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Expensive flowers grow in Nigeria’s bushes – Horticulturist

How much do you think Nigerians know about horticulture? The truth of the matter is that everybody consumes fruits and vegetables but the main concept…

How much do you think Nigerians know about horticulture?

The truth of the matter is that everybody consumes fruits and vegetables but the main concept of what is horticulture is not well known. And part of my mandate is to make sure that I expose the horticultural subsector of agriculture as well as promote it. I have to let people know that fruits and vegetables are the major diets one should be consuming on a daily basis, more so because all our foods are starchy in nature and fruits and vegetables must supplement for one to have a balanced diet.

What efforts have you been making to sensitise Nigerians on this so far?

In the last few years, I have been to every state, including the Federal Capital Territory [FCT], to sensitise farmers. The agency identified five horticultural farmers and gave them intensive training in three aspects of horticulture. Horticulture involves fruits production which we call pomology. There is the vegetables aspect which is called vege-culture and then there is the flower and landscaping aspect which we call the flora-culture. 

After training them, the agency gave them implements like wheel-barrows, spades, rakes, watering cans and pumping machines to make sure that out-put increases. At the same time, the farmers were trained in such a way that they would train other farmers.

How can horticulture be made a viable subsector of the agricultural economy?

Horticulture is supposed to be the most viable. Let me give you an example. When you want to buy an apple, its about N120. If you want to buy grapes, a kilo goes for about N2,500 and if you want to buy two kilos of rice, it is actually less than that. So horticultural crops are usually high value crops, and their demands are usually high. At the same time, they give very high returns. Let’s talk of flowers alone. Do you know that countries like Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Kenya and even our neighbor, Cameroun make a lot of money from exporting flowers?

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, the situation is not well developed. We still have a long way to go in ensuring that farmers, most especially horticulturalists, realize that they can actually make higher returns when they cultivate horticultural crops.

Another very important thing is that most of the horticultural crops are low gestation crops. For example, if you plant maize, it will take you two to three months before you will harvest. If you plant yam, it will take you up to four to five months before you harvest. But in the case of horticultural crops, your amarantus, your green vegetables, your carrots, is just a matter of one month. Some varieties, in 21 days they are ready to be harvested.

But there are challenges in the subsector, especially in the areas of seeds, water and pest and disease control. They are high valued crops and so they need very good seeds. Also, these are crops that you must water at least twice a day. And because you are watering constantly, the soil becomes damp and becomes a breeding place for pests which in turn, causes diseases to the crops. So you have to make sure that you are always spraying, and controlling pests and diseases. And that is why you must get good seeds and seedlings that can withstand the ravages of pests and diseases.

Then another major challenge is that it is an intensive enterprise, in the sense that even if it is a small piece of land, you must make sure that every day, you are there. You need plenty of fertilizer, you need plenty of pesticides and other inputs. The challenge here is that most of the farmers do not have the ability to access credit anywhere. Most farmers cannot get credit from the banks. Once these challenges are overcome, horticulture will occupy its proper place.

When you see countries like Kenya and Cameroun make millions of dollars as foreign exchange from horticulture, how do you feel?

In Nigeria, we are so blessed. Most of the flowers that Kenya and Cameroun grow and export are growing wild here in Nigeria because of the diversity of our ecosystem, because of the difference in our rainfall patterns. All these are very important factors for a very great and productive horticultural business.

Now, Nigeria can actually tap from that, all we need do is to make the farmers aware that the market is ready. We have to let the farmers know that they can make more money by growing flowers than growing other arable crops like rice and maize. I am happy to say that in Jos, the Plateau region, there has been a lot of flora-cultural activities. Flowers, most especially roses, are exported annually. So we just want to take the Jos model and maybe move it round the country, especially around hilly and mountainous areas and where the rainfall pattern is good so that our farmers can actually tap into that enterprise.

Do you have the mandate for creating the market?

That is why the present government’s agricultural policy is talking about Private, Public Partnership (PPP). Private investors must come into the agricultural sector. And that is the issue with credit accessibility. The banks must understand that they have to start giving micro loans to farmers.

Could you quantify how much Nigeria would have made from horticulture if the subsector were viable?

Nigeria is already making a lot of money from horticulture. We are the largest producers of mangoes in the West African sub-region. We are the largest producers of tomatoes, onions and even ginger and garlic. But there is a major challenge here also. What we call the post harvest loss. By the time you harvest and get to the market, most of the crops would have  perished.

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