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Concern over high cost of yam as cultivation declines in South West

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
28 August 2022   |   2:39 am
Just as in the case of other agro commodities and foodstuffs, which are going beyond the reach of the masses, there are growing concerns over the high cost of yam.

[FILES] Yams

Just as in the case of other agro commodities and foodstuffs, which are going beyond the reach of the masses, there are growing concerns over the high cost of yam.

Yam is one of the popular staple foods widely consumed by Nigerians. It is a preferred source of carbohydrate and income for millions of people in the country.

Nigeria ranks as the largest yam producer in the world, contributing over two-thirds of global yam production yearly. Despite this, the staple food is gradually getting beyond the reach of average citizens.

Investigations showed that a sizeable tuber of yam sold for N700 to N800 as at August 2021 in Lagos, is now between N2, 000 and N2, 200. The case is slightly different in Ogun and Oyo states. The same size of yam is sold between N1, 700 and N1, 500 in both states, respectively.

Currently, a good number of Nigerians, especially those in cities and urban areas have started cutting down their yam consumption level, as it is becoming unaffordable.

Based on investigations, one of the causes of the price hike is the incessant eruption of clashes between grazers and farmers in some of the yam producing states. It was gathered that majority of the farmers have been forced out of their farmlands to seek refuge in Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs) camps.

Another factor identified as a major challenge is the rising cost of transport and logistics. Yam vendors claimed that transporting the produce from states like Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Ebonyi, Enugu, Cross River and others that are predominant producers of yam are increasing daily, due to cost of fuel, especially diesel.

A northern yam vendor, who transports the commodity to Lagos, Ibrahim Shata, revealed that the bulk of yam currently sold in Lagos and neighbouring states are mainly from Nasarawa, Benue, Taraba and Adamawa states. He said transporting a tuber of yam from the state costs as much as N500.00 to Lagos.

He said: “We are doing business to make a profit, if we transport a tuber of yam at the rate of N500, we’ll need to add the cost of other logistics and our own profit, in order not to run at a loss.”

A yam seller at the Oja-Oba Market, Abule-Egba, Lagos, Alhaja Kubura Mosafejo, who buttressed the position of Shata, said the problem stems from the fact that the Southwest region currently relies on yam from the North, as cultivation in the region has declined drastically.

“The bulk of the yams in the market are from the North, South-South and the South East. Yam has practically disappeared in the Southwest. Only a few farmers are cultivating. There are few yams from our farms and when you see them, the difference is clear, in terms of size, colour, shape and taste. Even our people always ignore our own yams because they are not in the same category, in terms of state and quality, like those from the North,” she said.

This revelation has now raised questions from concerned agric stakeholders in the region over the gradual loss of interest in yam cultivation, which has inadvertently led to its steady disappearance across the states.

The Head of Farmers (Baale Agbe) in Imeko area, Ogun State, Chief Abdulazeez Ismail Abolore, who described the development as worrisome, identified climate change; dearth of farm hands and lack of support for the sector as part of the problems.

“Climate change is the first challenge; we have not been having regular rain as expected. We usually plant yam around October/November and by early January the first rain will be experienced – to wet the yams. By April, the rain will start fully, but currently, the climate condition has changed, and we have been experiencing a dearth of rain.

“The rain, which ought to be starting by April, may delay till June. Like this year, the rain fell for only one week in June and ceased suddenly, since then, we have been expecting the rain to fall till this month when it started again. Even this August, the rain is not widespread. This irregularity always affects the cultivation of yam. This is not limited to only yam cultivation, it affects other crops too,” he said.

Abolore attributed the climate change problem to deforestation – cutting of the trees in the farms, adding that the extent at which timber makers and those making charcoal are cutting the trees is alarming.

 
He said: “Dearth of labourers is another factor. We rely so much on farm hands from the neighbouring countries, but they are no longer coming. Our youths who are supposed to take over from the ageing hands are not interested in farming; they are seeking office jobs. The private sector too is not supporting us to boost agriculture, even government is not helpful, and all the necessary things we need to boost the sector are not available.

“The Northern farmers are enjoying irrigation farming, the necessary opportunities that farmers can enjoy in Southwest here like loans and other incentives are not there. It may take over one year for us to pursue loans, yet there’ll not be any outcome. The situation is becoming precarious.

“Glaring is the difference in the type of yams we planted here and that of the North – in terms of size, weight and look. They rely solely on the usage of chemicals – fertiliser. That gives them good harvests. The secret is that they have easy access to fertiliser, machinery and other inputs because of government support, we don’t have such access here.”

 
The Executive Chairman, Ajogbe Holdings, Mr. Bosoye Olalere, who operates hectares of plantations in Osun State, described the issue as “just another manifestation of declining interest in agriculture and everything related to it, despite government’s hype on increasing interest in the sector.”
  
When asked if infrastructural development contributed to the issue, he said: “I wouldn’t ascribe that as a contributor to the issue in any way because we still have several hectares of unutilised arable lands all over the Southwest.
 
“We have to find a way of getting our political leaders to realise the importance of food security and then give attention and resources to that sector…,” he said.

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