How agro-tech innovations will boost food security

Necessity is the mother of invention, and to actually fix challenges in the agro-economic sector in the country, research institutes, individual

Agriculture mechanization value chain.
Source: FAO, 1981 (adapted)
• ‘Only cost-saving techs can help farmers, value chains’
• Overall innovator to win N3m in Flour Mills’ contest

Necessity is the mother of invention, and to actually fix challenges in the agro-economic sector in the country, research institutes, individual innovators, scientists and equipment fabricators, among other critical stakeholders, have to be challenged for solutions.
From production, harvesting and storage to transportation, processing and packaging of foods and agricultural by-products, Nigeria is faced with teething challenges, which, if not fixed, would perpetually keep the country food insecure.

The Executive Provost, Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology, Dr Olatunde Owosibo, said agro-technological innovations through research hold the key to solving fundamental challenges facing farmers, processors and food aggregators in the country.

He harped on motivation, enabling environment and incentives to scientists and technologists to find ways around agricultural challenges in the country. This, he said, would boost their morale and ginger them to find lasting solutions to such challenges.
The Director, Group Strategy & Stakeholder Relations, FMN, Sadiq Usman, affirmed that “a significant number of challenges facing food systems in Nigeria today, including low productivity due to damaged crops, limited access to agricultural value chains, and food loss or wastage, can be solved by creative thinking and the right investment in innovations. And that is where companies like ours come in.” 

He added that “the prize for innovation is another way of demonstrating Flour Mills’ commitment to enriching lives and empowering commitment by investing in not just the development of the food value chain but in capacity development and access to resources.”

Hence, as part of collective efforts by public and private sectors’ efforts at fixing the challenges, Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc announced the commencement of its social impact campaign to encourage and foster innovation within the food systems in the country late last year. 
The campaign, which is tagged “Prize for Innovation,” is designed to inspire and revitalise food production in the country and ultimately contribute to attaining the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Each year, the prize will focus on a different element of the food value chain to generate new and imaginative ways of thinking and encourage novel solutions to established problems. 

Starting from December 8, 2021, operators within the food systems, including all activities in the value chain that cover feeding and nourishing people, from growing, harvesting, packaging, processing, transporting, and marketing, sent in their applications for the prize with prospects of winning the star prize of N3 million.
The first category was open to entries from micro, small and medium-scale enterprises in Nigeria and was expected to address food loss and wastage in the food production process. Entries revolved around the food value chains and were accompanied by proofs of business registration.

The entries were judged for creativity and having a clear map to scale by technical stakeholders in the agro-allied and food processing sectors and were judged for effectiveness, creativity, and scalability, and the prize is N3 million. 

The second category was open to entries from Nigerian undergraduates or post-graduates. Ideas were expected to tackle loss and waste in the food production process and judged based on viewers’ choices (all Nigerians). Participants were required to send in a video pitch of their ideas and to post the same on their social media handles, tagging FMN. 
Ten of the most innovative entries were reposted on FMN’s social media handles while participants solicited votes via likes and engagements. Three entries with the most engagements will be rewarded, with the first, second and third-place winners, receiving N300,000, N200,000 and N100,000 respectively.

On January 20, 2022, FMN officially announced the names of the five finalists from category one of the FMN Prize for Innovation.

Several SMEs submitted exciting entries, including solar-powered storage systems, hydroponic farming solutions, bio-recycling plants, and newer methods of generating electricity from food waste.
The company said after a rigorous screening process, the five finalists will now advance to the competition’s final stage – a live pitch event to be held in Lagos. The finalist will be adjudged by a panel of notable experts in the food industry, including CEO FATE Foundation, Adenike Adeyemi; Managing Partner, Sahel Capital Agribusiness Managers Ltd, Mezuo O. Nwuneli; Mira Mehta; and Sadiq Usman.
The firm disclosed that five finalists for the FMN Prize, who would advance to the live pitch event in no particular order, are Samson Ogbole (Ogun State), Amadi Ann Obianuju (Kogi State), Olarewaju Olufemi (Oyo State), Emmanuel Eze (Enugu State) and Chuks Ogbonna (Rivers State), representing various brilliant entries from Nigerian SMEs.

