Farmer Ogbole Samson: Building a Food production Agritech & equipping African communities
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
"Find fulfilment in what you do, once you can get fulfilment you have already won. It is okay not to have all the answers, just keep showing up, document your process, at the end it will make sense"
Farmer Samson Ogbole CEO of Soilless Farm Lab
Q1:Tell us about your yourself:
Farmer Ogbole Samson is the Team Lead for Eupepsia Place Limited (Soilless Farm lab) – where we use technology as an enabler for Agriculture. We grow plants without the use of soil, ML and AI based irrigation systems for optimum yield and predictability of food production. Agriculture for Farmer Samson is more than just food production (zero hunger), it is the foundation for sustainable development, job creation (no poverty), healthy living as well as national development.
He believes agriculture must adopt the business mindset, technology, automation, precision, data and be climate smart. To this end, Farmer Samson has devoted his time and resources to building modern farms exploring the latest technologies for agriculture, sharing and training others to adopt “the modern agriculture” to ensure together we can use agriculture as a tool to build the nation we so desire.
He believes “food production should not be seasonal because hunger is not seasonal”. Farmer Ogbole Samson has a B.Sc. Biochemistry Igbinedion University; M. Sc. Biochemistry, Ibadan, and a Biochemistry PhD candidate, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. Other certificates include Disruptive strategy from Harvard Business School, Boston USA, Biotechnology from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Introduction to Food and Nutrition from Stanford University, Introduction to population health from The University of Manchester, Greening the Economy from Lund University Sweden, Sustainable Agriculture for year 2050 from Wageningen, Agro-ecology and Sustainable Agriculture from The University of Western Australia, Public Health from University at Albany and a student of Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence at University of Austin Texas.
Farmer Samson (Member Royal Court), Ooni of Ife Kingdom and an awardees of Royal African Awards – a recognition of top 100 young Nigerians doing great things 2021, two time TEDx speaker and a one-time TED speaker, top 500 persons whose company in the world whose global entrepreneurial talent is at the intersection of food, technology and sustainability by Forward Fooding in 2020, recognized amongst the top 7 innovators in Africa in 2018 by CNN Africa, recognized by EFCC as one of the young and legitimate innovative mind in 2018, top 100 global leaders combining profit and purpose to help achieve the UN SDGs in 2019 by Meaningful Business – MB100, Named amongst the top 15 corporate farmers in Nigeria by Corporate Farmer international limited, 2022, Soilless Farmer of the Year 2019 (by Farmkonnect), the winner of the Future Agro Challenge 2020” and first runner up Flour Mills of Nigeria Prize for Innovation, 2022. Farmer Samson’s creativity and entrepreneurial drive has had him featured on CNN’s African Voices, BBC, BBC Yoruba, Reuters TV, DW, Channels TV and many others.
Q2:What does your company do?:
We are a technology enabler for agriculture using soilless farming to grow crops. Our focus is on Olericulture and floriculture where we are able to grow year round without season, we also deploy the use of AI based irrigation systems to ensure maximum yield per square metre.
We also train others interested in what we do, we have trained over 1500 people for free and helped them access finance and also link to them to the market
Q3: What inspired you to start your business?:
As a Biochemist, I realised the result of phytochemical analysis of produce in the lab is totally different from those in the market, and for me this was very worrying. I tried to find our why this was so and soon realised it was how the plants were grown on the field, and thus i needed to find a way to ensure the growing was done right, but i got to also understand the issue of the farmers - knowledge gap, profit and strategy to overcome seasonality in production.
When I got to know about soilless farming, it was the solution to the issues but it came with its own challenges, it was too expensive to adopt so I had to work with the team to find how to domesticate the technology to make it affordable.
