Food Security: Why Yam Scarcity, Price Increase May Persist


• Herdsmen Frustrate Yam Production In Taraba
• Flooding, Kidnapping Stall Yam Farming In Kogi
• Fading Soil Fertility Affects Benue Farmers
• Cost Of Transportation, Seedlings Linked To Price Hike In Enugu

Yam is one of the popular staple foods widely consumed by Nigerians. It is a preferred source of carbohydrate and income for millions of people in the country.

Nigeria ranks as the largest yam producer in the world, contributing over two-thirds of global yam production yearly. Despite this, the staple food is gradually getting beyond the reach of average citizens.

Its scarcity in the last few months has led to increase in price, forcing many to search for alternatives, to survive this hard time. Majority of poorer households now consume fewer yams, as shortage in the market bites harder and the price still rising on daily basis.

States like Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Ebonyi, Enugu, Cross River and Ondo, that are predominant producers of yam, are finding it difficult to meet demand at home and for other markets.
For instance, in Lagos a sizeable tuber of yam sold for N300 to N350 as at August 2016, is now between N550 to N600. In Ogun State, a dozen of medium size tubers which sold for as low as N1,200 to N1,500 in 2016, now sells at present, its between N4,800 and N6,000.

In Taraba, a tuber of yam, which was N200.00, now goes for N500. Six pieces of yams in Kogi now sells for N3,000, as against last year when the same quantity sold for N1500. Now in Enugu, a sizeable tuber of yam sells between N400 and N500, while those buying in heaps are paying between N45,000 and N50,000, depending on the size and specie.

A northern yam vendor, who operates between Ile-Epo/Oja market and Abule-Egba area of Lagos, told The Guardian that the bulk of yam presently sold in Lagos and neighbouring states are mainly from Nasarawa State, as supply had ceased from other yam producing states, due to series of challenges beyond the control of the farmers.

The Guardian learnt that incessant eruption of clashes between grazers and farmers in Taraba State has been attributed to the scarcity of yam in the state, as majority of the farmers have been forced out of their farmlands to seek refuge in Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs) camps in the state, as well as, in the neighbouring states of Plateau and Benue.

The crisis has also frustrated yam dealers from the southeastern parts of the country from coming into the Taraba, a situation that has affected the state’s revenue.

Farmers who spoke to The Guardian said prices of the product would continue to rise steeply, pending when relevant measures are put in place to checkmate the grazers who have been frustrating farmers from carrying out their legitimate occupation.

They also blamed government for not providing them with yam seedlings, fertilizers and other farm implements at subsidised rates.A prominent yam farmer in Kwararafa village, Gassol local government area of Taraba, Shitile Mkom said since the crisis erupted, they have abandoned their farms, because they cannot operate in an atmosphere of chaos. “So this does not only affect the production of yams, but all the food groups.”

A yam dealer at the popular Wukari yam market, where buyers from all parts of the country and neighbouring Cameroon patronise, Dooshima Orum said the crisis has driven their customers away.

“You know when these crisis started some of our people were killed, and some of us managed to escape. On returning from our hideouts what we noticed was that most of our lands have been taken over by some well to do persons and the Fulani herdsmen.”

For Kogi, the scarcity of the product has been attributed to incessant flooding destroying several yam farms in Ibaji local government area of the state.

According to Acholo Achuba, a resident of Iyanyo, he was not able to harvest 50 per cent of his yams before the flood that overran his farm last year. That singular effect, which affected several farmers in the area contributed to the scarcity.

Mariam Salihu, who resides around Maigarin Palace, said the economic recession also affects the process for yam cultivation, as most of the chemicals have become very expensive.She said if farmers are to get disease free seed yams, they need to go outside the state, which increases cost. “And there is no guarantee that once the seed yam is bought, it will be disease-free. What farmers’ need is affordable sources of ‘clean’ or disease-free planting material of the varieties they prefer.”

Salihu pointed out that non-payment of salary to some workers in the state greatly affected the female farmers, who depended solely on their husbands for the fund to purchase the seeds and the necessary chemicals.

