In many ways, Lagos, Nigeria, is a microcosm of all the problems we hear about so frequently when we talk about the health of our planet. It is densely populated. There are issues with respect to pollution, food security and access to pipe-borne water. Electricity cuts out intermittently throughout the day. At night, in its many affluent suburbs, the heat of Sub-Saharan Africa is chased off by the hum of the electric generators that people use to power their homes when the grid fails them. During the daytime, the piercing rays of the sun are occluded by smog and pollution.
Lagos, and other cities like Los Angeles, New York, Beijing and New Delhi, seem to be places where dreams of a renewed ecosystem go to die. People are so lost in the arduous pace of the daily grind that's necessary to maintain their lifestyles that they can't seem to find any time to consider, much less implement, any practical solutions to the waste and degradation of our environment.
However, approximately 134 miles [217km] north of the city, in nearby Osun state, a man named Olu Odeyemi is working diligently to catalogue a bevy of ingenious solutions to climate change, deforestation, pollution, water scarcity, waste disposal and energy management in isolation. He is the owner-operator of Environmental Pollution Science and Technology Farm, known by its acronym ENPOST Farms. ENPOST Farms is a hybrid of a lab and farm that has been dubbed Nigeria's Garden of Eden. Professor Olu Odeyemi is a well decorated scholar, researcher and author. He's a lively octogenarian who begins and ends his days with thorough hikes of his farm, which measures around 4 square miles, accompanied by a much younger gentleman, wielding a cutlass, doing his best to match Professor Odeyemi's eager strides through the dense jungle.
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When asked about his work, he speaks of reaching a zenith of frustration in his efforts to implement his solutions commercially. He instead decided to focus on documenting all the knowledge has amassed over the years.
He speaks with the determination of a sage who has seen the future but knows he will not be around to curate it. He seeks to leave breadcrumbs for those that will traverse the paths he has worn into the road with his own two feet. His farm consists of largely unspoiled acres of the Nigerian Jungle off Ido-Ijesa Road in Ilesa, Nigeria. A majority of the city has been carved out into industrial zones, however, his land is verdant, green and untouched. He resides in an innovative, self-sustaining ecosystem of his own design, though he will tell you that his greatest contribution to his environment was the wisdom not to alter the design of mother nature.
He states, enthusiastically, that the farm is his “legacy for Nigeria, Nigerians and the generations yet unborn. It is the future of the city, the state and the country. All these trees, the fauna and flora therein must be conserved and preserved. It is a great asset economically, biologically, culturally, ecologically, botanically and medically. This forest will soon be used for carbon trading in the world. So I can never allow it to be destroyed or tampered with.”
Throughout the farm, there are well over 145 species of trees and plants which he has identified and labeled. These range from the famous Pterocarpus Osun Craib Leguminosae, a tree that oozes red sap similar to the consistency of human blood, to several species of bamboo and mushrooms, which the Professor has catalogues in his publication, entitled Ecology and Pictorial Atlas of Nigerian Mushrooms. As we spoke about the farm, he showed me bits of manuscript he is preparing to publish, which identifies all the native species of plant and trees he has encountered thus far. The farm also produces troves of plantain, banana, kola nuts, papayas (paw-paw), yams and other tubers, such as cassava. As we toured the farm, his assistant filled his pockets with fruit and nuts for latter consumption.
In addition to preserving the plants, he is finding all sorts of innovative uses for traditional foliage that could vastly improve the quality of life for people in the urban areas of Lagos. For instance, his water filtration system contains Morgina seeds, which he uses as an alternative to aluminum sulfate in order to purify water by sedimentation. He then provides the purified to water to the community-at-large through a pipe that carries it outside the gate of his personal residence on the farm.
He also uses the sludge from the organic waste on the farm to power a personal biogas plant, which provides electricity for his home. The main biogas chamber is only six feet deep, though it produces a vast amount of energy. He has several methods of harnessing biogas, including a bulb like balloon that captures the gas from rotting organic material. The fermentation process which produces the biogas also creates a natural fertilizer, which he uses in a beautiful system of vast fish ponds. The liquid component of the waste is used as an organic insecticide. He has 17 fish ponds, ranging form 200–300 feet in size. The fish ponds were created by diverting the water from two naturally occurring springs and the swamp that the farm is built on. The fish are humongous, growing between 180–250 pounds. The water is rich with native algae, lily pads and other organic material that feed the fish. The entire farm is lined with bamboo walkways that the professor constructed himself.
One may wonder how such a jewel remains hidden from the resource starved city-dwellers that are in dire need of many of the solutions that Professor Odeyemi has created efficiently and inexpensively. For Professor Odeyemi, angel investors or curious students are a dream he has long forsaken. He simply catalogues his solutions in peace while he waits for society to become wise enough to seek them. He believes that, inevitably, we will evolve when we realize how desperately we need them.
Many great ideas are hidden in plain sight by the collective ignorance and apathy of a public so inundated by the problems of the world. Many of us erroneously believe these problems are insurmountable. My visit into the mind and ecosystem of Professor Odeyemi is a warm reminder that there are a multitude of viable solutions to our resource allocation and environmental conservation needs — if only we can learn to respect the design and vision of Mother Nature.