Agriculture Innovation in Nigeria: Angel Adelaja, Social Entrepreneur
With the goal of making urban farming accessible to everyone, Angel Adelaja invented a one-of-a-kind stackable container farm that is the most affordable in the world: “We don’t import them, we make them in Nigeria,” she said.
Trained in biostatistics and epidemiology, Angel threw her expertise into creating a sustainable agricultural solution that makes a positive impact for “ordinary people, like the poor laborer, the housewife and the unemployed youth” in her country. She co-founded We Farm Africa, and is CEO/Founder of Fresh Direct Produce and Agro-Allied Services, a social enterprise that has pioneered hydroponic agriculture in Nigeria. Her work has led to the production of top-quality produce and meats, and she was selected recently as a finalist in the notable Chivas The Venture competition.
Entrepreneurship and expertise In Nigeria
Angel: “In general, Nigeria is a very entrepreneurial society, but is not really focused on social enterprise. My background in biostatistics and epidemiology, experience in project management, monitoring and evaluation, as well as my willingness to ask for help, helped me to plan well and start well. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but Nigeria has taught me to be resilient.”
Undeterred by Obstacles
Angel: “When we started Fresh Direct, we realized that new technology could make the difference that African agriculture needed. Unfortunately, we needed to import the technology and it was too expensive. So we decided to innovate and create our own technology from indigenous materials.
Realizing what we accomplished, our next challenge was to put our technology in the hands of ordinary people (the poor laborer, the housewife and the unemployed youth) so that they just like me, they can grow with ease.
Every step of our development has simply been creative responses to roadblocks. We started with goats and grew to vegetable farming. Then, we needed greenhouses, but we couldn’t afford the imported ones. So, we made our own.
Then we started learning about hydroponics online, and I called my plumber, (who is now also a team member) and we started making our own hydroponic systems. Soon we had some issues with transport and cold storage so we first wanted to see how we could build a cold storage compartment ourselves. We then found that it was easier to try urban farming closer to our market, since our farm was three hours from our intended market.
That’s how we started looking at urban farming and developed our micro-farm demonstration plot with mini-greenhouses and our stackable container farms.”
Innovation and EXCITEMENT
Angel: “Because we innovated, the container farm demonstration plots are very exciting. Our container farms are one-of-a-kind in Africa and the most affordable in the world. We don’t import them, we make them in Nigeria. For a entrepreneur, being able to boast the unique selling point and seeing people fall in love with the innovation is exciting.
Everyone wants to be a part of this project! The social impact? We empower youth to be farmers with hydroponic technologies that make them competitive. We provide the space, infrastructure, supervision and market. They grow and make money. And we’re growing our capacity and brand. We’re hoping to get support for this through financing of youth to operate and own these containers.
We’ve been successful because we create teams based on skill matching and complementing as well as energy. Everyone on our team is high energy and excited to be part of the business and innovation. Everyone has a lot of autonomy but we also have a flat structure to be able to put pressure on each other and keep each other accountable. In Nigeria, there is a lot of emphasis on class, age, gender, etc, so we try to eliminate all of that to give everyone a chance to contribute to building our business through innovation.
The Nigerian economy isn’t always an easy one for growing business, but we try to ensure everything we use is Nigerian and believe we can effect change for us and for the youth of Nigeria.”
Angel: “Most of the work I did [in the U.S.] before coming back to Nigeria was with NGOs that could function and fundraise without being beholden to the companies that donated to them. In Nigeria, however, there was strong influence of private sector or government on helping people, which makes it very political.
Sustainability was the key to help people the right way, free of any strings attached.
I felt that whatever business I did there needed to be a strong social component at the core of the business to help my community and to stay true to my calling ‘living a life of service.'”