In June 2016, Adetola Adeleke began the Green Fairy Farms in Epe in response to the dearth of technologically savvy farming practices and profitable agriculture in the Epe region. Fairy Green Farms has one ace up its sleeves that puts it ahead of its competition; Green House Technology. Green House technology offers agropreneurs the ability to regulate the climate within their ‘glass’ houses and grow a variety of crops that otherwise would not thrive in certain climates. Using Green House technology allows Adeleke provide niche fruit and vegetable products that would otherwise wilt in uncontrolled Nigerian weather, experiment with traditional inter and intra-specie of plants to produce more sturdy, disease resistant strains of already existing plants. The impact of Green Fairy farms on the economy of Epe and its environs cannot be overemphasized.
But Adeleke is also about spreading the knowledge with which she has succeeded in Lagos, and she offers specialist agronomy training to economically disadvantaged youths within the community, offering food, shelter, a paying job and the prospects of learning a trade as valuable as greenhouse technology which can take them right out of crush cycle of rural poverty. Green Fairy farms is also progressive about manufacturing and is finalizing plans to enter into the frozen foods industry in Nigeria.
Adeleke, who currently works as an engineer with a leading oil company in Nigeria said most young people find it difficult to get their ideas off the ground because of lack of capital. But Adeleke said having a job has enabled her fund her dream. From her savings, she was able to acquire a farmland and employ four staff in the early days.
“Nobody gives young people money, especially to go and do farming. Having a job has really been helpful because my savings was used to acquire the land where I farm. I believe in this vision. Since I believe in it so much, I have been able to put my money where my mouth is, and gather everything I had and used it to start,” she said.
The traditional method of farming is still prevalent in Nigeria, but Adeleke decided to try her hands on greenhouse farming. According to her, greenhouse farming is a modern method of vegetable farming, which gives best quality yields when compared to open field system. She explained that countries like The Netherlands, South Africa and Kenya are utilising greenhouses to grow high quality vegetables, which are imported into Nigeria. “The idea is to build capacity to produce similar quality so we can reduce a dependence on imports and move towards modern practices,” she added.
She mentioned some of the challenges being faced in the business. One of them is the inability to get good quality seeds in Nigeria. “You don’t really have anywhere to go and get quality seeds in Nigeria. We have been getting seeds outside the country. Before they sell to you, they tell you that you need to get some certifications. Sometimes, you are able to get seeds and other times, you are not so lucky. This is because we don’t have a good seed industry in Nigeria.
“Another challenge is lack of skills. When I first started, I couldn’t get a good agronomist, because you don’t see greenhouses in our agricultural institutions. When you start a business, you need to employ people that are capable of doing the work. It was very hard for me to find those people,” she told Outrepreneurs.
However, the courage Adeleke summoned to start a farm has brought some recognition and gains to her and the company as well. Last year, she won the Future Africa Award Prize for Agriculture. The farm supplies vegetables to big supermarkets, hotels and cafeterias in highbrow areas of Lagos such as Lekki and Victoria Island. In addition, it has 11 people in its employ and regularly takes interns who are given free accommodation and monthly stipends.
It is not an easy task for Adeleke combining her role in the business with commitment to her secular job. “I just find a way to make it work one way or the other. Any time I am not in the office, this is where I am. I am just on the farm weekends, my leave, and free periods. And I plan myself so that I can have enough time to attend to the business and make sure that everything is running properly,” she said.
She is grateful for having a farm manager, John Durosimi that shares her dream and ready to go the extra mile. Durosimi is a graduate of Animal Breeding and Genetics from the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. And, one of his concerns is that most young people do not want to go near the farm in spite of the prevalent employment crisis in the country. “Farming requires passion and zeal. You must be ready to leave the city to the bush. You must read and do capacity building. You must be dedicated and hardworking. This is missing out among most of the youth we have today,” Durosimi said.
Adeleke has some ambitious plans for the next phase of the business “Our plan is to move to a very large facility, about 20-30 acres so that we can have up to 60-100 greenhouses up to full capacity. This will enable us to have a better platform to train people. We also want to go into value addition to products, and diversify from vegetables to cash crops.”
Her word for anyone that wants to go into farming: “Start with whatever you have and grow from there. I started using my living room as a storage and packaging room. Once you overcome the inertia of taking the first step, what is left is to keep the ball rolling.”
Adeleke emphasized the importance of knowledge and capacity building to modern farming. She advised farmers to visit the internet frequently to learn and get information.