By John Igoli
Benue State has always prided itself as the food basket of the Nation. While we were busy basking in the euphoria of our sobriquet or description, other states and nations were developing their e-baskets and today our food basket exchanges quite disproportionately to these e-baskets.
When we are busy throwing yam tubers into lorries and big trucks for the journey to Lagos and other destinations, others are sending yam flour and powder to us in small trucks. While we are loading oranges and mangoes into sacks and trucks for the tortuous journey to Kano and Kaduna, here the fruits arrive with over 70% spoilage, others are sending us fruit juice in fancy trailers and we are once again holding the short end of the market stick. It has been reported that rice, yams, cassava, soyabean and other foodstuff are cheaper in many states than in Benue, we have blissfully ignored these reports on the basis that things are hard everywhere. While our city or urban dwellers are toiling to eat akpu, maize and corn meals, drinking garri and other lowly foods and usually without meat or fish, urban dwellers in other States are eating good and well embellished food.
We may argue that it is our choice, but the truth is that these poor meals are directly related to poverty. The fact that our state is unable to add value to its numerous agro-produce through processing and storage and transportation to other parts of the country if not abroad, is to say the least an embarrassment to the people, leaders, indigenous investors, universities or any research establishment and the opportune in the State.
The blame game and excuses can no longer be sustained or tolerated. The government of the day must act now by directing relevant agencies or persons or institutions to establish these value adding industries such as fruit juice factory, vegetable oil extraction, yam flour, tomato puree or concentrates, cornflakes, spice formulation and processing etc. Simple machines such as yam pounders, juice extractors and tomato juice evaporators or freeze dryers can be fabricated and used to kick start these industries. We have the Engineers and technical know how and scientists in the State. The demand for quick or take away meals is so high now that we can only ignore it to our peril.
We must use what we have to get what we want or need. Our over stressed food basket must be upturned, the contents processed and repackaged for value, income generation and ease of doing business with others. With the funds generated we can begin to set up our e-basket for our technological take off. Else how long will it take a student to farm, sell the produce and obtain funds sufficient to buy a laptop? How long will such a student be in school or what strength will be left in him to study?
We must also use the revenue to ensure state-wide electrification and data coverage for mobile phones and internet. Perchance the Universities in the State go with online teaching, then our students who reside in the rural areas are automatically cut off and may not need to return to school as they would have missed so much lectures and examinations due to non-data availability in their localities. This also discourages the urban poor from returning to the villages as they are cut off from civilization.
The truth is that we are in a jet age or electronic age or technological one. Business and transactions are now carried out at the speed of click. Anyone who is still loading yams and fruits and seeds in baskets, sacks and other containers or bags has clicked their return to the stone age and has no basis for doing business with others who have established their e-baskets. It is time to stop the complaining, talking, arguments and other restrictive activities and do what has to be done to convert our food basket to our e-basket. The e-basket contains finished products and ready to eat or serve or consumed products. They are easier to transport, less spoilage if not zero, less human risk in long and risky journeys, and generates employment. Our desire should be to be known as the e-basket of the nation. The universities in the state should be the catalyst for this conversion from food basket to e-basket else we may have failed in our mission to the people of the state.
Professor Igoli is of the Department of Chemistry, University of Agriculture Makurdi. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org