appellation given to Benue State as the “Food Basket of the Nation” is not by sheer coincidence. Population wise, the state is little above 4 million, according to current statistics. But over 75 per cent of those numbers engage in farming activities. Understandably, agriculture is the backbone of the state’s economy as all the market forces rely on agro produce.
Though the production level has not been adequately supported with mechanization and agrochemicals, the state’s vast arable land offers immeasurable advantage to all kinds of crops, and the yield has always been in bumper. Currently, Benue records the largest soya bean production in Nigeria. Other cash crops like rice, peanuts, mango varieties, citrus, palm oil, melon seeds, African pear, chili pepper and tomatoes also thrive in huge quantity.
The state is also a popular producer of food crops like yam, cassava, sweet potato, beans, maize, millet, guinea corn, vegetables, etc. Residents of Abuja, Enugu, Jos, Nasarawa, Lagos and other neighboring states are always trooping in to buy food items at very cheap prices.
But given some discernment, a typical Benue farmer deserves some good benefits for his labour through his farm produce because that is all he has. It is frustrating that after exerting great energy to cultivate plant and harvest his crops, he sells them cheaply to local buyers. What he needs is the exposure to a bigger market where he can have more value for his crops. This is where government’s support is highly needed.
Unfortunately, reports have it that Benue yams and other agro produce from the state are being exported through the back doors to Ghana by some opportunists. The yams are branded Ghana yams before exporting to Europe or America. That is the shocking reality the state government must put a stop to.
But the only way to stop black marketers and those cutting corners is to attract a larger market by creating the enabling environment as a meeting point for agro exporters and the farmers. This calls for sincere efforts by the Benue State government to ensure the completion of the cargo airport project, which is currently stalled by lack of funds.
The state’s Executive Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, during his stint as the Supervising Minister of Aviation, promised that the cargo terminal for perishable and fresh produce in the state would be completed this year, 2015. Today, though the project still lies uncompleted as the year runs to an end, the expectation of Benue farmers is that the governor will keep his promise, considering the economic benefits accruable from the project.
The cargo airport, which is said to be the biggest in the country, was deliberately sited in Benue, considering the amount of food and other agro produce from the state. It was also believed that since agriculture is the mainstay of the state’s economy, the airport would create a window for exportation of agro produce from the state so as to give value to farmers and generate more revenue for the state and the nation.
The centrality of the airport in the middle belt is, no doubt, quite strategic. The expectation is that farmers from other neighboring states will also have access to the international market through the state, thus making it a hub for agro exports.
Although the project is funded by the Federal Government, the governor has the political will to persuade the current Minister of States on Aviation, Hadi Sirika, to ensure completion of the airport, knowing the economic value to the farmers and the state.
The benefits are enormous; apart from job opportunities for the teaming graduates, the state will also have an opportunity to attract tourists to her alluring hills and other cultural expositions.
The governor must leverage on this opportunity to create opportunities for all Benue citizens, who would want to venture into exportation of agro produce. This might be an indelible legacy the governor may be remembered for, after his tenure.
If a state like Ekiti, which do not have the kind of agricultural benevolence Benue has, is pushing forth for an airport, there is every need to take the challenge and join other states to open international gates for Benue citizens.
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