My WWOOF Nigeria experience

Why did I come, and with what ‘luggage’?

I’m a 32 year old guy from Denmark. I graduated just two years ago in Software Engineering and have tried to create a startup since then but with no success yet. I became depressed in 2016, loosing all my energy in a way I havent experienced before – I quit my apartment in March and because of the housing situation in Copenhagen, and the situation of myself, etc, I wasnt able to find another place that fit me, so for a while I was living in the forest until moving in with my girlfriend who cared for me until my travel. I quit my job in August and it was around that period that it became clear to me that I needed to try and find my father (who was an exchange student from Nigeria that came to Denmark in 1983 and met my mother, but they lost contact since then and I grew up with my mother in DK).

Though I’m an ‘IT-person’, my primary interest during my studies and in my startup, is our foodsystems and all the stages of our foodways from production to consumption to disposal. I found the option of WWOOFing in Nigeria in September and contacted Mr Ben to start the planning of my stay. In October I took my Permaculture Design course to prepare myself and be able to ‘bring something to table’ when I would come here. I’m a firm believer in Permaculture and the need to ‘grow the soil’ first and always, to bring about maximum long-term yield/prosperity for the least amount of effort/energy consumption. I have tried WWOOFing in Sweden before and I like to get practical experience – practical experience is the start of any real knowledge in my opinion. I’m also an opportunistic vegan, but Nigeria is very meat-heavy so sometimes I have been eating very little.

So in sum, the reasons why I chose to WWOOF in Nigeria was to get practical experience with organic/permaculture farming, reduce my carbon footprint, and try to find my father.

What did I experience?

I missed my first flight unfortunately so I had to buy another ticket 2, or 3 days later. All alone on Maroc Airlines travelling 7000km away from ‘home’ I was feeling a bit nervous on my way to Nigeria. I have been to Egypt, the tourist sites, but never to ‘real Africa’. But I wasnt alone, some of the other passengers were also going to Nigeria. I told my story to the ones sitting next to me and they were intrigued and wanted to help me get to my destination once we landed. Because I found my second flight so suddenly, I just sent an email to Mr Ben about my new arrival, but didnt know whether he had received it. When we arrived at the airport, my flight-friends helped me call his phone number and then I took taxi to his office in Ibadan to start my volunteering experience.

Roads, traffic, (and electricity, water-supply, education, healthcare, food culture, etc) in Nigeria is nothing like in Denmark – 90% of the cars are ‘third-hand’ discarded leftovers from Europe/US, the roads have no signs/marks/symbols/lights for direction and are full of holes. Accidents are abundant and the roadsides testify to that every km of our drive.

I arrived on the 5th of December but because I missed my first flight I couldnt just go directly to the farm as planned, they had had to move on with their own plans and didnt have time to pick me now. So the first 10 days or so I was just staying at the office day and night. December 16 was the Terra Madre day and the city council had organised their first festival celebrating local food culture – a dedication to the Amala dish. Mr Ben had a stall at that festival and we all joined and it was great fun. At that festival I also met the owner of Ope Farms, one of the farms I was subsequent to visit.

All photos, videos and audio recordings that I created during my trip are released under CC-BY-NC. Get access by following this link
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Ope Farms (40 acre commercial farm close to Abeokuta/Urugbe, Ogun State)

I stayed at this farm on 2 occasions. My first visit was around 17th to 22nd December, the workers had christmas vacation so it would not be advisable for me to stay at the farm alone. I then went back to the WWOOF office in Ibadan, found my father and his family on the 27th of December and went to spent some time with them until the beginning of January when I came back to this farm again.

I liked this place a lot, the owner, the manager and the workers and everyone else there, were very nice and hospitable to me. I was given an ‘experimental plot’ to try some of my permaculture methods in the tropic setting, and in the weekends we would watch kung fu or sentimental Akata (black american drama) movies. I learned a lot from working with them here and from my experiments. The owner had a documentarist to film my experience for a short promo, I will try to see if I can find the link to put here.

Get access to all the extra media from my visit to Ope Farms
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Contacts:

  • Manager, Mr Deji +234 905 769 9150 or 803 246 6515
  • Worker, Mr Tonin +234 810 069 1566

Gberefu Permacultural Forest Garden Learning Center (~1 acre in Badagry, Lagos State – article)

I told Mr Ben that my interest was in Permaculture, traditional cultivation techniques and reforestation/restoration of deserts/depleted areas (eg China, Rwanda). By good chance he knew of 1 dedicated permaculture farm in Nigeria, so after Ope Farms I went directly to this place. It is a small place, 60x60m is just a little under 1 acre, but it has almost a decade long and turbulent history and it is still standing strong as an example of a forest garden that serves both commercial crops, medicinal crops and an educational and community empowerment center.

