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SME Guide

Overlooked and Underrated: Why Benue State Presents Prime Business and Investment Opportunities

Benue State, located in the middle belt region of Nigeria, is a hidden gem for business and investment opportunities in the country. Despite being often overlooked and underrated, Benue presents prime prospects across multiple sectors, including agriculture, solid minerals, tourism, and infrastructure development. With a large land mass, fertile soils, rich natural resources, and a youthful, vibrant population, Benue offers an enabling environment for both local and foreign investors. In recent years, the state government has also made concerted efforts to drive development through reforms, incentives, and partnerships. This in-depth profile of Benue State explores the key factors that make it an ideal investment destination, along with insights, data, and commentary from experts on how to tap into emerging opportunities.

Agricultural Potential

Abundant arable land

One of Benue’s standout features is its rich agricultural profile, anchored on vast arable land covering over 5 million hectares. The state sits on the fertile Benue trough, which accounts for highly productive soil conducive to a wide variety of crops.

Annual crop production is estimated at over 5 million metric tonnes from both commercial farms and smallholder plots. Key crops include yams, rice, cassava, soybeans, sorghum, millet, sesame, cocoa beans, and palm produce.

The geographical advantages allow multiple harvests in quick succession to meet rising domestic and export demand. With agriculture accounting for over 40% of GDP, Benue holds the ace in driving Nigeria’s food security ambitions.

Investment Incentives

The state government recognises agriculture’s immense potential for economic growth, job creation, and rural development. A range of incentives are on offer to attract investors, especially in mechanised, technology-driven commercial farming.

These include the provision of tractor services and improved seedlings at subsidised rates, ready access to farmlands and agricultural credits, tax rebates, extensions, and training support. Efforts are also ongoing to upgrade rural access roads, irrigation infrastructure, commodity storage, and agro-processing facilities.

Partnership opportunities abound across Benue’s agricultural value chain, from primary production to storage, processing, and marketing. With rising urbanisation and changing consumer habits, prospects are bright for value addition to staples through food manufacturing.

Success Stories

A few shining examples illustrate the success of commercial farming enterprises in Benue. Wadata Integrated Farms specialises in rice cultivation, milling, and packaging, mainly for the Nigerian market. Another major player, Zion Farms Ltd., focuses on the production of organic fertilisers for farmers in the state.

Foreign investors are also making inroads. India-based NewQuest Farms manages a 2,500-hectare cassava plantation with plans for a 20,000-MT per-year processing plant. Uganda’s Kultimate Agro Ventures has invested in a 500-hectare farm for maize, soya, sorghum, and sesame.

Such success stories validate Benue State’s efforts to create a conducive environment for agribusiness investments.

Solid Mineral Potential

Beyond agriculture, Benue State is enormously blessed with over 100 unexploited minerals in commercial quantities spread across the state. With rising global demand for new-economy minerals, opportunities abound for mining exploration and processing.

Key Reserves

According to Nigeria’s Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Benue has over 17 billion metric tonnes of gypsum deposits. Other minerals available for exploitation include limestone, coal, salt, bauxite, gemstones, kaolin, tantalite, tin ore, marble, and barites.

Gypsum plays a vital role in the cement, construction, and fertiliser industries. The highly pure strain found in Benue contains up to 98% calcium sulphate and is being actively mined by major firms, including Dangote Industries, BUA Cement, and Larfarge Africa.

The state’s coal deposits are bituminous and sub-bituminous in rank, making them suitable as an alternative energy source. Benue coal is prized for its eco-friendly low sulphur and ash content compared to foreign varieties.

Gemstones like sapphires have also attracted artisanal mining for both local jewellery markets and international exports. Alluvial gold prospects have seen renewed investor interest, with applications for over 30 mining leases so far.

Fiscal Incentives

The Benue state government offers attractive incentives to spur mining sector growth. Operators enjoy 3 to 5 years of tax holidays, a waiver of duties on imported equipment, and flexible land lease terms for mining projects.

A Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committee works to facilitate licencing while coordinating community relations. The government also provides support for mineral exploration activities across designated areas.

Recent policy reforms aim to formalise artisanal and small-scale mining through finance, equipment leasing, and technical skills training. Strict environmental regulations, however, ensure sustainable practices by all mining ventures.

Development Impact

With mining’s immense potential for driving industrialization, experts project the sector’s contribution to Benue State GDP to rise exponentially from current negligible levels by 2030.

Thriving operations by big industry players are already transforming remote rural areas via mine site development, roads, and power projects. Thousands have gained direct and indirect jobs, strengthening local household incomes.

Further investments promise wider socio-economic dividends through industrial linkages with cement works, coal power plants, steel fabrication, and fertiliser blending plants within the state itself.

Tourism Appeal

Scenic Beauty

Beyond farming and minerals, Benue State harbours impressive natural tourist attractions, rich cultural heritage, and unique cuisine waiting to be discovered. The state’s nickname, “Food Basket of the Nation,” aptly captures its agricultural bounty.

