By Jacob Akya
To whom much is given, much is expected is a time-honored aphorism.
That God so much endowed Benue State with agricultural potential to warrant its pseudonym of Food Basket of the Nation entails the onerous responsibility of providing enough agricultural produce to take care of the food needs of Nigeria, be they animal or crop.
Benue State boasts of many large water bodies that could be found in the country. Some of these are the second largest River in the country, River Benue from which the state derived its name ,River Katsina-Ala, River Gwer, River Buruku, River Mkomon, River Amile, River Gbaya, River Okpokwu, River Aya, and River Loko.
From these water bodies a lot of fishing activities take place ensuring the animal protein requirements in the diet of the people.
Apart from fishing to enrich the protein value of the people’s diet in addition to providing a viable source of income to the numerous fishermen where the water bodies are located, these sources of water could be channelled into Dry Season Farming to make all-year round farming much easier. In this wise farming in certain crops that usually thrive only under wet conditions could be boosted through the uptake of irrigation services.
Animal husbandry is one area where Benue State is a leading name because it is blessed with a friendly climate that is conducive to various species of animals all round the state. Everywhere one turns, there are to be found the practice of raising animals successfully for both domestic and commercial requirements. One good thing going for the indigenous farmers is that there are to be found in their holdings both indigenous and mixed varieties of their animal stocks that are thriving. However limitations in available information and funding to expand and improve on holdings and quality stock propagation have always stood glaringly as hindrances.
Benue State is blessed with vast fertile arable lands on which different crop varieties thrive but because of small farmer holdings owing to outmoded cropping techniques and financial limitations these vast fertile lands are grossly underutilized.
One notable factor that had greatly affected farmers, performance in recent times had been the persistent invasion of agricultural communities all over the state by suspected Fulani herdsmen and their allies who have not only killed numbers of farmers and their families but in addition destroyed their homes, farms and even foodstuff harvested and stored for future use. The Invaders had apart from seizing lands belonging to farmers also gone to the extent of cutting down tree crops so that the rural economy of the Benue people had been brought to its knees.
It is so disheartening that these heartless herdsmen make no attempt to guide their herds against straying into farmlands to destroy what the farmers had laboured so much to produce, a situation that had always elicited farmer-herder clashes.
Despite being in existence for over forty-five years, it was just recently that the administration of Governor Samuel Ortom enunciated a State Policy on Agriculture which is envisaged to propel the state to its rightful position as the Food Basket of the Nation in actuality. Already ,some of the things envisaged in the visionary policy had started seeing the light of day, like rallying the people to return to the farms, like the farming holidays for civil servants to engage in agricultural activity like farming and harvesting of produce at appropriate time as well as raising of livestock. Another worthy cause has been the planned establishment of a tractor assembly plant in the state in partnership with a leading local vehicle manufacturing company, Innoson Nigeria Limited. The earlier acquisition of tractors for sale to farmers at subsidized rate should not be forgotten as a laudable visionary step. Equally important had been the acquisition and availability of inputs like fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to farmers. There are also efforts at educating farmers on ways to facilitate accessibility to credit facilities from financial institutions towards expanding and deepening their holdings for greater relevance. It is apt to restate the fact that Benue agriculture had always faced as its greatest problem the huge post-harvest waste of produce.
Industrialization remains the key to taking the state out of this ugly situation.
The time has come for the establishment of specialized processing industries even if it is on small scale basis.
Given that government alone cannot do it all, it behoves private sector initiative to synergize with the public sector towards deepening private sector participation in the industrialization of Benue state.
There are limitless opportunities in the agricultural sector. In the high risk perishables like pepper, tomato, citrus etc, the thinking could be canning the products for which the raw materials are in abundance to guarantee ceaseless production of such factories if they are established.
Funding had always been the headache for prospective entrepreneurs but government in synergy should be ready to facilitate small holder financing.
By collaborating with private sector initiatives, there would be assurance that there would be ready purchasers for farmers’ produce, in an environment where there would be motorable roads without unnecessary road blocks where illegal activities thrive, and improved electricity supply to encourage industrialization efforts.