Because the forest garden was ‘already build’, there wasnt much ‘work’ for me to do but to learn about how it all fit together and how it was designed. It was also a good opportunity for me to work on my own teaching-skills and try to re-facilitate my own PDC course that I did before coming. So we enjoyed ourselves with classes, workshops, excursions and good talks. The people behind this project, Mr Lawal and Miss Beatrice, are very inspiring and enthusiastic to be with. Their ambition is to create an ecovillage network throughout Nigeria to help social empowerment of those less privileged.

This was also the place were I first heard about the challenges of working with/for villagers and especially the challenges caused from free-range herdsmen. Villagers are not always as open and enthusiastic to ‘development projects’ as foreign volunteers are, (especially if the projects are ‘defined from ‘outsiders”), many villagers come from a life of uneducated struggle and have an attitude of not-trusting and a short-term ‘give-us-money-now’ style of thinking… and who can blame them really??.., there are countless examples of ‘third world development projects’ that at best are worth shit and at worst tell the stories of volunteers/development workers ending up actually abusing villagers in one way or another… The herdsmen issue is different, it is a form of rampant sabotage with little way of getting help from ‘the police’. The herdsmen let their cows walk wherever or sometimes guide them into other peoples farms so that they can eat. When that happens, the crop is lost, the farm is destroyed, and the herdsmen are more likely to respond with threats/guns than to accept responsibility. There was a day where cows entered the farm, so we drove them out. I also helped cut down some of the eucalyptus trees to reduce the fire hazard. In my humble opinion I think Nigeria should just declare cows holy like in India and other places – sacred animals who are not to be herded or harmed by humans (but maybe reintroduce some of their natural predators instead) and thereby do away with challenges posed by these herdsmen.

It is a very visionary project that sends my mind in all sorts of directions: The Nukhaluls of the Gobi desert, Geoff Lawton’s Zaytuna farm in Australia, Stefan Sobkowiak’s Miracle Farms of Quebec, The Songhai center in Benin Republic, etc.

Get access to all the extra media from my visit to Gberefu Permacultural Forest Garden
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Contacts:

  • Owner, Mr Lawal +234 903 111 0239
  • Manager, Miss Beatrice +234 812 220 0551 or 818 635 4371

Dipupo ReadyFoods Farms (3 farms located around Shagamu, Ogun State)

This was the biggest, most long-running and best organized commercial farm I saw from my visits. Chief Dipo is an engineer who turned to farming 30+ years ago, and he and his wife are utmost dedicated to doing good on (and off) their farms every single day with untiring wisdom, effort, courage, and gratitude to God. During my stay I mostly followed Mrs Oyewole to their piggery farm (120 pigs) to help and learn about this project. It was in the process of becoming more streamlined with new management staff and organisation of production. Their ambition is to have capacity of producing 2000 organic pigs pr year, and I have written a lot more about this farm experience in a separate report that I gave as a contribution to them when I had to go.

At all the farms I have visited I have asked the question ‘What is the biggest challenge at your farm in this period?’. At Dipupo farms I got some interesting answers that hadnt been so clear to me before. Distribution of produce is a big challenge – they cant afford the time and risk to transport the groceries themselves directly to the consumers, and distributors are demanding very high margins for doing the job. Similar to Gberefu, one of their farms had their first major incident of sabotage due to herdsmen – they lost 1.5 hectars of specially grafted orange orchard and 2 years of work – herdsmen set fire to the orchard so that their cattle could have fresh grass – yes, it is exactly as heartbreakingly, breathtakingly, numbingly stupid as it sounds.

But in spite of all this, with all their experience they still stand strong and continue to work towards increasing production, providing jobs for people, training, and helping people do great farming in any aspect of that word. A very inspiring family and business to visit and work with.

Get access to all the extra media from my visit to Dipupo Farms
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Contacts

  • Chief Dipo +234 803 333 0305
  • Chief Mrs Oyewole +234 703 687 0912
  • Mr Dipo Jr +234 708 431 0700

What do I recommend for people who want to WWOOF in Nigeria?

