Opinion

Fides Ventures into Food Frontier

As the world’s economies continue to grapple with the debilitating effects of the scorching coronavirus pandemic, Fides Media, a topnotch media company, has veered into farming as a means of remaining relevant in the scheme of things, report Jude Atupulazi, Mercy Hill, Alexander Johnson Adejoh and Precious Ukeje

Rev Fr Dr Martin Anusi, Director, Fides Media, disclosed last Monday that though the company had neither lost sight of its media business, nor intended to totally become an agricultural organization, it nevertheless needed to diversify, following the emerging global trends occasioned by the crash of oil prices.

Anusi, who is also the Director, Social Communications Directorate, Catholic Diocese of Awka, recalled that Fides was originally established, not just as a multimedia, but a media that would diversify to other areas of interest without moving away from its original purpose.

He said the decision to go into farming was not as a result of a mere wish, or to do as so many other people were doing, but one borne out of the need to not just educate and inform people, but also to train their minds on what kind of foods to consume to be able to live a healthy life, especially with the current situation of coronavirus.

Today, Fides already has a thriving farm in the complex with such sections as fishery, fruits and vegetables, while also engaging in snail farming. There are also a plantain plantation, as well as bananas; even the local udala that has just been introduced.

Fides Farm Manager, Rev Fr Pio-Anthony Okafor, right, planting an udala seedling brought by Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor, in a section of Fides Farm

The Director, Fr Anusi, who recalled that the Fides Farm began operation in 2018, said the management decided to maximize the use of the landed property in Fides premises instead of letting them lie fallow.

He added that they began with fishery, where they had ponds constructed with blocks and tarpaulin, with the priest in charge, Rev Fr Pio-Anthony Okafor, seeing the need for a better pond that was mobile, to which Fides responded by upgrading to that.

He further noted that it was initially an experiment where they bought fingerlings from people who reared them, and with the help of Fr Okafor, expanded to what they had today.

The Fides Director also said they had to expand into planting food crops like veggies, plantain, bananas and others; since fish alone could not occupy the available lands.

He said they leveraged on the availability of communication media which they operated to create awareness for the farm products.

Commenting on the pricing of their products, he reiterated that they remained a media organization with interest in building their customer base, meaning that a high profit margin was not their priority.

An oven at Fides Farm where fish produced there are dried

Fr Anusi said this made them to sell their products at prices more affordable than could be gotten elsewhere, especially to staff members.

Fr Anusi who claimed that the processes of cultivating those crops were more organic than synthetic, added that such processes were a bait for people who came to patronize the farm, knowing that their products were healthily cultivated.

While the Social Communications Director noted the need to separate business from its owner, he said that some of the farm products which they consumed in the Rectory were also purchased, so that the business would not suffer loss.

Reacting to the attempts they had made at cultivating crops which were gaining attention at the international market, he said they had someone from Belgium who saw videos on Fides Kitchen and visited with some non-tropical seeds which they experimented to see if they could grow in this area. He added that some of them did well while others did not.

He however said they were still working on finding out how best to plant some of the crops.

He added that they were looking forward to growing into a system of mechanized farming and continuous expansion of the crops they cultivated, while holding on to their primary purpose.

Fr Anusi noted that they had also added a snail farm which took a different turn after the personality page of one of Fides reporters, Mercy Hill, was published, and they reached out to Mr Kehinde Aremu, the inspirational personality and Coordinator, National Youth Service Corps, Anambra State, who availed himself to show them how snail was reared, and eventually connected them with someone who managed a snail and fish farm in the state.

Speaking on food processing, he said the Fides Farm decided to advance to value addition in the farming process, by not just waiting for customers to come and buy the fresh fish, but to also have them dried and ready for consumption while they saved the cost of feeding and nurturing the already mature ones.

He added that in their trend of going natural, they did not resort to an electric oven for drying the fish.

Fr Anusi also said they had cassava in some other parcels of land which they acquired for agricultural purposes, which, when harvested, were moved to processing units outside Fides from where they were sold.

‘They also brought them home for people who had booked them before hand,’ Anusi disclosed.

On storage, he said it was not a challenge for them as they had people coming quickly to get what was available whenever they publicized them.

On the possibility of expansion, he said it might require the employment of experts to manage the farm upon agreed terms with Fides.

While he projected that Fides Farm would go beyond the Fides premises in the next five years, he noted that they had four farm locations within their premises.

According to him, the first farm was opposite the office building; the second, beside the Domus Fidei Rectory; the third, behind the press building; and the fourth, behind the scraps store.

When Fides contacted the man on whose shoulders the farm business rests, Rev Fr Pio-Anthony Okafor, he said the farming experiment had been recording tremendous success.

‘When I come out here every morning, I see a lot of growth; a lot of opportunities. I keep exploring options for making this place better,’ Fr Okafor stated, describing the journey so far as engaging and successful.

He said the initial batch of fish had been sold, with the next one due in August, to be followed by another in December.

Fr Okafor, who is Director iii at Fides, said the patronage from the public had been growing and announced that more than 1, 000 fish would be sold in the next batch.

He said the fish were also hatched at Fides, meaning that there would always be a continuous flow of fish for consumers.

Fishery section at Fides Farm

He projected that within a few years, Fides Farm would be a major player in the state’s market, even as he decried the challenge posed by pests, finances and man power.

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