Why Benue farmers are abandoning sesame cultivation

Farmers in Benue state are rapidly shifting from sesame (benise) production to alternative crops such as cassava, soybean and cowpea (bean).

Previously, many farmers, especially in the two Senatorial Districts of Benue South and North West, were known to cultivate benis seeds.

In the past, some farmers could boast of having a hectare that produced 10 bags of 100 kg under a cooperative arrangement where each of the farmers produced one ton of beniseed on their allocated space.

If the harvest was good, at least 35 of these farmers, each of them, once allocated a hectare, would produce 350 bags of beniseed which in turn would increase their personal income.

At the time of this report, a 100 kg bag of benis seeds sells for at least N90,000 in local markets across the state.

Interestingly, the market opportunities, according to some of them who spoke to our correspondent in Makurdi, have never been in doubt, just as they (the farmers) sometimes even fall short of the demand for the product.

But lately, the majority of them have shifted their focus from benise cultivation to alternative crops.

A section of a Benue sesame market

Ekoja Peter, a young farmer who in the past engaged in benis seed production in Otukpo Local Government Area (LGA), said he is now growing cassava in large quantities due to rapid income generation.

He said it was easier to make money from cassava than relying on soybeans whose productivity over the past four years has disappointed him.

Peter said, “I feel better growing cassava now. I switched to cassava two years ago after my benis seed harvest was not a source of pride for two consecutive years. »

Similarly, Elahi Eja, who grew benis in Ugboju-Otukpo, said she gave it up for cassava and cowpea due to poor harvest since 2018.

Eja said that despite the high cost of benis seeds in the market, she is now more comfortable growing cassava and cowpea.

For another Gboko LGA farmer, Atondo Titus, his cultivation of benise seemed tedious and that’s why he drifted into soybeans while growing benise on a smaller scale.

He said, “It’s not easy to get a benis seed collection bag. Where you get five bags of soybeans, you cannot get one bag of soybeans. Although the price of benis seeds is much higher than that of soybeans and there is a market for the product, the process of growing benis seeds is more tedious.

“Growing soybeans and cassava is less tedious and there are bigger markets for the crops. In the past two years, the price of soybeans has skyrocketed, which is why farmers are turning their interest away from growing soybeans. I still grow benis but on a smaller scale, whereas I now grow soybeans on a large scale.

But, the director of agricultural sciences at the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Thomas Unongo, said the drift in benis seed production may not be as big as it looks, but that this effort was up to the task of reversing the trend.

He said: “Actually, the diversion is not great and the reason is not far-fetched. There was a big drop in the price of the commodity about two or three years ago when there had been another big increase in alternative crops like soybeans so everyone in Benue now knows that there there is money in agriculture. Everyone is on alert and wants to go into what can bring them something tangible.

“Another factor is the problem of very high yielding varieties; someone (farmer) could then cultivate about one hectare of benis seeds and would be unable to get up to four or five bags; the reason is simple, they did not use updated high yielding varieties.

“They were using the old seeds, but recently, about three years ago, there was a big federal government intervention in sesame production, so the seeds are coming; they are everywhere. The benis seed value chain is growing in the country. The benis seed production group even has a national body; the product has a national body of producers and processors; even in Benue.

“We have branches in almost all 23 LGAs that educate people on the need to use the improved varieties. There are two species – white and brown – both high yielding and the Asian market demand is so high for both varieties.

“You know we easily adapt to technology here so we believe that in the next couple of years Benue will maintain its status as a beniseed production state and a lot of people including new entrants will love joining the bandwagon in work and have a serious return for commercial purposes.”

On his part, the state chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Aondongu Saaku, said the drift started due to the lack of an export market where the produce was most needed. .

Saaku explained that “it was because there was no market. The market was not moving, but we are reactivating it. This will come down to mainstream production; it is even a product of the value chain.

“The main means of export is our problem because we have to export benis seeds. It is an exportable product. The diversion of farmers to cassava is due to the cassava factory which has now arrived. When you have something nearby, you take advantage of it.

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