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Why yam cultivation is fast declining in SouthWest

By Gbenga Akinfenwa (Lagos), Ayodele Afolabi (Ado-Ekiti) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan) 
06 November 2022   |   3:55 am
At a time like this when the price of staple food commodities is increasing at an alarming rate, consumption of yam appears to be a better alternative, as the starchy crop is relatively affordable by all categories of Nigerians.

[FILES] Yams

• We’re Still Planting Yam, Say Ekiti Farmers

At a time like this when the price of staple food commodities is increasing at an alarming rate, consumption of yam appears to be a better alternative, as the starchy crop is relatively affordable by all categories of Nigerians.

However, contrary to the expectation of many, yam is now expensive, as a good number of households could no longer afford it, due to the high cost of the root crop.

A recent survey across some markets in Lagos and Ogun states attested to this. It was learnt that a sizeable tuber of yam sold between N700 to N800 as at August 2021 in Lagos, is now between N2, 000 and N2, 300. The case is slightly different in Ogun and Oyo states, as the same size of yam is sold between N1, 700 and N1, 500 in both states, respectively.

Just as the case with other farm produce, whose sudden price increase were caused by incessant eruption of clashes between grazers and farmers, the case of yam is not an exception as farmers in some of the yam producing states have fled their farms.

It was gathered that the majority of the farmers have been forced out of their farmlands to seek refuge in Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs) camps. Cost of transportation and logistics among others are considered as contributing factors to this problem.

But the major factor aggravating the yam price hike in the Southwest region, according to farmers and other stakeholders, is the fact that the zone currently relies on yam from the North, as cultivation in the region has declined drastically.

This untoward development, which has raised concern from agric stakeholders in the region over the gradual loss of interest in yam cultivation, has further exposed the regions ineptitude towards the sector across the states.

A farmer based in Coker community, Ifo Local Council, Ogun State, Michael Adelani, who confirmed that only a few farmers are currently cultivating the crop in the region, regretted that the bulk of the yams in the market are from the North, South-South and the South East.

Adelani who revealed that while growing up, yam used to be a major source of income for his father, who had many barns for storage, lamented that the crop has practically disappeared in the Southwest.

He confirmed that there are few yam farmers across the Southwest states, adding that even the yams the region is producing are quite different  in terms of size, colour, shape and taste, which many consider inferior to those from the North.

FOR Oyo State, a survey across many markets in Ibadan, the state capital indicates that a large chunk of tubers of yams on sale are from Benue, Abuja and other yam producing states outside the Southwest.

The Guardian learnt that the habitual consumers of the crop are specifically requesting for Abuja yams in markets over the few ‘local’ yams from the state, as concern is mounting over the gradual disappearance of the crop from the region.

An agricultural extension expert, who lectures at the Federal College of Forestry, Jericho, Ibadan, Nwachi Analech, identifies insecurity, scarcity of inputs, inflation and others as causes of the neglect.

He said: “The reasons are not far-fetched. They include insecurity, kidnapping, flooding, unavailability of seed yam (yam inputs for planting, degradation of the soil and increasing inflation”.

The lecturer urged the government to give assistance to farmers in the form of finances, inputs and provision of security to encourage yam cultivation in the state and Southwest at large.

The Coordinator, Oyo State Young Agripreneurs, Miss Ibukunoluwa  Tubi, said low awareness on the potential of the crop is a major reason for the gradual decline of the crop’s cultivation .

“Yam cultivation is seasonal and it is seen as a complement. Kogi and Benue do it massively.  People don’t see it as a major crop here. It is due to lack of awareness on the potential of the crop.

“To change the narration, firstly, there is a need to create awareness concerning the availability of a ready-made market, this is very key.  When they know they have the market, farmers will go for it. Secondly, our people should be educated that yams can also grow here, just as tomatoes in the past.  Before now, people thought tomatoes could not do well here until the farmers started cultivating it,” Tubi said.

The Southwest Head,  Federal Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development, Mrs Omolara Abimbola-Oguntuyi, said a major visible reason is the climate change problem is affecting this part of the country, coupled with farmer/helders’ clashes.

She, however, said the Federal Government was working with yam farmers in the zone to address the challenge of low interest in the crop.

“There are so many other variables but the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is already working with yam farmers in the Southwest zone to see how this problem can be overcome,” she said.

IN Ogun State, the scenario is not really different, a farmer from Imeko area of the state, who frowns at the way and manner the cultivation of the tuber crop had dropped over the years, said there is already a wide different between the yams cultivated in the region and those from the North, in terms of size, weight and look.

While describing the development as worrisome, Abolore listed 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,” he said.

