It is no longer news that Benue State is reputed to produce over 120 agricultural products and as such the state prides itself as the “food basket of the nation” with some of the crops grown to include yam, cassava, soya bean, maize, cow pea, potatoes and citrus, potentials still largely untapped.
Daily Trust reports that the 40-year-old state at its creation was envisioned to produce enough food that could feed the Nigerian populace and meet the export demand across the West African countries. No doubt, the state being blessed with a fertile land, temperate weather condition that is most favourable for cash and food crops, propelled the designers of its acronym to adopt the rider as the food basket of the nation.
Today, the fact remains that the state is a rich agricultural region, with available human resources required as manpower and manual labour driven farming during rainy or dry seasons when farmers resort to the lakes, ponds, and rivers for irrigation farming.
Supposedly believed to be the basket full of assorted food for the nation, Citrus farming is also prominent as traders from all over the country throng the state to make purchases, not just for the abundance of the produce but that the best species are found therein. These include mangoes, oranges, and pineapples. The state is undoubtedly the largest producer of orange in the country, especially in Ushongo Local Government Area (LGA) which prides itself as the home of citrus, followed by Konshisha, Gboko and Vandekiya LGAs respectively, among others.
In these areas, nearly every household boasts of an orange orchard. It doesn’t matter whether they live permanently at home or reside in other states, they own large or small orange farms of different varieties.
An orange farm owner in Vandekiya, who lives in Makurdi, Cephas Iornem, said that buyers come from all parts of the country, including Maiduguri, Kano, Imo, Ogun and Lagos to make purchases in lorries at his farm. “Majority of the Vandekiya people own orange farms. We have boys who work as intermediaries to sell the produce to buyers from Nigeria’s southeast and northern states,” he said.
On his part, David Bem, an indigene of Ushongo worried that despite the availability of the fruit in commercial quantity as well as quality, government had not been able to establish a special market for it in order to curb wastage. “It saddens me to see oranges wasted in my farm and those of others in the area. We produce all year round and people come with lorries from across the country to buy, but yet the produce usually wastes for lack of market,” he said.
In the same vein, the State Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Comrade Aondona Hembe Kule, posited that the state did not pride itself as the food basket of the nation for nothing as there is proof to justify that the land is extremely rich to grow everything edible. “For instance, more than 120 trucks loaded with yams, poultry products or citrus, among others are being transported from various parts of Benue State to other places in this country on daily basis.
“The plain where Benue is settled is very rich to grow everything edible. The soil is fertile to grow soyabeans, beniseed, maize, groundnut, cassava, yam, citrus and so on in commercial quantity that can feed not only Nigeria, but the entire West Africa,” he boasted. Kule therefore appealed to the federal and state governments to lend some financial support to the association in the state to empower the farmers to rise above their primitive method of farming and overcome the challenges of proper processing and marketing of farm produce now that arrangements are on to situate a citrus market at Yandev junction in Gboko.
To this end, the State Commissioner of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Mr. James Anbua, in a recent interview with our correspondent in Makurdi unveiled plans to revitalise citrus farming in the state so that more young people would be attracted to the sector in the face of dwindling oil economy and the imminent shift to agriculture-based fortune.
Anbua stressed that Benue produces one of the best species of citrus, but as it is, some of the local farmers have cried out that there are no markets and storage facilities, so that most of these fruits are wasted. “Our government is putting in place measures to ensure that these wastages are curtailed. Already, I have gone ahead to secure land for the development of citrus market. This citrus market will bring about storage facilities which government and other investors will provide for farmers. Our plan is to encourage our farmers not to take our fruits outside the state, but rather we will want to encourage them to sell locally here and also encourage investors to come and invest in Benue State. Kano does not produce oranges, but if you go to Kano, you will see a lot of orange processing factories there. It is our oranges. Our people take it there and if you have basic economic knowledge, you will know that factories are only sited where there is nearness to raw materials so an intending investor who wants to invest in a particular produce will only invest where a particular raw material is available.
“You can only see oranges in Kano and not here in Benue where it is produced because there is no market cluster where the farmers will sell their oranges. It is based on that background that I feel that we should establish a market here in Benue State, so that people from Kano who have their factories will come to Benue for these oranges to feed their factories. If they feel that it is not very wise to come to Benue State to buy oranges, then they should come to Benue and invest,” Anbua added.
The commissioner however disclosed that the intended citrus market would be sited in Gboko, explaining further that, “we have secured a site in Gboko and apart from that we are also looking at a long term industrial citrus site in Guma LGA. This one will be called industrial city. It will produce citrus and a city will be there, including a processing zone and a marketing site. It will be a complete city. This is a long term plan, but already I have secured a site in Gboko.”
Only two years ago, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) commenced a citrus export project in the state to assist farmers with small, medium and large plantations to export their products. The development, NEPC said, would provide consumers opportunity to buy their citrus at international markets in its original and natural condition, while the farmers would boost massive production in the state to further generate income and create employment as well as ensure food security. In this way, the commission had optimised that the non-oil sector of the Nigerian economy would become a global player in the international economic scene and its farm produce can also begin to compete favourably with products from other parts of the world.
Sequel to the new initiative, a lot of oranges, pineapples and mango farms in the state have continued to waste produce every year, mainly due to spoilage as a result of lack of storage facilities, market and transport, such that the farmers have little or nothing to show for their labour at the end of each season.
Even though most LGAs of the state have arable lands to grow the best quality of citrus in commercial quantity, it is sad that nearly all of the fruits rot away periodically despite effort by successive governments in the state to find solutions to curb the wastages. One of such moves led to the establishment of the Teragro Benfruit Juice concentrate plant in Makurdi, a deal the former Governor Gabriel Suswam’s administration enacted with a subsidiary of the Transcorp Company to produce orange, mango and pineapple fruit concentrates to help reduce wastage. However, nothing much has been heard about the project after the commissioning of the plant by President Goodluck Jonathan five years ago, during which the Managing Director of Transcorp, Obinna Ufudo had remarked that the plant would generate employment and improve the livelihoods of small-holder farmers.
At the moment, the NEPC said it is still training people and evolving possible strategies to encourage potential exporters, including the recent review of its registration policy in order to accommodate cooperative societies to pool their resources together and operate as one entity for the benefits derivable from export trade since the business is capital intensive..