Q4: How do you define your business model; what differentiates your products or Services from others?:
We are into soilless farming (hydroponics and aquaponics) growing vegetables (olericulture) and flowers (floriculture) year round. We grow various crops [see produce catalogue here]
We are also into farm setup and training. This we have done in 26 states in Nigeria out of 36 states in the country. We also have our flagship training tagged work and learn where we train people for free and help them access finance, till date over 1500 people has been trained on this
Q5: Starting a business is not easy. What struggles did you experience in the infant years of your company and how did you overcome it?:
The first challenge was getting people to accept soilless farming, this was seen as something that was not normal, Nigeria being very traditional - this was seen as a taboo and thus had to do a lot of sensitisation in the early days. Though the company is just about 2 years old, I had been on this journey since 2012 working for others who believed - first a research institute (international institute of tropical agriculture) and various private firms all for promotion of soilless farming technology.
The next major challenge was finance, with the cost for setup being high, i had to be willing to take a bet, sell off my personal properties, get those who believed in me (not necessarily the project) to invest with me with my belongings as collateral, with the results, more people believed but it was costing a lot as most of the returns were built on greed such that after payback i had nothing extra for myself, but it was all worth it as this built belief in the technology and not just in me. A few people wanted to own farms, so i focused on creating markets
Q6: What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started?:
That will be the need to have mentors who believed - within and outside the country, the journey would have been easier as their words of authority would have done more than i did. While I got them today in my corner, for example the ex president of Nigeria - Chief Olesegun Obasanjo believes in our project, AFDB president also does etc, if we had people like this with authority in our corner we would have moved faster.
In addition, we the new approach in our company (Soilless farm lab) unlike other private companies and research institutes which i worked, our approach today is building a team where everyone can think, this we are doing by giving books, paying for conferences, seminars etc as the team gets to have their minds opened it is easier to work as opposed to the leadership doing all the thinking and strategies.
Q7: Businesses come with stress; what gives you the joy to keep you going?:
I have a mindset of never giving up no matter the situation. Don’t quit. I learn from every situation that makes me better and stronger. My favourite quote: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston S. Churchill
What gives me joy to keep going is the impact we see in the lives of people we provide our services to. The smile of a satisfied customer, feedback of how their businesses have transformed keeps me going because what we do matters. I love to solve problems and create new and better ways to make our customers businesses and lives better and easier.
Q8: Why do you think businesses fail in your industry?:
There are many reasons for this, but just to mention a few, I think some businesses fail to thrive because they most probably didn't not find a good product market fit. Others may have a good product market fit, but have challenges in building great reliable teams and lack financial discipline.
Funding may affect how a business can scale, but proper and efficient management of available resources will help you stay afloat. Three things matter in a business: People, Cash and Strategy.
Q9: What are your 3 priorities right now:
Our biggest priorities right now include:
1. Train and equip: We want to not just train but also equip, to this end we are in the process of empowering 100 youths and women by giving them access to finance through collaboration with Nigeria's apex bank, all of them will be clustered in one position. We will then be having multiples of this for various environments and crops
2. Marketplace: With more people being trained, we are working on creating a central marketplace so that a price floor can be created where every farmer within our network can be guaranteed of market and favourable market price.
3. Flowers: We have tested our flowers for about 6 months and we are about ready to start export in another 6 months, this we want to do since we have to import agrochemicals, getting dollars for import is hard but if we are able to ensure the farmers can earn in dollars, this will ensure they can afford to get things easily.
Q10: What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?:
The plan for the future is to have our own tissue culture centre on one hand so we are able to produce seeds for our environment as opposed to always trying to adapt. In addition we want to be able to produce based on specific needs e.g. diseases, age, activities etc as opposed to producing for the open market. We want to have nutrigenomics foods.
Q11: Advice to other entrepreneurs or to your younger self?:
Find fulfilment in what you do, once you can get fulfilment you have already won. It is okay not to have all the answers, just keep showing up, document your process, at the end it will make sense
Jo-Ann A. Hamilton Educator, Web3, Crypto & Blockchain Enthusiast , Founder- Rare Birds
As a farmer and an academic Samson has a unique perspective on how limited land, waste of water and other non-sustainable practices compound the global food shortage. His native Nigeria being Africa’s most populous country faces this massive challenge for which soilless alternatives is proving to be a solution.