The farmer 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 aging hands are not interested in farming; they are seeking office jobs. The private sector too is not supporting us to boost agriculture, even the government is not helpful, and all the necessary things we need to boost the sector are not available.

But the Acting Project Manager and State Coordinator, Value-Chain Development Programme (VCDP), Ogun State, Samuel Adeogun, said the state has been promoting the cultivation of tuber crops inclusive of yam and other agricultural value chains.

“Ogun State facilitated the cassava Anchor Borrowers Programme, which was the largest in the Southwest. The state government distributed planting materials (seed yam) to farmers in 2020 to boost yam production in the state. Also, in 2021, the government distributed seed yams, fertiliser, herbicide and insecticides with a spraying pump to farmers, not only to yam farmers but to maize, and cassava farmers too.

“The state government has been promoting yam production through the activities of Ogun State Agric Development Programme (OGADEP), which includes training of yam farmers on seed yam production, using minisetts techniques; demonstration on available improved varieties and provision of advisory services to farmer on good agricultural practices and that includes yam,” he said.

Adeogun said the state is implementing an economic transformation project supported by the World Bank to promote different agricultural value chains in addition to other donor-funded interventions in agriculture.

He, however, attributed the dwindling yam production in the Southwest to an aging farming population; non-availability and high cost of planting materials; climate change; scarcity of labourers and high cost of maintaining yam farms.”

LAGOS State seems to be the worst hit, as yam cultivation appears to have practically stopped, according to feelers. While The Guardian learnt that areas like Epe, Badagry and Ikorodu, among others thrived in the past in the area of yam farming, the story has changed.

Despite being the largest market for yam in the region, feelers revealed that all the yams sold in markets across the state, except water yam, are brought from yam producing states.

A member of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in the state, who resides in Agbelekale area, Mr. Ojuola Kareem said yam farmers have virtually disappeared in the state, as there is no record that the state is producing the tuber crop in any way.

He said: “Though, there are reports from the state government on improved funding for agriculture and similar programmes, there’s little to show for this because the majority of what is consumed in the state is transported from other states. If the government can focus on real farmers and invest massively on crops, including yam, that are widely consumed, the state will not only get regular revenue, more people will be willing to go into farming.”

When the Ministry of Agriculture was approached to know what the state has done to revive yam production, the Director of Information disclosed that it is only the Commissioner that can comment on the issue.  For seven weeks, The Guardian could not get any response on the issue.

FOR Osun State, a farmer who operates hectares of plantations, Mr. Bosoye Olalere, 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.

All efforts to get the position of the state government were also futile.

HOWEVER, for Ekiti State, the story seems to be different, as the farmers said they experienced bumper harvest of yam this season.

The farmers who spoke to The Guardian, said yam is a seasonal crop that could be harvested in some parts of the country at different seasons, noting that the harvesting period in Ekiti is between May and September every year.

According to them, unlike last year’s harvest, which were affected by inadequate rainfall, the current harvest favoured a lot of farmers and has subsequently led to price fall in the state.

The Chairman All Farmers Association, Ekiti State chapter, Mr Adebola Alagbada said, “in reality, it is not the case that yam has disappeared in the Southwest because yam is a seasonal produce.

“By the time our yam in the Southwest is matured for harvesting, yam in the North will not be ready. Now, we are currently exporting our yams to the northern parts of the country, as well as Lagos and other areas in the south.

“During the dry season around December, when they are harvesting their yams, people from the South will in turn, import yam from the North as well. If you get to Ilasa Ekiti, Odo Oro and some other places, you will see trailers loading yams to the North. Moreover, the activities of the herdsmen have reduced the investment of farmers into yam production. The issue of herdsmen is a major challenge to us farmers,” he said.

Another farmer, Mr. Ojo Oloruntoba from Ijan Ekiti in Gbonyin local council, said, “To say yam has disappeared in the Southwest or Ekiti State is not correct. If you say that we lack preservation of our produce, I will agree with you.

“You know that yam is a perishable crop that can’t be kept for long; this is why farmers harvest their yams and sell them to prepare for another planting season, which begins from October and ends in December.

“Yam as a crop is difficult to cultivate unlike maize and rice because of its peculiarity. In the Southwest, we cultivate in thick forest, while the people in the North, mostly plant in an open field.”

He said the herders also contribute to the low morale of yam farmers, adding that some seasons could also be affected by climate change.

Other farmers, including Gabriel Daramola and Afuye Busuyi who are residents of Ikere Ekiti, said most farmers in the state operate subsistence farming with their farm implements, saying that they lack the required funds to embark on large scale farming.

Efforts to get the view of the commissioner for Agric proved abortive at the time of filing this report, as he did not respond to calls placed across to him.