  • Dont arrive in December. Everyone will be busy preparing for Christmas so they cant host you.
  • Stay with good people, avoid ‘bad people who are up to no good’. There are several very real existential threats in Nigeria (aside from snakes (I only saw 1 in 3 months, and I was also way out in the bush, but it was a real scare even though it just ran away), accidents, heat exhaustion, diseases, etc). Kidnapping, murdering, extortion, deliberate sabotage, personal espionage, and fragments of sedition occurs even to many local people. There is also something called ‘money rituals’, and the way it was described to me it sounds like organ theft(wiki). Someone in desperate/frustrate need of money would go to a witchdoctor for help, the witchdoctor will then tell them to go kidnap some healthy individual and they would take out some organs to perform some ‘magic’ and then the person will have gigantic sums of money coming for a while.
  • Know what you want and need, and work towards it always, also even if other people say that ‘they will help you’.
  • Call people directly if you want contact, dont just write. Nigeria is in great development towards more western traditions and texting and emailing, but it is still very much a country where orality rules. Face to face communication, or direct phone calls are the only options if you want any chance of being heard or understood here.
  • Have some small change on you always, there are many people in need here, begging, it is a nice gesture to give them something but it’s also ok not to give. I dont like carrying money on me at all, so sometimes I have given some food or drink that I have had in hand. Give with a smile and get a smile back.
  • Make your own actions/attitude as straight as possible. Tell anyone as frank as possible who you are, what you came for, and what you expect.
  • Have a savings or a very good insurance ready for any accidents. Many things happen out of the blue here, so if you try to make a budget for your visit, I would say make sure you have at least 30% extra money available somewhere. I was in a traffic accident myself, and I didnt have an insurance, and only had 10 EUR on me, so Mr Ben helped me to get to the hospital and paid for getting me out again.
  • Worry not for ‘tomorrow’ for tomorrow will worry about itself. 70% of all plans you try to make here, likely wont go according to plan, so cultivate the practice of compassionately not caring about details that are ultimately not important. Did you miss your bus? Only your pride suffers if you dont arrive on time, call the person to say you’ll come tomorrow. Is some trickster trying to get your attention? waving at you? coming up to make jokes? or helping you to carry something? Practice compassionate not caring. Say ‘(no) thank you’ if you want, but keep your focus only and always on what is important to you – it is not important that you let some stranger ‘help you’ because they seem nice. It is more important that you dont loose your money, phone, passport, etc.
  • Go to church at least twice, it is fun, it’s a good thing, someone is talking and then everyone sings and dances, and you will get to experience that people ‘take you in’ for a brief moment, without labeling you as a ‘westerner’. Contact Pastor Ade for the church close to the WWOOF office in Alakia, Ibadan +234 706 495 4802
  • Bring a pocket bible and/or quran to carry around, especially when taking public transit. It will calm you down and you can wave it at someone when you think they are about to do something bad. That will also calm them down.
  • Follow the news. Check Punch, Guardian, maybe also Vanguard
  • There are 2 currency exchange rates in Nigeria: the official one set by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the black-market value of currency exchange which is much higher. It is the result of bad governance, but what it means for you is that you should bring as much EUR or USD to Nigeria and exchange it on the black market instead of exchanging it before coming.
  • Help yourself… I’m repeating what I’ve said before but this is the most important thing to have in mind while you are in Nigeria. People may help you, or they may not, so know how to help yourself always. Nigerians are friendly and genuinely wish the best for you, but it is a cultural expectation of everyone here, that after you have arrived and is somewhat settled, then you should help yourself. The ones who were eager to help in the beginning will be less so after some days. Then you are on your own and expected to help yourself.
  • Visit
  • Listen

