Wells Hosa Green House Farms Limited in Benin City, the capital of Edo, opened its own farm. In this interview, managing director Bright Okunbor, a graduate of Crop Science from the University of Benin, tells OKWY IROEGBU-CHIKEZIE why the farm exports fresh tomatoes, how it will satisfy the local market and boost local content.
deepen Last month, José gathered her first fruits. What is the turnover of the farm?
We collected more than 10 tons of tomatoes from only four greenhouses. This is only the beginning, because the production is in checkerboard order, and also is not the peak of production. Now only the first four greenhouses are produced. The next four will start producing in about six weeks, and the fruits will be ready for harvest.
These tomatoes are for local distribution, processing or export?
First, we want to satisfy the local market, before thinking about export. There is a deficit of tomatoes, especially in the south. Almost all the tomatoes consumed here come from the northern part of the country.
We are trying to introduce a new trend to the market; Our target markets are hotels, cafeteria, large retail outlets and an open market. This is because we will produce the best sort of tomatoes with a shelf life of 10 to 14 days without cooling. In three classes and sizes premium varieties weigh more than 150 grams for a tomato fruit.
Now we have our products in the open market in Benin, Warri, Sapele and Port Harcourt. We checked Habanero Pepper on several lines in our greenhouse, and they were successful. When we begin the full production of pepper Habanero, it will be for export.
Is there something that you use at the local level for farms with green houses??
It is a mixture, some materials were obtained locally, and some of them were not available at the local level. I will give examples: the greenhouse structures that you see make up about 70 percent of galvanized steel and 30 percent of plastics, mesh, substrates, circulation fans and so on. All these components were imported.
All the materials that we used to build green houses were imported from different countries, such as Isreal, Mexico, Spain, Sri Lanka. We get the best quality materials.
In the end, we want Nigeria to create the most necessary greenhouse materials, especially galvanized steel.
Currently, we are conducting exploration, where we can get the correct calibration and the percentage of galvanized steel. This is one of the main problems that we are experiencing, since local steel is not galvanized by 90 percent.
Other things used in the preparation of land, road and drainage construction, buildings and structures were carried out at the local level, using local companies and labor.
What are some of the problems in running a farm business?
These are serious structural problems. We began to prepare the land in October 2015. This was during the dry season, but in April 2016, when the rainy season began, we found that 10 hectares, where the greenhouses had already been installed, were flooded. This is explained by the fact that low-quality greenhouse materials were used for gutters.
A report of consultancy teams from Mexico and Israel after extensive studies on the quality and durability of greenhouses reported that greenhouses are standard.
Thanks to this information about the substandard quality from our original partners, I had to look for new partners to save us from this unfortunate hothouse situation.
To get new partners, I had to go to Israel, Mexico and the United States of America. This was one of the most difficult parts of this project, because we had to dissolve a joint venture (J.V), concluded with our previous partners, looking for new technical partners.
In addition to this, we had to dismantle all existing green houses with an area of 10 hectares that are standing still, it costs the company dearly in labor, tools, machinery, labor, income, etc.
In addition, I conducted courses on fresh produce and marketing, visiting various manufacturers of greenhouse gases.
We finally chose our new partners, brought them to Nigeria. After extensive study of the weather conditions in the state of Edo, they developed and patented a new greenhouse model specifically designed for the tropical region. So we started a new construction in October last year. This is two years after we first started preparing the land. The first set of containers of newly developed greenhouses began to arrive in October last year. Meanwhile and now we have installed 10 greenhouses, eight greenhouses in production, and construction continues for the remaining greenhouses.
What are some of the added values that you created directly and indirectly?
One of our main goals is to serve and expand the opportunities of our community. We hired more than 250 builders, both permanent and contract employees. We have more than 160 production workers for eight green houses. We hired many young people who are currently being trained in the production of greenhouse crops. This includes young graduates.
When we reach full efficiency with all 28 greenhouses, we would create more than 500 direct and 4000 indirect works. Conservatively, we created many jobs directly, and we already have an association of men and women of the market from Edo, Sapele, Warry and Port Harcourt, who come to us to distribute our products. So indirectly, people are already benefiting from the income from the Wells Hosa Green House farms, and it's just over two weeks of production.
In the near future, the company's vision is to partner with the government and the private sector to replicate this model in Nigeria.
We are not going to build greenhouses and abandon investors; we will manage their production and marketing with our team of experts to ensure success.
Do you think Nigeria can achieve self-sufficiency in the production of tomatoes?
Nigeria annually produces 1.6 to 1.8 million tons of tomatoes, and most of them are carried out in an open area.
Italy, for example, has about 20,000 acres of green house for tomato production, Spain is a huge tomato producer with more than 25,000 acres of greenhouse. Mexico has more than 25,000 hectares of green houses for vegetables. They started exactly as we begin now, they failed, and they learned, improved and made progress. Before us many people have tried, but it was not as successful as what you see here today in terms of yield, quality, management and technology.
If you have a green house that does not work properly with the right manufacturers and technologies, it will fail, so you need to synchronize and fit well both in quality and design of the green house, and on the other hand, the best manufacturers and the best agronomists that can make it successful.
Currently, the government is focusing on the non-oil economy. Should we do this before?
We did not have to rely solely on oil all these years, and I'm sure that when the price of oil fell to $ 30 a barrel, we felt this impact, and that's what we had to prepare, diversifying our economy for other sources of income .
We need to diversify sources of income, and agriculture is one of the biggest means for this, as last year, countries like the Netherlands received $ 2 billion, and Mexico – $ 1.9 billion from exporting only tomatoes. Nigeria must enter this huge export opportunity, because there are many products that we can grow in Nigeria to reduce our dependence on crude oil. The government needs to constantly support the development of agriculture, as it is already done with various programs and incentives for farmers. It must support new and improved ways of growing crops to help increase yields and produce products of the highest quality suitable for export.
This will increase and increase the foreign exchange received by Nigeria from the non-oil sector, provided that all this is implemented and properly implemented, it is never too late for us as a country that will join other countries that have realized that the transition to an economy that does not depend on oil is the best strategy for a country that wants to succeed and stay relevant in the near future.