Another serious issue she raised has to do with insecurity as kidnappers have been on the prowl. She explained that the fear of being kidnapped is enough to make farmers lazy, as they no longer have the zeal to even go to farm.

Another concern raised is the recession, which affects them in the process of transporting yams to the market and cost of labour, as transportation cost has been jerked-up.

Despite its position as the mostly identified yam producing state, Benue is also hit with scarcity. Several councils in the state produce yams in large quantity. They include;-Ukum, Katsina- Ala, Logo, Agatu and Buruku, with each of them having yam markets that pull out trucks of yams in hundreds almost on a daily basis.

Some of such markets include; Zaki Biam and Kyado in Ukum, Tom Anyiin, Tor Donga, Sai, Dan Anacha, Abako, Gbor in Katsina- Ala, Ugba, Anyiin, Abeda and Gbeji from Logo.

Shortage of yams in the state has been attributed to poor harvest occasioned by worn out soil, according to the state Chairman of All Farmers Association, Comrade Aondona Kuhe.

Another challenge, according to a farmer in Logo local government area of the state, Kwaghbee Iorfa is incessant invasion of herdsmen on farms.
He cited two instances, where herdsmen encroached on his yam farms, damaging the crops resulting to poor harvest this year. According to Iorfa, “the same piece of land where I harvest 50,000 tubers of yams in a year could not give me 10,000 yams this year, despite the application of fertilizer.

According to Kuhe, there is need for good fertilizer to be mixed with lime to replace the lost soil fertility for a good harvest. “Government should also improve on the supply of fertilizer to farmers to improve production to meet demand. The limited quantity of fertilizer being supplied to yam farmers in the state is not enough.”

A renowned farmer at Tor Donga, in Katsina-Ala council area, Mr. Mke Ugbah, stressed the need for government to urgently introduce mechanised way of cultivating yam farms, to boost yields.Ugbah said a situation where farms use hoes does not match with the modern trend, hence low productivity.

The situation in Enugu State is however, different, as The Guardian learnt that high cost of yam in the state is not due to scarcity, but cost of transporting the commodity from the north to the state.

Aside cost of transportation, put at over N100, 000.00 per lorry load, ‘settlement’ at the various roadblocks mounted by the police, soldiers and haulage fees are linked to the rising cost.

A yam dealer at the Gariki market, Alhaji Lawan Mohammed, said; “We think that government should wade in and do something because the way it is, unless you pay, they will not allow you get to your destination. So that is why the price is higher here when compared to what is sold in some northern parts of the country.”

A farmer, Mrs. Lovelyn Ejim blamed the development on lack of yam seedling, explaining that majority of the farmers still rely on the old method of yam cultivation due to non-availability of improved seedlings.

Ejim, who is the Executive Director of Pan African Rural Women Farmers Initiative (PARWFI), said southeast youths have abandoned farming to embrace white collar jobs, stressing that yam, regarded in Igbo culture as “king of crops” is seen as men’s crop.

“Culture does not allow the women to cultivate yam and what we have here are predominantly women farmers. So there is a level in which any woman farmer can go in yam cultivation,” she said.

Ejim said it is cheaper to cultivate other food crops than yam, adding that labourers charge higher rates to make ridges for yam, than for other crops. She added that fertilizer has also remained scarce and on the high side, adding that this year’s farming season may witness the worst harvest for yam, if nothing was done to make the NPK brand of fertilizer for yam cultivation available to the people.

She noted that farmers in the southeast have always faced difficulty in accessing farm implements, saying no matter how much they tried to cultivate, they usually have challenges.
To her, the southeast governments have not done much to encourage yam farming, explaining that prices of yam will continue to be higher in the zone, unless appropriate steps are taken to address them.

“If you go to the various markets in the southeast, you will discover that they rely mainly on yams produced in the northern parts of the country and Benue. This is because we don’t have what it takes here to produce yam. Apart from our men not showing interest, the governments we have here are not talking about it. So it is a bit difficult for you to start asking for loan to cultivate yam with all the challenges associated with it. So I will always suggest that for us to bring down the price, we must cultivate at least, the little we can eat,” she said.

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