Language use in Nigeria

  • Often you will hear people say ‘I’m coming‘ when they are leaving. What it means in many cases is: ‘I’m going out to do something, but I will come back in 1-3 hours’
  • If someone says ‘This is your wife/husband’ or ‘I will follow you to America’ even though you already said you come from Denmark, just smile. They are just trying to entertain you, it is a common way of entertaining each other in the boredom of the day. If you want to join the fun you can try asking innocently different open questions like ‘Why?, What for?, What do you want to do?, etc’
  • Sometimes you will also experience that you are trying to explain something, and the other party is just saying ‘ok’, ‘yes sir/ma’, etc. and you can see that they have somehow lost the conversation but without asking what they didnt hear/understand, and they wont interrupt, instead you can just see that they are not listening or understanding what you are saying anymore. Depending on how important it was to you to say, you might consider just to drop it and save your energy for some future occasion where you can tell it again. Or write it down on your blog or diary.
  • Greetings are very important here. It is a way of wishing-each-other-well inspite of all the chaos going on. Dont be dismayed though, if someone says ‘Goodmorning, how are you?’ but just walks on by without hearing your answer. It is exactly as I said before: They are wishing you well, but life here is more raw than the padded cells of Denmark, so everyone have to focus on themselves first and work hard towards their own goals. It’s like walking on a tightrope – help yourself to find balance and walk the talk, on either side of you, people will be cheering, and if you fall they will eat some popcorn until you climb up again.
  • Some useful words in Yoruba (one of the 3 main languages of Nigeria next to Hausa and Igbo)
    • Goodmorning = E karo
    • Good afternoon = E kar son
    • Good night = E kale // O daro
    • How are you? = Ba O ni? // Shé alafia lowa?
    • Thank you = O shé // Adupé
    • Well done = E ku shé
    • There is no money = ‘Ko so wo
    • You are beautiful = O re wa
    • I dont have time = Mi O reye
    • I’m tired = Oti remi
    • I’m full = Mo ti o
    • Stomach pain = Inu rirun
    • What’s this? = Ki nyi
    • Your welcome = E kar bo
    • I like you = Mo ni fee
    • Let’s go = Je ka lo
    • Sit down = Jo ko
    • Stand up = Di de
    • Go away = Ma lo
    • Come back = Padawa
    • Come = Wa

Being vegan in Nigeria

  • ‘efo’ means vegetable, so tell them that you only eat efo – no meat, no fish, no eggs, no snail, no snake, no Maggi, no chicken, no bushmeat.
  • The following food products are vegetarian (I am still not 100% sure of milk/eggs): Amala ewedu, Amala egusi, Akara (fried beans), Asaro (yam porridge), Fufu/Semo/Amala/Pounded Yam with efo, Jollof Rice, Moi Moi (cooked bean cakes), Gari (Nigerian ‘cornflakes’ from cassava), Adun (bean cake), Ekuru (bean cake), Kule Kule (groundnut cake), Pap (fermented maize), Ekon (like Pap but solid), Ugu (melon leaf), Dudu (fried plantain), Endomie (noodles), etc

But what about Boko Haram and terroristic terrorism?

If you have read all the above you understand that there is a lot of good people in Nigeria as well as a lot of big challenges still. As a ‘westerner’ myself, I know that we are very concerned about the level of terrorism (1, 2, 3, 4, 5,) in the world, and how we want to help fight it or prevent itshowing our good examples, at any cost, in the hope that we can all come to live in a just world. In the ‘West’ we often only hear about Boko Haram (#BringBackOurGirls, etc.) and terrorism in Nigeria. If you are interested in Boko Haram, read the local independent news like Punch. Nigeria is not as big as the US, but it is still pretty big, and the Boko Haram are isolated mostly to the north-east part of Nigeria. WWOOF Nigeria is located in ‘Yoruba-land’ in the south-west part of Nigeria, more than 1000km away from the group of the +15.000 ‘terrorists’ called Boko Haram. All the farms i visited where either in Ogun state (wiki) or Lagos…

But what to do? This is the advice that I got and I have told some of it already, but let me iterate:

  1. In general
    1. Stay and stay close to good people, the people you arranged to meet and have been in communication with already. Avoid bad people.
    2. Anyone who you dont know and who havent been formally introduced to you by your host, dont tell them anything about your personal information, your whereabouts, or where and when you are going somewhere else.  Talk about the weather, or your interests, desires, etc, that will never harm anyone.
  2. If you are very worried
    1. Disguise your person. Let Mr Ben help you get some local attire and keep a low-profile when you are in the public.
    2. (See if you can devise some kind of ‘distress button’ that you can have with you to use in case of emergency. [… this is me being futuristic here. In 2017 I as an IT engineer does not know of anything useful like this])

Other contacts

  • If you have any questions about security in Nigeria or is in an emergency situation, contact my uncle Wole (Oluwole Ojo) on +234 705 110 0942 or +234 802 867 5827
  • If you want a good old continental breakfast, contact and book a visit at my uncle Bukky’s (Olubukola Ojo) hotel in Akure, Ondo state +234 708 755 4079
  • If you are anywhere in the southwest of Nigeria (Lagos especially) and you need transportation, contact Jimoh Kwara who is the director of a cab company and who was the person to help me get to Mr Ben’s office in Ibadan when I first arrived. +234 802 302 3851, +234 818 396 4898, +234 706 113 2866

In summary, my advice would be to go volunteer, get experienced, but dont die nor get seriously injured in the process.

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