From Scholastica Hir, Makurdi

 

•Farmers working on their farm

Even as farmers across the nation await the rains for another cropping season, their counterparts in Benue State, especially peasant farmers, are maximizing the opportunities provided them by the presence of the River Benue.

The River Benue holds much blessings to many residents who have been tapping from its natural resources.

•Beke

Apart from being a source of water for transportation and fishing, the River Benue provides an environment for employment opportunities as many residents, mainly youths, engage in other activities around the river, including gravel and sand excavation.

Speaking to our correspondent in Makurdi, the capital of the state, on Tuesday, some of the farmers said they have not been deterred by the dry season as they  are adapting to climate change with resilience.

•Agishinaku

Benue, being an agrarian society and the food basket of the nation, the farmers said they were taking advantage of the River Benue to plant crops by the banks to further produce food.

When our correspondent visited the river bank by the Wurukum area of Makurdi, on March 19, it was observed that, using pumping machines, the farmers, comprising men and women, have turned the surrounding dry lands into wetlands for cultivation of crops.

•Evang. Owuna

Farmers were seen working on their vegetables, pepper, tomato, cassava and rice farms while petty traders were also seen purchasing varieties of vegetables, including pumpkin (ugu), spinach (green leaves), water leaf and bitter leaf, among others.

Speaking to Daily Sun, some of the farmers said they have been in the business of dry-season farming in the area for years without any form of government support.

•Elizabeth

The community leader of Ajogo, the area known as Wurukum, Mr. Ephraim Agishinaku, noted that women troop to the river bank community yearly to cultivate crops during the dry season but lamented that no one has ever come to assist them.

“Every year women troop to this community during the dry season to engage in farming as a source of income and livelihood. They usually make use of pumping machines, which they hire, to water their crops. They have good yields most of the time but the problem is there has not been a time that government has intervened in any way either by giving them fertilizer or grants to help them out.

“Another thing they are facing is the issue of insecurity. People come here at night to steal their crops and take them away. We need government to assist these women and young men who are trying their best to provide food to feed the masses.

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“They need grants or soft loans; they need machinery. Government should provide them with chemicals and fertilizers. They also need security so that all they laboured for would not be taken away by thieves.

A rice farmer, Evangelist Joseph Owuna, was also in his farm during the visit. He has been in the business of rice farming in the last 15 years. While he described dry-season farming as lucrative, Owuna said their major challenge is finance.

“You need money to acquire all the necessary input and machines required to go into dry-season farming. For instance, our crops die due to the hot sun because we lack the pumping machines to water them. Sometimes, I borrow up to N800,000 to plant rice but because it is not properly watered, they die and we will have to suffer to pay the money we borrowed.

“In a week, I hire water pump for three days at the cost of N3,500 or N4,000 for three hours daily. By the time you harvest this rice, how much would the rice cost?

“A lot of women and young men are idle not because they do not want to work but because they lack the wherewithal. We are appealing to the government to help us with inputs like chemicals, fertilizers, pumping machines, grants as well as soft loans to encourage us,” he said.

Madam Torkwase Garu, popularly known in the area as Mama Beke, buys vegetable farms after they have been grown and she sells to traders wholesale.

“I supply to marketers in Naka in Gwer West LGA, in Aliade, Gwer East, Daudu in Guma LGA and in Wadata Market in Makurdi.”

Mama Beke and her customer, Elizabeth, said planting and selling vegetables, especially during the dry season, was what they have been doing for years, and appealed to the government to assist them with inputs, machines and adequate finance.

They said, unless the government gets involved by assisting farmers with incentives, persistent calls for farmers to embrace off-season or dry-season farming, in order to guarantee food security in the country, would not be heeded.

The chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigerian (AFAN), Benue State chapter, Aondongu Saaku, said farmers in the state were not able to cultivate much during this dry season because of inadequate incentives from the government.

“We have not cultivated anything this dry season. Up till this moment, the inputs promised farmers by the federal government have not arrived.

“Over 53,000 farmers were aggregated to benefit and we were waiting for inputs but, as I speak, not up to 300 hectares were cultivated.”

He acknowledged that the state government gave out inputs to crop farmers and feeds to livestock farmers but noted that they were not enough, just as pumping machines were also not provided.

“I can take you by the river banks to see things for yourself. To my knowledge, Benue farmers did not cultivate up to 100 hectares of land this time.

“What we have is the political pronouncement from the President and we are still waiting,” he said.

Meanwhile, the state government has stated that it provided several incentives to farmers in Benue State to enable them engage gainfully in dry-season farming.

Benue State Commissioner for Agriculture and Food Security, Professor Moses Ogbaji, said the state government distributed inputs through Fadama and International Fund for Agricultural Development, (IFAD), on February 22, 2024, at the Benue State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (BENARDA) headquarters in Makurdi.

“We distributed assorted fertilizers, chemicals and improved seeds. We also distributed improved species of chicks; 25 chicks to every poultry farmer that participated. Fifty farmers benefited. We also distributed fingerlings and fish feeds to fish farmers,” he said.

The commissioner, who also noted that the state is in receipt of incentives from the federal government, said a total of 50,000 farmers have been captured, profiled and enrolled to benefit, assuring that the inputs would be distributed to the farmers soon as soon as some hitches are sorted out.

According to him, the state was expecting other farm machineries from the federal government, including pumping machines, among others to enable farmers get all they require to produce food irrespective of the season.

He told our correspondent that the state government has already distributed some solar pumping machines to cooperative groups of 20 members.

He urged the farmers at Ajogo community and elsewhere in the state who have not benefitted so far to form cooperatives and approach the government for registration to enable them benefit like others.

According to him, Governor Hyacinth Alia is committed to ensuring that farmers in the state live up to expectations.