Bambara groundnut or Bambara nut, known in Hausa as “gurjiya”, and botanically as vigna subterranean, is widely grown in northern Nigeria. Like groundnut, it is a seasonal legume (pea family) grown during the rainy season.
In most places where it is grown, the crop is planted alone in soft, sandy soil as main crop or intercropped (with other crops).
Bambara nut, however, prefers, being planted alone than being intercropped as that will affect its yield. It is planted when the rains are stable because it does not tolerate draught.
A Bambara nut farmer in Alkaleri Local Government Area of Bauchi State, where its cultivation is very popular, Kawuji Alkaleri, said it is planted between late May and early June to avoid dry spells or draught.
Alkaleri said, “we plant Bambara nut when we are sure that the rains have stabilised. Before then, we make the ridges and prepare for planting. I cultivate at least five hectares of Bambara nut every year. The plant takes about nine days to germinate.”
He said he plants at least a big sack of Bambara nut every year, and that farming it is easy and cost effective because it does not require fertiliser, herbicides or attention like other crops.
“The only difficulty in Bambara nut farming is harvest. Its harvest is very tedious as it has to be picked one by one from the ridges. It is very high-yielding, so a hectare can take many days to be harvested and one has to be very skilled and patient to do the work.
“Bambara nut takes about five to six months to mature. It is harvested around October through November; which is the peak of the harvest season. The leaves turn red when the seeds mature. There are many ways to harvest the seeds. You either uproot the stem when the earth is wet or leave it to dry and harden, then you use hoe to dig it out,” he said.
Alkaleri added that Bambara nut had more yields per hectare than almost any other crop except groundnut.
He said, “we get at least 20 bags per hectare, depending on the place and type of soil. One other thing is that it is not prone to most of the diseases that affect crops. So, a Bambara nut farmer is almost always sure of having a bumper harvest.
“We had only an incident some years ago, when our farms were attacked by a strange disease. It made the leaves stunted and yellowish. Many farmers were affected, so we had very low yield that year. Since then, we have not had another incident.”
Bambara nut is stored either in special coated sacks or pesticide-treated normal sacks.
Alkaleri said, “weevils like those that destroy beans also attack Bambara nut. So, to store it, one needs to be very careful.”
Bambara nut is mostly harvested fresh and eaten boiled in many parts of the North. It is, however, also salted and roasted in parts of Bauchi and Gombe States around Dukku (Gombe) and Alkaleri, Darazo (Bauchi).
Roasted Bambara nut is popular among travellers along the Gombe-Bauchi and Bauchi-Maiduguri roads, especially some months after harvest and during the dry season.
From Alkaleri in Bauchi State through Gombe, especially at checkpoints and places where travellers stop to eat, Bambara nut hawkers; mostly teenage girls, are always seen selling it by tossing it through vehicle windows for travellers.
The boiled one is also popular during the rains as a popular snack; like boiled groundnut.
However, despite its popularity and the number of farmers engaged in its cultivation in Bauchi, Katsina, Gombe, Kano, Kaduna, Niger and other parts of the North, only a fraction of the crop is eaten in the North compared to what is exported to the East.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that in most parts of the North, people prefer the boiled fresh nuts. The salted and roasted type is, however, popular in many parts of the North East and North Central and in the South East where its consumption is very high.
However, it is mostly consumed in the South East as a popular delicacy called “okpa”, eaten with pap as breakfast. Okpa is made from powdered Bambara nut. The powder is made into a thick paste, mixed with palm oil, “ugwu” or spinach leaves and then wrapped in banana leaves, small transparent polythene bags or small containers and cooked in water.
In the North Central, like in Niger, Kwara, Benue and Plateau states, locals have different delicacies made from powdered Bambara nut.
Many people are engaged in the local processing of Bambara nut. Girls are mostly the ones involved in the processing and selling of the crop. They are the ones who buy the fresh one, boil and sell at the beginning of the Bambara nut season and sell the roasted and salted one after harvest.
Two teenage girls who our reporter met at the Alkaleri market with trays of roasted Bambara nut on their heads said they sold both the fresh and the roasted ones depending on the season.
One of the girls, Zainab Babayo, said she bought and sold Bambara nut all year round, and that she sold about six measures “mudu” on market days.
“We buy the old one at N400 and the new one N270 per mudu. We buy and process, then come out to sell. On market days like today, we sell in and around the market. Other days, we hawk along the road, at the checkpoints, filling stations or any other place where travellers stop to eat,” she said.
Zubaida Idris, another Bambara nut hawker, said she is involved in the business all year round and that all her female siblings are also engaged in the business.
Bambara nut has a value chain which has become big business. It is traded in almost every weekly market in the North, especially in areas where it is grown.
A Bambara nut dealer at the Alkaleri market, Alhaji Umaru Jaji Gwaram, said at least five trucks leaves the market for Enugu every market day, and that it is also taken to places like Makurdi in Benue State and some parts of the South South.
Alhaji Gwaram said, “A 100 measure (mudu)-bag cost N17,000 last year during harvest. But it can jump to about N30,000 during the rainy season as result of scarcity and high demand.
On government’s involvement, Alkaleri said, “there is no single programme by government or any other body regarding Bambara nut farming. Every farmer is on his own. My farm was once visited by some researchers from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. They asked me some questions and left. That was the only time someone came and showed interest in what we are doing.”