Now, you can farm without soil. Angel Adelaja does it, where Angels fear to tread

Angel Oluwayimika Adelaja is one name gradually becoming synonymous with innovation in Agriculture, in Nigeria and Africa. A nominee of the World Economic Forum Top Female Innovators in Africa, she is Founder and Executive Director of Fresh Direct Produce and Agro-Allied Services. Headquartered in Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital, Fresh Direct is an indigenous agricultural production and processing company, bringing together communities and advanced technology to provide exquisitely-grown organic fruits, vegetables, meats and processed end products. Though Angel is trained as an Epidemiologist (a scientist who studies causes of disease outbreaks, in order to treat existing diseases and prevent future outbreaks), she has always loved agriculture and wanted to promote opportunities available in the agriculture sector in Africa. This passion has led Angel to initiate hydroponic farming in Nigeria. Now, what is hydroponic farming?

It’s a farm! Angel Adelaja, working in a hydroponics farm

Hydroponic farming entails growing crops by using mineral nutrient solutions in water solvent, thus doing away with soil, or reducing the need for it. According to Angel Adelaja, this modern and innovative farming technology is resilient to climate change and provides superior nutritional value and faster growth at limited cost of input.

Angel believes with hydroponics, the farmer is unaffected by the seasons and adverse weather conditions which, historically, have given rise to severe food insecurity in Africa.

Her social enterprise venture, Fresh Direct, manufactures, installs and markets customized hydroponic fodders and vegetable systems which help small and medium holder farmers have access to a high quality, cost-effective and sustainable method of farming. This method also helps to conserve land and soil nutrients.

Adelaja’s motivation arose out of the need to engage in eco-friendly agriculture and find creative ways for youths to get involved in agriculture. Beyond these, she also wanted to make greater impact (than government) and yet generate some profits, while solving a challenge in sustainable and innovative ways.

“I wanted to create jobs and use the jobs to change the thinking of my employees. I felt that was me doing my part. Fresh Direct Produce and Agro-Allied Services is an environmentally-friendly, organic agricultural production and processing company, which also deals in manufacturing agricultural equipment and technology such as greenhouses and stackable container farms”, she explains.

Fresh Direct is the pioneer producer of hydroponic farming technology in Nigeria. It also manufactures and installs greenhouses and container farms to help smallholder farmers farm bigger, better, cost-effectively and more sustainably, through urban farming. It brings together communities and technology and focuses on encouraging the participation of youths in agriculture, with technologies that are not, in Adelaja’s words, ‘back-breaking’. Ultimately, it is expected that the venture will impact the lives of youths through agriculture and technology.

Fresh Direct started operations in the early part of 2014, but was formally incorporated in December 2014, while its urban farming project started in October 2015.  Adelaja appears not to be bothered much with competition, because she believes her products are market-driven and focus on pricing, quality and freshness.

Why would Angel Oluwayimika Adelaja choose to go into  hydroponics, despite that Africa, apparently, is yet to get the dynamics of traditional soil farming right?

“I started with traditional agriculture and faced many of the same challenges others face in African Agriculture. Finding land as a youth was difficult, but I was able to rent. Access to technology was expensive, so I decided to build them myself. Investing in infrastructure was expensive; land clearing, digging a borehole, electricity, staffing, building structures and more….Once I began, finding my market and transport was also a challenge.

“With all of the challenges I faced, I chose to make it easier with urban farming. I’m blessed to know when to stick with something and when to pivot the business. We pivoted to focus on urban farming, because it was a better, more eco-friendly, cost effective and sustainable solution. So, in essence, challenges inspired us!”

The business model has been very fluid to ensure the business continues to improve and can survive in Nigeria, but she confirms electricity still remains a challenge. This challenge will become a thing of the past, though, as the next stage in the plan is to take the container farms completely off-grid.

Time to deliver on Fresh Direct’s promise. It must be fresh and organic, no compromise.

“There will always be frustrations in business and it doesn’t scare or deter me, as long as I can continue to be resilient, learn and innovate through the frustrating or difficult experiences.”

The biggest lessons she has learnt by running a startup are the need to focus on quality, ensuring consistency of the product and meeting the needs of the market (being market-driven).  “If that’s not the priority as you scale, then you’re scaling for no reason”, she emphasizes.

Fresh Direct has been fortunate enough to receive assistance from Oxfam International and World Bank, in the area of business development. Other than these, the venture has been funding its projects by itself, though it is ready to welcome potential collaborations and partnerships.

Having an amazing team, so far, is Angel Adelaja’s greatest asset in the business.

She says, “Everyone on the team is eager to learn and step up to the plate when needed. I’m proud of the team and their progress as a people and young leaders“.

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Featured image only: courtesy, Bellanaija

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Chiamaka Akuba33 Posts

Chiamaka Akuba is a graduate of Mass Communication of the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She is passionate about emerging markets and entrepreneurship and is actively working with the industry. She loves her conversations challenging and can’t help laughing when you call her ‘Honourable Writer of the Federal Republic'. Chiamaka is a Staff Writer at Outrepreneurs.

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