The impact of soilless farming has been widely researched, reported and documented. That said, and as Samson mentioned introducing the concept locally has been met with opposition. To tackle this challenge his company has trained and educated many to enable growth in the market.
What is most impressive about his work has been his ability to create opportunities for others to learn and understand the benefits of such a system. His women and youth initiative in collaboration with Apex Bank is indicative of this. Moreover he is creating an interconnected ecosystem which enables all aspects of growth and development for both the recipients and his company.
The benefits of soilless farming also opens more avenues for urban farming in densely populated cities across the country. Long-term I believe that Samson’s company will create an entirely new and separate agro-economy based on soilless farming, which will ultimately create room for hydroponic systems to flourish not just in Nigeria but across the continent.
Shadrack Kubyane CEO Coronet Blockchain
I am the last breed of sustenance farmers back in my village: a bunch of weird people who lived off the ground, without much need to go to the shops, yet, here I am today finding myself at the frontlines of shaping Africa's tech landscape. Which is why: Farmer Ogbole Samson 's journey particularly hit close to home for me, in more ways than one. On a macro level, the unfolding clashes in Eastern Europe, have amplified Africa's food security glaring gaps, and opportunities for Africa to transcend these challenges and become a go to for the world's food needs. Within this context: Farmer Ogbole Samson 's vision focus is spot on.
Africa's food insecurity is taking centre stage, as we speak. With more than 250 million people in Africa, that's one in five being undernourished, according to the United Nations. Making this problem of food insecurity worse is our growing post harvest food losses. From the time crops are plucked out of the ground, across transit channels towards the shelves or dinner table, post harvest food losses across Africa, are estimated to be worth $4 billion per year. Put in context: that's enough food to feed at least 48 million Africans, going to waste.
If there was a number needed to define the gravitas of what Soilless Farm Lab does, such a number exists. There’s 4 billion reasons why Africa needs solutions such as Farmer Ogbole Samson to accelerate the creating of the future we want. It's about time Africa becomes food secure, farms sustainably and optimise our food supply chains (we are working on this particular component). I look forward to seeing Farmer Ogbole Samson and the team at Soilless Farm Lab scaling their efforts across the rest of the Africa regions. Let Africa arise.
Pretty Kubyane COO Coronet Blockchain
In an era where talks of an upcoming, predicted, food famine exists at various dinner tables, perhaps it is time we realise that Africa is aptly positioned to be the answer. Africa must unapologetically take the giant strides forward, that are necessary, to position itself as the bread basket of the world. For many reasons: we are home to 65% of the world's arable land, over 40 million farmers, the youngest [ready to work] population and an untapped skilled and ready to be skilled workforce. Yet our food import bill is increasing at an alarming rate, with food imports into Africa now projected, by the Africa Development Bank, to reach 100 billion by 2025.
When will our continent's food deficits and post harvest losses (over 60%) compel us to revisit the drawing boards? From the 40 million farmers on our continent, 34 million of them are smallholder farmers, and are therefore not sustainably farming (or making a living the way they should. These 34 million smallholder farmers, bizarrely form part of the 811 million poverty stricken people, globally, that go to sleep without food, especially during the lean seasons. African must not be home to starving farmers, not any more.
A big gap exists between the established commercial farmers (6 million of them) who are fourth generation farmers, whose farming operations are well equipped, when contrasted with the 34 million smallholder farmers. These somewhat privileged commercial farmers, have superior farming methods, which have been passed down from generation to generation, further to their access to finance, farming equipment and mortgaged land. A night and day picture when comparing them to the smallholder farmers, who for generations have been irking an existence through the use of inferior non-sustainable farming methods, are financially excluded, and most of the time do not own the land they are farming. To prevent these marginalised farmers from continuing to live hand to mouth methods that will increase their yields or earnings are aptly timed and welcome.