The Benue landscape offers scenic beauty along the meandering River Benue, coursing through lush forests, rolling hills, and varied wildlife. The Awe and Keana salt lakes, Owu waterfalls, and Wadata hills provide memorable sightseeing trips.

Several communities host vibrant annual cultural carnivals featuring traditional music, dance, theatre, and art exhibitions. Makurdi, the state capital located on the banks of the River Benue, witnesses colourful fishing festivals celebrated with pomp and pageantry.

Tourism Infrastructure

To unlock tourism’s income and job creation potential, the state government has prioritised the development of enabling infrastructure. Construction is ongoing on a new ultra-modern conference centre fitted with 5-star hotel facilities.

Upgraded roads now link tourist attractions across three dedicated corridors: the north, south, and eastern zones. Major hotels like Benue Links, Ibro Hotels, and Base Court Hotels offer reasonable accommodation for visitors with opportunities for better quality hospitality investments.

A commercial flight route connecting Lagos and Makurdi, combined with improved security arrangements, makes travel convenient for domestic and foreign tourists alike.

Investment Incentives

Investor-friendly policies include generous tax relief of up to 7 years for tourism-related projects. Simplified business registration, waiver of duties on imported furniture and fittings, and flexible expatriate quotas also apply.

Public-private partnership opportunities have been identified for ecotourism sites, amusement parks, hotels, and recreation centres across Benue State. With a vibrant tourism agenda, the stage is set to unlock immense direct and indirect jobs.

Infrastructure Potential

Transport Networks

As a major agrarian state, Benue requires heavy investments in transportation infrastructure to drive commerce and connect remote areas. To that end, the government has embarked on ambitious road construction programmes.

Over 2000 km of rural roads and highways have been delivered through contractors and community self-help efforts. Ongoing works include the dualization of the critical Makurdi-Otukpo-Enugu highway, which links the food-producing areas with major cities.

Dredging and expansion work on the River Benue is also gathering steam to activate the movement of agricultural produce by barges. With mounting traffic volumes, private capital can tap construction opportunities on intra-city and interstate roads.

Urban Housing

Rapid urbanisation around economic centres like Makurdi City, Otukpo, and Gboko has led to acute housing shortages, with over 90% of settlements categorised as slums. The state thus presents fertile ground for modern property development.

An innovative public-private partnership model is already addressing the housing deficit. For instance, through collaboration with Shelter Afrique, the state delivered 300 low-cost housing units on an owner-occupier basis across the Makurdi new layout area.

Similar schemes are planned for Otukpo, Gboko, and other areas using a mix of public lands and private financing. Construction companies can leverage their expertise in cost-efficient building technologies for new townships to cater to middle- and low-income segments.

Rural Electrification

While urban centres enjoy a stable power supply, rural communities remain largely off the grid. Less than 25% of the state’s over 5 million population currently has access to electricity. Developers can leverage federal renewable energy policies to support off-grid solutions.

Solar mini-grids hold particular promise given Benue State’s average solar radiation levels exceeding 5 kWh/m2/day. Targeted interventions for clean energy access in schools, healthcare clinics, and rural water supply schemes can attract development funding.

With appropriate private-sector partnerships, sustainable electricity access can be delivered profitably using smart prepaid metering and productive use-case models for remote villages.

Policy Support

Investment Promotion

The Benue State Investment Promotion Council serves as a one-stop facilitation window for new ventures. Beyond tax reliefs across priority sectors, the state actively engages with trade missions and business delegations to highlight opportunities.

A geographic information system detailing available land, mineral deposits, infrastructure, and livelihood data aids potential investors in location decision-making. Regular media outreach to project Benue as an attractive destination has helped shape positive investor perceptions.

Public-private partnerships

In line with Nigeria’s new PPP framework, Benue State has set up a public-private partnership (PPP) law and policies to drive investor partnerships. An independent Project Development and Monitoring unit oversees PPP contracts across sectors such as infrastructure, tourism, housing, agriculture, and education.

By de-risking projects for private capital in areas of public interest and sharing resources judiciously, the state aims to accelerate development. From feasibility analysis to transparent procurement and risk-sharing agreements, investor interests are safeguarded at every stage.

Startup Support

Young entrepreneurs in Benue can access advisory, training, and credit facilities via state agencies like the Bank of Industry-funded Growth Enhancement Support Scheme. Tailored programmes nurture technology startups through incubators at the University of Makurdi and Benue State University.

Startups focused on agribusiness, renewable energy, fintech, and e-commerce can leverage thriving innovation hubs like Makurdi’s Roar Nigeria Hub for skills, networks, and funding avenues to scale their ventures. With youth below 35 years old constituting over 60% of the state’s population, Benue offers fertile ground for bold business ideas.

