Feyisayo Fatodu has always considered himself a hands-on person, and farming is not new to him. Growing up, he used to help out on their neighbour’s farm.
Although he looked forward to a white-collar job when he was in school, he knew it wasn’t what he wanted to do all his life. After working in Brussels and the UK, Feyi moved back home to pursue his many business interests.
Feyi said, “I visited the Netherlands last year and saw the number of greenhouses that littered the sides of the highways. This increased my interest in greenhouse farming, so I started reading up extensively on the topic and also spoke with farmers who were accustomed to the more traditional methods to compare both methods. With greenhouses, I am able to produce tomatoes and fresh vegetables all year round with minimal acreage.”
Started: April 2017
Greenhouse farming is an all-year-round, space-managed high-yield cultivation under regulated climatic conditions. To put greenhouse farming into perspective: it yields up to 4 tonnes of tomatoes in a six-month season from a single 8m x 24m or 192m2 greenhouse, compared to the traditional open-field tomato cultivation which, with best agricultural practices, yields a maximum of 7 tonnes per hectare (10,000m2).
Greenhouse cultivation of tomatoes replicated over one hectare yields 19 times more than the traditional open-field method. “The numbers don’t lie if you get the processes right” he said.
However, the practice is associated with high cost, making it difficult to compete in the market.
But Feyi said he devised a method to stay competitive. “I have zeroed down my market and focused on a specific clientele for the short term. As the business expands, we can then expand our target market to supermarket chains and foreign off takers. For us to compete with our bigger rivals and ensure quick sales, we need to focus on our main customers.”
By “specific clientele” Feyi means the mid-level to upscale restaurants in Abuja, which can afford to pay a premium above what traditional farm produce commands for fresh tomatoes and vegetables with a longer shelf life.
Logically, more greenhouses mean more farm produce for Feyi. However, the peculiarity of his method of farming has affected his expansion plan. He narrated how he was technically disqualified from the Bank of Industry loan scheme during his farm set up: “I was told they didn’t give loans for structures (greenhouses). In my line of business, greenhouses are the needed equipment, which I tried to explain to them, but I was still ineligible for the loan. I have just heard about a CBN fund for SMEs and the Tony Elumelu Foundation grant, which I plan to apply for in the near future.”
Another challenge Feyi expectedly faced in starting a greenhouse farm was finding the right staff. “Getting the right workers with the technical know how wasn’t easy,” he confessed. “I had to go through a few people before getting the staff I have now. In my opinion, as a startup in the agricultural sector, it is important you hire knowledgeable workers to stay in the game as this usually translates to higher profits".
The off-takers love fresh tomatoes and vegetables because they have a longer shelf life. In fact, the off-takers are the reason we exist.
Luckily, he received support from international agro-business companies such as Dizengoff Nigeria, which provide training and other technical support for greenhouse farmers and attendants.
The public's perception of Feyi’s farming method has been encouraging so far, and this excites him. “Everyone I have spoken to about my business has shown interest. A few even want to visit the farm to see things for themselves. Also, the off-takers love the taste and look of the fresh tomatoes and vegetables and the fact that they have a longer shelf life compared to open field produce. In fact, the off-takers are the reason we exist.”
Feyi, who holds a master’s degree in Renewable Energy Management from Newcastle University, United Kingdom, received tremendous support from family and friends when he started out, but now he needs more funding to increase productivity and explore the use of advanced technology.
An optimistic Feyi said: “I’m in this long term, so I want to see the business increasing its number of greenhouses, increasing the number and quantity of its produce. Increasing the number and varieties of crops we grow is part of the plan.”
Looking to the future, he added, “Kenya is the lead exporter of Rose cut flowers to the EU, there’s no reason why Kijani Farms can’t explore that market in the future. There are also plans to develop a website showing our stock levels, making it easier for registered off-takers to place orders at the click of a button. Automating certain aspects of the greenhouses as is done in countries like Kenya is also in our plan.”
Feyi’s greenhouse farm, tended by two full-time and an additional part-time staff, could be modest for now, but its owner has big dreams including venturing into processing and packaging of its produce, exports and even floriculture.