In Abuja metropolis, Nigeria’s capital city, there is hardly a residence, office or even a street without nice landscaping, with beautiful flowers.
Despite the challenges involved in raising these flowers, horticulturists are using the opportunity, not only to make a living but to become employers of labour.
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One of them is Victor E. Onasile, a young entrepreneur who ventured into botanical gardening in Abuja nine years ago. He described the business as hard but profitable.
Onasile, who explained that his love for nature, especially plants and a desire to achieve something in life were his main motivations, said experience was important in this venture.
“So far, I am happy, not because I am making much money but because I am able to help other people as well. Right now, I have 16 people under my monthly payroll. Every month, I spend N400,000 on their salaries. Apart from having other branches, being an employer of labour is one of my greatest achievements,” he said.
On challenges he faces as the founder of Cool Breaze Garden, near Utako market, Onasile said, “You know the major challenges with botanical gardening in Abuja are water and patronage. During dry season, if you don’t have enough reserve of water or other means of water supply to keep your plants alive, all the investment would be a waste.
“As you can see, in Utako District, we don’t get water from public supply for our business. That is because its demand is high, even for domestics use. We have a clear understanding of how the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Water Board is struggling to meet the demand.
“At this particular branch, I am using borehole. When you dig a borehole you need a tank and generator; and the generator has to be fueled.
“The most unfortunate thing is that after all these struggles, customers will price our flowers so low, especially as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. This is discouraging. They need to understand that at the end of the month we need money to pay our bills,” he said.
Speaking further said, “I am a taskforce member of the Association of Flower Nurseries and Landscaping Practitioners of Abuja, so I can tell you that our business suffered low patronage during the COVID-19 lockdown because there were no movements in the FCT.
“After the lockdown came the issue of social distancing, which also kept hammering on the level customers patronise us.”
On the allegation that drug peddlers and other criminals are using botanic gardens as their hideouts in Abuja, Onasile said, “I don’t think there is any botanic garden where criminals hide in Abuja. We don’t sale drinks at all. We are usually busy with our plants and doing our legitimate business.”
Another gardener, Sunday Tanko, who has spent over 14 years in the business, also described lack of water supply as the major challenge that cripples botanical gardening in Abuja. He uses a nearby stream as his primary source of water. He also complained that the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted his business.
“Actually, I use this nearby stream to water my plants. This is because I don’t have money to dig a borehole. But I have a pumping machine which I connected to the stream with the aid of a hose.
“When dry season sets in, it is more difficult to keep the flowers alive. During the COVID-19 lockdown we suffered a lot because nobody was coming to buy flowers again. Since then, sales have been very poor,” he said.
Tanko said he had not benefitted from the COVID-19 government’s support funds, adding that he has not met any member of their association that benefitted from such assistance.
Joseph Abaribe has been in botanical gardening since 2012 in Abuja Central Area. He also uses a nearby stream as a major source of water for his plants. He complained of lack of patronage and illegal movement of herders and scavengers as his major challenges. He alleged that the scavengers, popularly known as baban bola, who usually roam at night, usually cart away his valuable equipment.
“Most estate developers that used to give us work before the COVID-19 pandemic are now struggling to feed. They no longer patronise us. It is same for other people who are doing it for passion. With the economic hardship caused by the pandemic, flower is no longer in their budgets,” he said.
Aminu Danlami, who is into potted flowers, said so far, his main challenges were low patronage.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Abuja, my sales have been very low. People are no longer buying my products like before. Another challenge is that we deal in coloured dry grasses in vases. Whenever it rains, we have to use tarpaulin to cover our vases. We are not allowed to construct even a temporary shed,” he said.
“Horticulturists believe there is a need for government to financially support botanical gardening by enlisting members of their association in the ongoing federal government COVID-19 survival support fund programmes.
“They should also be supported by connecting their gardens to public water or granting them soft loans to dig boreholes to boost their business and provide employment opportunities for the youth.
“For security reasons, FCT authorities should also provide streetlights and police surveillance at the areas close to the gardens perceived to be dark spots, which criminals could use as hideouts.