Strategic Location

Market Access

Benue State’s landlocked location right at the heart of Nigeria belies unique logistics advantages for accessing different regional markets easily. A wide network of arterial roads, rail links, and navigable inland waterways connect Benue producers to vital domestic trade hubs.

Perishable farm exports can reach Lagos Seaport in 2 days and Abuja Airport in 6 hours. Similarly, processed foods find ready acceptance nationally, given rising urbanisation and household incomes. Benue also serves as a transit point for landlocked neighbours like Chad and Niger, unlocking export opportunities beyond Nigeria.

Domestic air and train travel is expected to rise steadily with new investments in transportation infrastructure. Export-oriented ventures can gain immensely by leveraging cost-effective storage and distribution logistics from Benue.

Knowledge Workforce

The state’s strategic location forms a bridge between Nigeria’s northern and southern regions, as reflected in its cosmopolitan culture. A vibrant mix of ethnicities and agro-climatic patterns makes Benue a microcosm of the wider Nigerian economy.

A youthful, skilled workforce speaking diverse languages and open to mobility provides startups and industrial ventures with vital human capital to thrive. Over 20 specialised institutions of learning churn out graduates and technicians in fields like agriculture, health sciences, engineering, business, and law.

With seven universities across major towns, Benue State offers recruiters a steady talent pipeline to power future enterprises. Knowledge and technical skills rather than natural resources will prove decisive in gaining share in regional and global value chains.

Investment Outlook

Growth Trends

In the last decade, Benue State recorded an average real GDP growth rate of close to 7%, despite falling below its true potential. Economists project the state to sustain above-5% expansion over the next decade, driven by agriculture, services, and construction sectors.

Urbanisation and associated demand are forecast to rise exponentially, with three cities—Makurdi, Otukpo, and Gboko—requiring investments in transport, housing, education, and municipal infrastructure.

Government revenues have stabilised post-COVID, allowing higher capital spending allocated mostly towards the completion of road projects, rural electrification, and tourism promotion. With reforms to deepen tax collection and spending efficiency, Benue State holds good prospects for long-term growth trends.

Investor Sentiments

In a recent dipstick survey conducted by Nigerian investment promotion agency RISQ, Benue State emerged among the top 10 preferred destinations for agribusiness investments among UAE, Indian, and UK company executives surveyed.

The state is also attracting interest from impact investors looking to fund renewable energy and food processing projects with strong rural poverty alleviation impacts. Chinese manufacturers have begun discussions around developing an industrial park ecosystem.

Diaspora networks are also rallying state indigenes in Europe and America to support grassroots community initiatives around clean water, youth skills training, and cottage industries. The opportunities for public-private collaborations are immense to address basic development needs with technology and market access support.

As highlighted by Benue Investment Commissioner Dr. Bem Mngutyo during the recent UK-Nigeria Trade and Investment Forum held in London, the state presents a unique “partnership model to cultivate inclusive, sustainable opportunities across both rural and urban centres.”

Priority Areas

Based on current investor momentum and projected trends, a few priority areas hold particular promise for anchoring Benue State’s emergence as a leading regional commercial hub:

Agro-Commodities Processing: scope for large processing units producing packaged foods along with supporting logistics like cold storage, silos, testing labs, and trucking fleets

Affordable Urban Housing: Planned satellite towns using global best practices in low-cost construction techniques, offsite fabrication, and green building technologies

Rural Electrification: Mini solar grids, rooftop installations at public buildings, and decentralised renewable energy-based irrigation solutions

Light Manufacturing: Development of medium-scale plants in sugar refining, textiles, and leatherwork aligned to national industrial policy initiatives

Integrated Warehousing Zones: a cluster of modern storage infrastructure for agriculture, processed foods, and packaged foods along key transport corridors to aid exports

Mining Beneficiation: Indigenous processing of gypsum, limestone, coal, and gemstones serves the fast-growing construction sector and substitutes imports.

Tourism Infrastructure: Resorts, amusement parks, recreation zones combined with arts and culture museums, and centralised crafts emporiums offering national and regional appeal

Final Thoughts

Benue State holds all the right ingredients for sustained economic growth and social progress, leveraging its rich talent base and natural wealth. With visionary leadership, sectoral reforms, enterprise incentives, and governance improvements, the state can forge an innovation-led future.

As Nigeria seeks to achieve its development vision of structural transformation, agricultural modernization, and diversified exports, few other states have as much potential to attract private capital and deliver widespread job creation.

Both indigenous and international investors who spot the opportunities early can reap immense first-mover advantages across agribusiness, solid minerals, tourism, infrastructure, and manufacturing sectors. By aligning operations closely with local needs and priorities, businesses can create shared value that benefits both shareholders and communities.

From its rich soils to vibrant culture, abundant resources, and strategic location, overlooked Benue State may well hold the keys that unlock Nigeria’s next economic revival.

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