Benue State proudly lives up to its moniker as the country’s “food basket.” Home to lush farmlands, two major rivers, and favourable weather, Benue boasts an incredibly diverse agricultural sector that drives economic growth.
The state accounts for over 30% of Nigeria’s soyabean production and about the same share of its total rice output. Benue also ranks among the highest yam and cassava-growing areas nationally while supporting sizeable maize, millet, beans, sesame, sweet potatoes, oraches, citrus fruits, mangoes, bananas, and more.
With 80% of Benue’s 6 million+ population engaged in farming, crops provide income generation and exports, along with feeding national food requirements. The fertile soils and farming know-how here deserve highlighting for their bountiful harvests filling baskets and bellies across Nigeria.
Benue State’s Strategic Location and Natural Advantages
Centrally positioned, Benue State connects Nigeria’s coastal regions, northern plains, and border areas through the Abuja Federal Capital Territory. The state also holds strategic proximity to Cameroon, Niger, Chad, and other African countries.
Benue’s location enables the transport of agricultural goods to local and international markets. Well-constructed roads and infrastructure networks linking rural towns and villages help farmers trade wares.
The state also enjoys optimal climactic and geographical conditions for cultivating its vast crops. Two major rivers—Benue and Katsina Ala—form natural boundaries and provide abundant water sources.
Generous annual rainfall, averaging 1,150 mm, floods the land, while the tropical climate sees temperatures range from 24 to 37°C across much of the state. Such factors allow multiple annual harvests.
Crop cultivation supports livelihoods.
Agriculture forms the mainstay of economic life for Benue’s residents outside of administrative and commercial roles in major cities.
Crop farming puts food on the table and bolsters family incomes for rural households. With smallholder farmers dominating, basic food items directly fill local needs. Surplus yields then make their way to urban centres countrywide through trade.
Beyond subsistence purposes, larger agribusiness ventures based on cash crops like soyabean and improved seed varieties earn vital export revenues too. Hence, the sector provides financial security nets, preventing deeper poverty levels for many.
Soyabean’s Story and Supremacy
Soyabean undoubtedly constitutes Benue’s leading agricultural export and cash-generating crop. Soft beans harvested from leguminous soy plants hold high protein and oil content, making commercial soyabean meal and oil.
Nigeria’s domestic soyabean output cannot meet large demands from its fast-growing poultry, fish farming, and allied feed industries. Hence, the country depends heavily on imports.
Benue State bucked national production trends as its farmers more than doubled soybean tonnages from 2016 to 2020. Yield per hectare also outstripped other states through intensive cultivation.
Such forms are a major boon for the country, given soy’s economic significance. By feeding national livestock, fish, and poultry sectors, the crop hereby lessens expensive foreign exchange expenditures on mass soybean importation.
Rice Revolution is taking hold.
In tandem with federal efforts, Benue State instituted policy interventions from 2015 onward aimed at attaining national rice self-sufficiency.
Strategies introduced encompassed input subsidies for smallholder farmers, facilitating land clearance for cultivation, the provision of improved seedlings and farming techniques, and clusters of agro-processing facilities.
These measures rapidly increased Benue’s rice farming area over fivefold within five years, resulting in vastly multiplied outputs from some 100,000 metric tonnes in 2015 to 570,000 metric tonnes in 2021!
The influx caused Benue’s rice contribution to Nigeria’s total production to soar from 1.5% initially to around 30% within this period!
Yet still, more intensive cultivation can raise output and productivity levels to meet the demand for the national staple, whose local supply falls short.
Bounties from Below: Tapping Tubers
A wide range of tuber crops thrive in Benue, constituting dietary mainstays while also generating farmer incomes. These potatoes growing underground provide key staples, nutrients, and food security.
Yams form a cherished traditional crop, with the annual New Yam Festivals representing Benue’s leading cultural events. Numerous varieties abound, but white yams rank foremost, displaying higher yields and market values.
Benue’s average yam yields per hectare exceed the national range. Constituting Nigeria’s second-largest producer after Kaduna State, Benue contributes an estimated 30% share of total yam outputs.
Cassava, a climate-resilient crop offering flexible planting and harvesting times, delivers vital starchy food security across much of Africa. Roots containing crucial carbs get processed into garri, tapioca, starch, and more.
Benue’s plentiful cassava generates surpluses for trading beyond state confines. However, poor yields per hectare indicate room for growth via wider adoption of mechanised processing and improved farming methods.
Lesser discussed but equally important for food needs, sweet potatoes offer nutritional benefits given their vitamin A richness. Signifying another climate-adaptive crop, sweet potatoes do well across Benue.
Yet smallholder cultivation practices lead to lower yields than in other Nigerian states. Pilot agronomy projects demonstrate the scope for farmers to double or even triple outputs using quality vines and improved agronomic processes.
Maize matters too.
Benue farmers dedicate sizeable land portions and agricultural efforts to maize cultivation as well. Yellow and white maize outputs reach hundreds of thousands of metric tonnes, making the state Nigeria’s 5th largest maize producer in 2021.
Beyond human consumption, the livestock and poultry sectors rely on maize as a crucial feed input too. Hence, steady production increases hold strong economic importance.
Legumes complete the package.
Various pulses and legumes constitute complementary protein sources in Nigerian diets. Benue cultivates several on smaller scales while cumulatively contributing essential outputs.
Bean cultivation occurs across Benue State, delivering vital protein components while replenishing soil nutrition via nitrogen fixation. However, average outputs per hectare lag nationally, pointing to suboptimal smallholder practices.
In addition to beans, locally grown groundnuts furnish affordable proteins for Benue residents. But again, outdated farmer techniques restrict yield potentials along with vulnerability to fungal aflatoxins during storage.