The firm reiterated its commitment to the transformation of agriculture and the long-term development of the food systems, which are vital for improving food security in the country.

The group said an innovation-driven food system is attainable in Nigeria and continues to underline its potential to contribute to the systematic growth of the country’s food value chain, in creating jobs, economic empowerment and, ultimately, to fulfil the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 
The winner in category one would receive a three million-naira cash prize and a three-month supply of Golden Penny products. The first and second place runner ups will also receive a three-month supply of Golden Penny products. 

One of the shortlisted finalists, Samson Ogbole, from Ogun State, said his innovation, ‘Soilless Home Garden,’ would “reduce the distance from farm to consumer, as it relates to vegetables, thus consumers can grow their own vegetable year-round (500 vegetable plants in 1.5sqm space) and thus reduce the high level of food waste.”

He added that farmers could harvest based on need, and consumers could get access to fresh vegetable year-round, eliminate chemicals from food and save money from the fluctuating food price due to season and climate change, among others.
Another finalist, Amadi Ann Obianuju, representing Kogi State, with innovation entry tagged ‘Annecol Aquaponics Farm,’ described her innovation as “a vertical garden that grows plants without the use of soil, in a space of 1m by 1.5m growing 500 vegetable plants and for 15 different vegetables, which can be grown together. The system does not require electricity; it has sensors for monitoring nutrient parameters.

“Annecol aquaponics farm project is geared towards providing pure and healthy chemical-free farm produces, thereby eradicating the use of chemicals and preservatives in food production.

“It allows the production of more food in a smaller space, with less water and without season – eradicating food waste in all stages of food production and distribution – providing fresh farm produce straight from the farm for consumption, thereby eradicating storing and preserving foods,” Obianuju explained.
“Annecol aquaponics farm uses fish water to grow plants in a secured environment (greenhouse), that is, we farm fish and plants at the same time in the same system/environment. Our system of farming mimics the ecological system, where we feed the fish, the fish produces waste (ammonia) that serves as a nutrient to the plants after being broken down by microorganisms in the grow beds into nitrate, a nutrient needed for plant growth. Plants absorb this nitrate, clean the water and the water is cycled back to the fish tank. This way, there is no loss/change of water,” Obianuju explained.

Olanrewaju Oluwafemi, from Oyo State, with the entry ‘Waste-to-Food Circular Economy Innovation,’ said: “Our idea involves the innovative processing of cassava peels for value-addition into substrates/feedstock for mushroom cultivation and Black Soldier Fly rearing/breeding.

“We’re already implementing this innovation on a small-scale, by growing/cultivating edible mushrooms using cassava peel waste and using its ‘spent compost’ as feedstock for Black Soldier Fly rearing. We’re now at the point of going commercial and scaling our activities and operations.”
Nigeria generates an estimated 14 million tonnes of cassava peels yearly, out of which only 20-30 per cent get collected. The uncollected peels are left to decompose in the heaps, thereby emitting methane, a greenhouse gas whose impact on climate change is more than 30 times that of CO2, he explained.

The innovation would solve the animal feed cost challenge. Feed cost represents about 60-70 per cent of the total costs of livestock production in Nigeria. Important protein sources in animal feed are soybean meal and fishmeal, but the costs of these feed ingredients are rapidly increasing and affecting resource-poor livestock farmers.

Of the innovations, FMN said: “We are starting a movement of sorts – we want to craft an interesting and thought-provoking story about the role of innovation in the food production space and spark off conversations. We want people excited.
Innovations are the catalysts for developing the agricultural sector, which the government has been pushing for so long and the firm, having recognised the place for innovations in the agro-processing and food production systems is encouraging big ideas from SMEs.

The Dean, Faculty of Renewable Natural Resources, University of Ibadan, Prof. Emmanuel Ajani, who has worked extensively on integration of aquaculture and rice, described such innovations as truly capable of cutting costs and boosting food security if such would be fully developed and up-scaled.

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