Segun Awofadeji writes that farmers in the North-east have embarked on massive farming of Fluted Pumpkin (Ugu) in commercial quantities for both consumption and for economic benefits.
Recently, Ugu (Fluted Pumpkin) farmers under the auspices of Pumpkins Growers, Processors and Marketing Association of Nigeria (PUGMAN) North-east zone rose from a stakeholders Meeting in Bauchi and declared that the commodity (Ugu) if properly harnessed was capable of contributing to the country’s foreign exchange earnings, reduce the rate of unemployment as well as serve as panacea to Nigeria’s economic woes.
To this end, the farmers have given assurances of their preparedness to embark on massive Ugu farming in commercial quantities in the North-east sub-region.
Speaking during PUGMAN’s National stakeholders meeting and awareness/enlightenment campaign for North-east zone held at BSADP, Bauchi, the Association National President, Engr. Uche Ihugba said “Pumpkin is continually becoming a fast growing crop for Nigeria’s producers and want to continually promote the production for consumption at home as well as for export purposes.”
According to him, “To date, Ugu is one of the best crops we planted. It’s easy to plant, grows very fast and ready to harvest in just six weeks. The beauty of Ugu is its cash flow. From the time it reaches maturity, you can harvest and sell it every week.”
While highlighting the various socio-economic and medical importance of pumpkin in the society, Ihugba urged the three tiers of government to beam their search light on harnessing the potentials in the growing, production and marketing of the product on a large scale in their quest to transforming the socio-economic and health development of the nation.
Commenting on the federal government’s agricultural policies, he said emphasis of the current administration in diversifying the revenue base of the country with major focus on non-oil sectors is on course but requires that a critical examination of the 2017 budget to check the extent to which intended investments in non-oil sector reflects the policy push of diversification.
The potential of the agricultural sector as the leading provider of employment and food security for transformational growth and poverty reduction has been made over the years with evidence suggesting that agriculture has the highest potential to bring people out of poverty than any other sector.
He acknowledged the right to food by every human being and even animals, the Muhammadu Buhari government’s policies are designed to guarantee this right.
Ihugba also said in the frontline of the government’s strategy to promoting increased food production are deliberate policies designed to encourage Nigerians, especially the young people, to go into agriculture but however pointed out that “government have to ensure that those who want to go into agriculture have machinery”.
According to him, “to make agriculture attractive to young people, we must recognise that this is not the age of hoe and cutlass, government must be ready to help or facilitate the preparation of the soil, bring in machinery -tractors, fertiliser and the harvesters ,create the dams and enable proper food processing to minimise post -harvest losses.
“Pumpkin vegetable is the most consumed vegetable by Nigerians of all class. It is used to prepare varieties of dishes and it’s very nutritious too. When you talk about soup in Nigeria, you are directly talking about ugu because, almost all Nigerian soups are cooked with this vegetable.”
In his address, the Association’s Vice President for North-east zone, Alhaji Samaila Burga who is also a big time farmer expressed the commitment of pumpkin farmers in the area to embark on large scale farming of Ugu in commercial quantities for both consumption and for economic benefits.
According to him, “with the massive sensitisation and awareness campaign embarked upon by PUGMAN, I believe Ugu farmers are going to reorganise themselves and make it a profitable venture, so I urge those of you attending this meeting to go back and retrain your members in all the local government areas well and also reorganise them so that our ugu meet international standard for easy marketability.”
Also contributing, another big time farmer and chairman, House Committee on Health and Human Services, Gombe State House of Assembly, Hon. Bature Usman Gwani noted that with the landmass in the North-east, farmers have the capacity to grow the Ugu plant in large quantities and produce for local consumption and for export purposes.
Gwani said that “since agriculture in Nigeria is a branch of the nation’s economy providing employment for over 35 percent of the population, the mass unemployed youths roaming the streets should take advantage of the benefits derivable from the growing, processing and marketing of pumpkin and engage in Ugu farming.”
“Our teeming unemployed youths should go into Ugu farming especially that the agricultural sector is being transformed by commercialisation at the small, medium and large scale enterprises level.
A member of the Association’s Board of Trustees (BOT), Mr Chall Davou David noted that vegetable farming, especially Ugu farming is one of the easiest agricultural engagements, and is always in hot demand all year round.
According to him, “Fluted Pumpkin (Telfairia occidentalis) popularly known as Ugu across Nigeria is one vegetable that is by far, the most consumed vegetable of any kind in Nigeria. An acre size Ugu farm is capable of turning in above N500,000 and it will take you less than N50,000 to cultivate one acre farm of fluted pumpkin.
On its health benefits, Davou said “Eating pumpkin is good for the heart. The fiber, potassium, and vitamin C content in pumpkin all support heart health. Consuming adequate potassium is almost as important as decreasing sodium intake for the treatment of hypertension (high-blood pressure) among many other medical values “.
Apart from cooking, pumpkin vegetable has been known to increase the volume of the red blood cell when consumed fresh, without being cooked. It’s blood enhancing nutrients gives it the ability to expand the volume of your blood at a very short time after consumption. It is of course natural for a vegetable of these benefits and usage to be in high demand, anyone who can cultivate Ugu, is absolutely going to make good money selling it and can be cultivated in every part of Nigeria due to the plant’s tolerant of drought and poor soil.
Participants were drawn from Bauchi, Adamawa,Gombe, Bornu,Taraba and Yobe states that make up North-east region.
All the participants who spoke with THISDAY all agreed that “we have been cultivating Ugu before but it was just for our consumption but with this meeting, our youths, women and men will be very interested in this type of agriculture and this will definitely impact on the yield due to the new skills we have acquired.”