Sesame represents another oil-rich edible cash crop earning export revenues. Harvested seeds also create raw materials for cosmetics and medicinal products. While sizable, Benue’s sesame cultivation can expand greatly using enhanced inputs.
Assorted fruits complete nature’s bounty.
Beyond staple crops and tubers, Benue State reaps prodigious fruit outputs, adding vitamins and variety to local diets while also processing them into assorted food products. These too deserve illumination as part of its agricultural cornucopia.
Citrus constitutes Benue’s leading fruit category by volume, with some 90% smallholder cultivated. Oroges and oranges make up the bulk of citrus fruits produced, which get sold locally or enter juice making and other agro-processing.
Mangoes remain a beloved treat across Nigeria and West Africa. Benue’s tropical climate suits the fruit, which farmers typically harvest during April–June annually. While outputs are sizeable, large parts of production get wasted from poor handling, thereby limiting market supply.
In a similar fashion, ample rainfall, river irrigation, and fertile soils help Benue farmers harvest bunches of sweet bananas. Plantain variations also bolster food security. Nonetheless, post-harvest losses diminish banana volumes, making them available to consumers.
Pineapple farming has expanded in Benue State more recently as the fruit gained wider popularity across Nigeria owing to its sweetness and health properties. However, average pineapple productivity per cultivated area falls behind the country’s southern regions.
Other Fruits and Nuts
Benue further records the cultivation of other nutritional or commercial fruits like guava, watermelon, pawpaw, coconut, and oil palm to lesser degrees presently. Each holds the capacity for greater scalability to meet national demand.
Livestock and Fisheries Too
Animal rearing represents another key facet of Benue’s agricultural sector that provides meat, dairy, and other livestock by-products to consume locally and nationally.
Cattle herding in particular benefits from the state’s lush natural pastures but experiences encroachment pressures. Aquaculture through catfish and tilapia fish farming has been growing via commercial pond developments to breed stocks.
By upholding mixed crop-livestock production, the entire agricultural spectrum gets bolstered via organic fertilisation and drought resilience. Hence, animal components complement the state’s extensive cropping activities.
Challenges Confronting Production Potentials
Despite Benue State’s immense agricultural endowments enabling historic harvests, sizable bottlenecks hamper the sector from reaching its true potential. These deserve discussion too, as policymakers seek to transform the state into a global breadbasket.
With farming dominating economic life, Benue grapples with tensions between arable land availability and expanding cultivator numbers. Outdated fallow methods also sap soil nutrients, necessitating costlier chemical inputs.
Encroaching housing around cities nibbles away at croplands, pushing farmers onto erosive slopes or forest peripheries. Clan conflicts occasionally flare up, stymieing agricultural productivity.
Climactic variability has led to leaner rainy seasons and longer droughts, which spell disaster for rain-fed farming. With irrigation utilising just 1% of suitable areas presently, huge gaps exist in ensuring sufficient, stable crop watering.
Smallholder farmers operating with limited financial, material, and technical resources account for 80% of cultivation in Benue. Subsistence mindsets focus more on achieving household food sufficiency.
Hence, many cannot invest in improved farm technologies such as broadcasting seeds, fertilisers, mechanisation, post-harvest storage, and processing to significantly enhance productivity and value-added.
Inadequate inputs and infrastructure
Relatedly, farmers report lacking access to vital quality inputs like certified seeds, grabs, agrochemicals, and other solutions at the right times and prices. Transport difficulties due to poor rural road networks also impact input supplies and crop haulage.
Weak Extension Services
Additionally, ineffective agricultural extension systems hamper the transfer of vital knowledge and optimise farmer practices. Just one extension worker exists per 3,500–5000 farmers, against the FAO standard of 1:800!
High post-harvest losses
Furthermore, with smallholders lacking scientific harvesting, handling, and preservation capabilities, spoilage and waste diminish Benue’s potential agricultural commercialization. Crops deteriorating after picking or during storage counter enhanced production.
High marketing margins captured by long chains of intermediaries between Benue’s farmer fields and final consumers also limit production incentives. Farmers hence realise relatively low prices despite enabling national food security.
Policy Prescriptions for Unleashing Potential
Thankfully, investing in Benue State’s agriculture to tackle these limitations can better harness its immense latent capacity for sustaining Nigeria’s future food needs.
Increased land access
Reviewing land tenure systems and restrictions that constrain bigger cultivation acreages would facilitate resizing farm plots for greater outputs. Fallow management reform also bears relevance.
Since most farming happens rainfed, a huge scope exists to augment water supply and raise yields through small-scale irrigation works like boreholes, farm ponds, and micro-channels.
Boosting capital injections into Benue’s agriculture through development schemes and bank credit access would allow farmers to adopt advanced methods and technologies.
Specifically targeting financial, input, and extension assistance to smallholder farmers can maximise productivity in this dominant constituency with appropriate training.
Strengthening rural infrastructure, especially transport, marketing yards, agro-processing facilities, and irrigation, would overcome structural hindrances. ICT applications, too, can aid farmers.
Process and preserve
Public and private initiatives to enhance food processing and preservation could significantly cut post-harvest losses while also generating value-added agro-based enterprises.
Research and innovation
Further investments into developing improved, climate-resilient crop varieties side by side with the popularisation of innovative cultivation techniques can enhance resilience and sustainability.
In summary, Benue State’s farming sector represents the crown jewel of Nigeria’s agrarian economy, which satisfyingly feeds national populations while offering growth avenues. Yet at the same time, huge opportunities abound to transform the state into a true global grain basket through policy reforms.
Unleashing Benue’s agricultural promise warrants multi-stakeholder collaboration. All have roles in championing rural transformation and championing farmers. Successfully doing so would bolster incomes, living standards, food security, and export revenues for Nigeria’s future.