you are seeing here is yam planted in cement bags. These bags were procured from market at N20 only,” Prof. Irtwange said.The tuber crop professional said yam could be planted every month within the confine of house premises, and harvest of fresh yam could be done every month of the year.
“We want to encourage Nigerian farmers, women especially, who don’t have access to land but want to farm, to plant along the fence of their houses, within the space that is available in your compound.
“Just buy empty bags of cement, fill them with good soil, and do your planting. If there are undeveloped plots of land in your vicinity, you can use them for yam farming. If the owners of the land come for the development, all you do is move your yam to another location. It is as simple as that,” he said.
He added: “We want to encourage all of us to go into yam farming for food security so that you will be able to feed your households.
“We also need yam for export. The House Committee on Commerce agreed that the Export Prohibition Act, 1989, had outlived its usefulness.” So, yam can be exported and farmers could make forex while boosting the Gross Domestic Products (GDP).”
Prof. Lateef Sanni, Project Manager, BASICS II, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan and former Deputy Vice Chancellor (Development) FUNAAB, said: “This will increase the consumption of nutrient-based commodities thereby reducing the spate of illnesses in the land.
“Also, smallholder households will make income from such endeavours and increase their livelihoods. So, there are many benefits – stable food security, physical wellness, youth engagement and so on.”
Prof Sanni added that it is a veritable tool for the introduction of low carbon innovations.
“Greenhouses for tomatoes and veggies in our backyards could be a game changer to self-sufficiency and reduction in carbon emissions,” he added.
However, a former Regional Coordinator of Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (CAVA), Prof. Kolawole Adebayo, said backyard farming is a subsistence form of agriculture.
He emphasised that the farmer only cultivates for his or her domestic consumption with sales of the products having a secondary utility.
“It can help households reduce expenditure on some basic food, but it is not a replacement for commercial agriculture, particularly in a country with the population of Nigeria.
“The food system is a big economic sector and commercial agriculture is one of its key drivers,” he said.
On greenhouse farming, he argued that it is capital-intensive, and is generally used for high-value agricultural commodities. For low value or staple crops, the returns on investment would not satisfy the investor, he said.
The President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr Ibrahim Kabir, affirmed that it would boost food availability.
“I will encourage the optimisation of backyard and greenhouse farming that will metamorphose into vertical farming in the near future in Nigeria.
“We will definitely augment our production of vegetables against the backdrop of the incessant insecurity pervading the entire country if we fully embrace greenhouses, backyard farming and vertical farming in the long run,” he said.
Similarly, Head of Research and Development, Saro Agrosciences Ltd, Moses Dafiaghor, said while backyard farming should be encouraged, it is not a sustainable way to boost food availability/security.
“But,” he said, “adoption of improved/modern farm techniques and mechanisation are sure ways to boost food production. Greenhouse cultivation of vegetables is an innovative technology that can boost food availability. With greenhouses, we can utilise less land for high productivity and also grow healthy food.”
Prof. Gbolagade B. Ayoola, founder of Farm Infrastructure Foundation, said though backyard farming is good, it is only a complement and not a substitute to regular farming as a business.
“Backyard farming is only limited to what our backyards can permit in terms of type of crops and animals, mechanization and use of green revolution inputs such as fertilizer, improved seeds and pesticides.
“Indeed, our backyards are too small to permit the full use of production requisites. So, it cannot help to boost food security to any perceptible extent. Even backyard farms are as prone to attacks as the distant farms. In a nutshell, the quantum of food needs of Nigeria has grown beyond the cumulative capacity or outputs of cottage industry or backyard farms in the country,” he said while expressing reservations on the capacity of backyard farming to feed the growing population.