In this regard: Farmer Ogbole Samson's innovative approach, through Soilless Farm Lab are a glove fit input to a continent whose past has seen the farming communities being disenfranchised. The unfolding population explosion across Africa, we’re geared to have 2 billion Africans living in Africa by 2035, makes food security a number one priority. It gives me such a delight to see Africa’s food security issues being solved by Africans for Africans. Education, community wide awareness and innovation joint powerful tools to see our food security being realised. Well done to Farmer Ogbole Samson and his team at Soilless Farm Lab. We look forward to seeing their community of farmers grow in numbers and revenue.
David Akinwale: Leadership Coach, HR Professional - Alpha Global Leadership Academy
Digital agriculture is the use of new and advanced technologies to enable farmers to improve food production. Technology is relevant in any industry and this is what drives it. Farmer Ogbole Samson to start using that technology advantage towards building a sustainable development in Nigeria. He believes food production shouldn’t be seasonal and I agree with that statement, food consumption is an important integral part of human beings.
Farmer Ogbole wants to ensure that everyone in Nigeria, Africa and the world has access to food while avoiding unreasonable time and labour requirements among other things which is part of his driving force. I love that fact that, this is beyond monetary gain, he is aligning the Agritech to solve problems – job opportunities, empowerment and access to funding.
According to research, ‘’between January and March 2021, the agriculture contributed to 22.35 percent of the total Gross Domestic Product. Over 70 percent of Nigerians engage in the agriculture sector mainly at a subsistence level.’’
So, with the increasing population in Nigeria and Africa, an enhanced agricultural productivity through adaptation of new technologies and innovations is necessary to ensure food security and nutrition. Farmer Ogbole is people centric, I sincerely commend this vision. This innovation needs to spread across people who believe in the possibilities. When you build and equip people in agritech, the legacy can be sustained and it creates more room for collaboration, effectiveness, efficiency and more production in the marketplace. This is a process of transformation.
I’m fascinated with the heart and desire you pour into this vision, and the vast experience you have gathered over the years and to reproduce yourselves in the process – building leaders in Agritech and also gain access to funding which is also a focal part of any business. I look forward to their success, and as they continue to improve the existing technological innovations to expand their growth and scale higher.
Anne Semadeni-George: International English Teacher
Soilless farming, as Farmer Samson Ogbole does it with the Soilless Farming Lab (SLF),
s nothing short of a gentle revolution in farming for Nigeria and hopefully for all of Africa! The idea of SLF becoming a technology enabler for farming would normally have put their services completely out of reach for the average Nigerian farmer.
But when Samson first realised that the use of soilless farming and hydroponics (with an AI based irrigation system) could drastically improve the quality of produce reaching the market, he made it his first goal to ensure the technology is accessible and affordable.
Now not only has SLF made their services attractive and affordable, Samson has ensured that over 1500 potential soilless farmers have been given free training to help them enter the market, SLF now has a range of affordable training courses available to all, including produce for sale that is so attractive.)
Another innovative step Samson took was to be the bridge between the knowledge gap the farmers were facing with producing higher quality produce and breaking the chains of seasonality. Food production should not be seasonal because hunger is not seasonal.
Behind every successful entrepreneurial business, there is the story of the founder, and in this case, one is willing to sacrifice everything to see his dream come true. Samson not only sold off as much as he could but also put up everything else as collateral. And this has been richly rewarded, and rightly so.
What a dream come true it would be, to see Africa leading the way with agricultural practices that are sustainable, empowering to rural farmers and leading to self-sufficiency
and exports. Given that Farmer Samson Ogbole is leading the way as a visionary innovator for soilless farming, I look forward to seeing him scale this effectively for other nations . As Soilless Farm Lab succinctly puts it, ”If having food is a right, then hunger is a crime.”
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