By Amos Aar
A lecturer at the Joseph Saawuan Tarka University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Dr Bem Ugoh, has urged the incoming administration in Benue State under Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia to key into the federal government’s 10-year digital agricultural programme to promote modern agriculture and boost food production.
Dr Ugoh made the call Thursday in Makurdi during the maiden edition of Benue Foods and Markets Roundtable convened by a journalist, Mr Denen Achussah, with the theme “Opportunities and Obstacles in the Benue Food Market”.
In a keynote address, Dr Ugoh, who is the chairman, Dreams and Vision Resource Centre, Makurdi, asserted that an agricultural hub could be created in Benue State using digital framework that identifies places where major foods are produced that require relevant factories to be established for its processing in order to end post-harvest losses.
While decrying the lack of an aggregated policy that would drive agricultural development in Benue State, Ugoh advised the new administration to consolidate on the agricultural policies of the outgoing government so that Benue will not start afresh as it had been the case with past administrations
The don posited that it is needless situating a cargo airport in Makurdi, the state capital, pointing out that Makurdi was already captured in the processing zone by the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA). According to him, the cargo airport should be established in the Sankera axis or Adikpo in Kwande local government area which is part of the processing zone to connect with the headquarters in Calabar, Cross River State capital.
He identified some impediments to food production in Benue State as lack of enabling facilities, lack of transportation, and lack of partnership between professional people with technical expertise and the farming population as well as insecurity caused by herdsmen attacks which has affected food security and food markets.
Other factors, according to him, include global warming which compels farmers to wait for a particular conducive period to go to farm and political culture of policy discontinuity.
He expressed optimism that foods will get their values once the markets are stabilised.
On his part, Mr Sam Agwa, Head of Agric Development and Linkages at Sir Alex Addingi Foundation (SAAF), who spoke on Markets and Transportation, recommended that accurate data should be collected on oranges and other agricultural produce that are said to be wasting in the state to know the exact quantity that will be enough to feed relevant industries before it will be established.
He said before standard industries are established, “backyard” or cottage industries should be set up to take care of foods that are already wasting.
Agwa added that there should be a proper regulation of markets to put an end to a situation where individuals decide to fix prices of commodities in markets within their areas and markets should be established even as small as community warehouses within farming vicinities to avoid transporting goods to far distances.
“We are not even producing oranges enough to sustain a standard industrial process because they will get done and the factory will wait for the oranges to come back again,” Agwa observed.
Barnabas Akaazua, who contributed via zoom from Lagos, and spoke on ‘Markets and Standards,’ recommended that hybrid tomatoes should be planted to achieve high yield. He also upheld Sam Agwa’s position that the quantity of orange produced in Benue State was not enough to establish standard industries because production will cease for lack of the raw material.
Speaking on ‘Markets and Transportation, New Trends in Food Production and Middlemen,’ Mr Gabriel Anzam, the Chairman of Partnership for Christian Farmers, highlighted some factors militating against food production in Benue State to include land acquisition problem, leaving farming in the hands of only aged people as a result of brain drain and choice of politics as the only source of survival by able-bodied young men, dependence on rain-fed agriculture and multiple taxation.
He also decried high cost of pesticides and herbicides, recommending that the prices should be made affordable for farmers to cope.
Anzam, who argued that organic fertilizer is less costly and friendly to Benue soil also said inorganic fertilizer should be discouraged while farmers be taught the use of compost manure. He also encouraged farmers to diversify rather than depend on a particular crop in a season so as to enhance productivity.
Patrick Omora, a Market Desk Coordinator at Radio Benue, Makurdi, said, specific prices of food items be fixed to stop a situation where middlemen take advantage of surplus items and low demand in rural markets and tend to buy at cheap rates to the detriment of the suffering farmers.
Another participant, Mr Iorliam Shija, advocated for the reintroduction of agric-extension services to expose rural dwellers to new agricultural skills. According to him, the new administration should create access roads to rural areas to link farmers with markets and opportunities
In a vote of thanks, the convener and President, Benue Foods and Markets, Denen Achussah, said as a way forward, he will make a policy document available to the government for implementation.
Achussah encouraged farmers to plant sesame, considering its high yield, good price and ease in terms of cultivation.
He expressed appreciation to the resource persons and participants for honouring his invitation and making valuable inputs even at a short notice.