It is a cold Wednesday morning at about 7:10 am, at the home of John Ugbe in Zaki Biam, in the Ukum Local Government Area of Benue State. John is selecting yam seedlings, which he will be taking to the farm for planting, and he keeps lamenting the number of losses he has incurred in the past few months.
John Ugbe has been a farmer all his life. Farming has been his source of livelihood and what he used to generate income to train his four children in school, from primary to university education.
“I have been a farmer all my life. For us here in this part of the world, if you don’t farm, they may see you as an unreasonable person. I have four children, whom, by God’s grace, I have trained in school to university level with the funds I generate here,’’ he says.
Storage has been a major challenge for John, who reveals that his yam barn has been where he has been storing for the past few years that he has been practicing farming.
“My yam barn has been the only storage facility here. The bad side of this storage system is that we tend to make losses after harvest. During harvest, some yams get ‘injured’. In such cases, when you bring them to the house and store or keep them for the next few weeks or months, they will all go to waste.”
Jerry Uwua, 27, a young yam farmer, says farming has been a “lucrative job”. He also mentioned that the number of losses and lack of meaningful income from the farm has been discouraging.
“Farming has been lucrative for me. I’m young, but the reality here is that we are mostly farmers, and that is what we do here. One common scenario is the number of losses we incurred because all the processes we pass through after harvest are local. My yam barn is the only place I keep my yams after harvest.”
Jerry also laments how the price of yams has been relatively low due to the demand level.
“When you take your yam to the market, the price they pay is not as high as it should be because the people buying it know that if you don’t sell it, it will get to a point in the year that it (the yam) gets spoiled.’’
At the Zaki Biam Yam market, a yam tuber sells between N100 and N300 depending on the size, a price Jerry refers to as low due to the lack of advanced processing equipment.
“The price of yam here is low because of the demand. We have people who come here to buy yam every day, but the price is not encouraging with the current economic reality,’’ he adds.
Construction of Yam Processing Plant
The quest to ensure an advanced way of processing yams informed the decision of the House of Representatives member representing Katsina-Ala/Ukum/Logo, Hon. Richard Gbande, to nominate the fabrication and installation of a two-ton per day yam processing plant. N63,000,000 was budgeted for the project.
Findings by UDEME revealed that the project was funded by the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology.
In a bid to get the details of the contractor, UDEME sent a Freedom of Information Letter to the Agency in March, requesting the details of the contractor, the exact location of the project, and the total amount of money released in May 2023.
The agency declined to respond to the letter.
In an interaction with the legislative aide of the House of Representatives member, Kelvin Atsem, he revealed that his principal, Hon. Richard Gbande, has no details of the contract.
“There are no details of the contractors with my principal, he has revealed that all the details of the contract are with the supervising agency; they awarded the contract to their preferred contractor. I don’t have such details. All I know about the project is that I was told the contractors have built a fence at the site.”
According to a document obtained by UDEME and released by the accountant general of the federation, it was revealed that all 2022 Zonal Interventions Projects (ZIP) had been funded
During the visit of UDEME to the project site in Zaki Biam, Benue State, in May 2023, the contractor had only built a fence around the allocated land for the project.
‘Help us complete project farmers beg government’
John, who spoke with optimism, reflected on how the construction of the yam processing plant will improve the community’s economic situation.
“If this yam processing plant is completed, the economic situation of our people will improve. You will see where the demand for yams will be higher, and wastages will be highly minimized while profit will be maximized.
Jerry also spoke on the same line. He implored the government and all responsible individuals to conclude the construction of what he called the “life-saving project”.
“It is important that all individuals and government agencies responsible for the completion of the project to do that as soon as possible. This project will certainly be a life-saving plant because of its impact on our people and the whole country.”
In October 2017, the then minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbe, revealed that the United States of America rejected yams exported by Nigeria due to their poor quality, which calls for adequate yam processing plants across the country.
This report was produced under the Udeme project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID)