Benue Yams: The World’s Largest Yam Deal?
Benue State, In Nigeria has been labelled the food basket of the nation but that has become more of a question than a statement. Be it practically or in principle.
It is debatably the nation’s food basket, seeing many other states spear heading many agricultural policies and interventions.
What is not debatable however, is the promise, size and potential of the yams produced in the state as seen at the Zaki Biam Yam International market. Who are the buyers and sellers in this market? What gains come to farmers, traders, tax collectors and even the buyers? How much of the opportunity has been tapped?
ALSO READ: How I make Millions from Yam deals
What future does the market hold for Benue, Nigeria, Africa and the world at large?
Is Anyone looking at maximisg the potentials therein? Does it have the needed capacity to answer the many questions of food security?
I took a visit to the ZakiBiam Yam International market and spoke with a couple of people ranging from buyers, farmers and traders. The discussion was as revealing as it was shocking!
How long has this yam market been operating?
Solomon: The market was moved here on the permanent site since 1981
That Is 34 years?
Solomon: Yes, about that.
That means many of you here were not born then…
Solomon: Yes, even me when it was on the other side I was not born yet, I came to meet it, but I was born before it was moved to this permanent site.
So what’s the difference between when it started and now?
Solomon: Enn, Due to developments there are other smaller markets now and the issue of fertilizer, it’s usually very difficult to get fertilizer. Also the storage system is poor. Most times when our women bring their yams to the market; they get rotten quicker because of the poor storage system. Sometimes the yams that get spoilt are more than the good ones.
I understand this market is the biggest in Africa, have you heard that before?
Solomon: Yes, infact It is in Africa
Why do you feel so?
Solomon: I have personally been to many markets at least here in Nigeria, I have worked in Port Harcourt, I have worked in Lagos, Kano and Nasarawa. Nobody produces the yams we produce.
When is the market day?
Solomon: Our main Market in Ukum here is Zaki-Biam which opens every Saturday, but the International yam market is everyday but we have more work on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
So those busy days, how many pieces of yam do you think are traded in a day all together?
Solomon: Ha, like on a Tuesday, sometimes more than fifty (50) Lorries go out of here but like on Wednesdays, sometimes is more than hundred lorries.
So how many pieces of yam are contained in one lorry?
Solomon: Like this one loading now it is loading “water yam” and will load up to ten (10) or eleven (11)thousand but if is ordinary yam it can load up to thirty (30) thousand.
30 thousand, wao! Thats an average of 15million yams in a day…Which people patronize you most?
Solomon: For the ordinary yams, It is mostly Igbos and people from the Benin axis but the water yam is mostly people from the North.
What are those things that you think the government can do to make this place better?
Solomon: Yes, you see this is our bore-hole, when it was in shape people used to drink water from it when they come to the market but it’s bad now and nothing has been done about it. We don’t have any means of water in this market, we don’t even have any good toilet in this market and the government collects revenue from this market. There are usually more than a hundred Lorries here and they collect three thousand five hundred naira (N3, 500) for each lorry every day.
The government collects all that money and we don’t have any motorable road to this market. Sometimes tires of cars sink even inside the market here not to talk of outside, especially during raining season, vehicles even sink and fall with goods. Apart from that now we pay tax three times in a year to Board of internal revenue, we pay N2500 for every store and before the year runs out, they come asking for money for many other things
How many stores are here all together?
Solomon: 660 stores. After paying the tax to board of internal revenue, we still pay N2000 for local government tax every year.
From what you have said, the government charges N3,500 for each vehicle?
And what are those charges for exactly?
Solomon: They are local government revenues
Okay, what does the local government do for you people here?
Solomon: Ha! Their own help is to collect finish eating. And beat us on top. If they come and you don’t want to pay the tax they will beat you, that’s all they know. Another one is these little little charges, see this vehicle loading, they have spent more than N40,000 on it.
But I can see Benue State Government is written on this one.
So what does the Benue state government do for the market?
Solomon: Hmmnn, their help is this one that they have introduced Board of Internal Revenue to collect more money from us now.
But what exactly are you told the state and local government will do for you when they collect these monies?
Solomon: They are the ones that are supposed to take care of this market. We have asked them to at least tare the road that leads to the market but nothing has been done about it all these years. We have asked them to build us an office because there is no place for marketers to sit and have a meeting when there is need. That too nothing has been done about it.
So then, again, those are your challenges in here, yes?
Solomon: Yes, the market people have not been receiving any help from the government. Any vehicle that leaves here, the chairman collects N9,300.
Wo! So how much do you sell?
Solomon: We help to load the yams, so we do that and get some money off it, but if it’s your own yam, you sell it the way you want. What I just told you is what the government collects on each vehicle from the buyers.
Don’t the yam marketers have an association?
Solomon: No, we don’t have an association here, it’s the party that takes over power that has the market.
So now it’s the APC?
Sololomo: Yes, now it’s the broom that has the market.
I think if you people had an association, they would have taken your challenges to the government.
Solomon: We don’t have and now the local government has taken the market from the natives. When the natives were involved, they used to have their own percentage, but now it’s strictly the government. Our roads are very bad, so much that trucks always fall during rainy season like now.
Is it only Tiv people that trade in yams in this market?
Solomon: No, Igbo people sell too and many other tribes
Interesting, so where do they get theirs from?
Solomon: They buy from the indigenes and resell
In this same market?
What other thing do you consider outstanding in this market that you feel the whole world should know about?
Solomon: Yes, there are good things but it would have been better if we had a company that can help in the storage of our yams. There was a time the government started building a company like that for us and we were very happy but it was abandoned half way. We also don’t have enough security in this market;
Has there been any major security issue in this market?
Solomon: No, we don’t allow robbers in our market, the natives came together and warned all the young people around, so we don’t have any challenge in that aspect.
So the security personnel available is it the vigilante or the police?
Solomon: No it’s we the owners,
what do you mean “we the owners’?
Solomon: That is we, the original owners of the land, we normally appoint people from each family to form the security.
Okay, so this is your home land?
What exactly do you do here?
Solomon: I am one of those in charge of the activities and the transactions that go on in this market.
Alu: Okay, so let’s start the criticism with you since you are one of the officials. You people should have made it in such a way that there will be a fixed price so nobody will sell above another person, if not the people who buy from the indigenes to re-sell will be making more money than the indigenes who suffer to bring these yams to the market. Don’t you think so?
Solomon: That is true but the challenge we have is, most of our people do not have other businesses or other means of making money, so the moment they bring the yams from the farm, they start telling you about their challenges, some will even tell you “I brought this yam because my mother or my mother in-law is in the hospital” and if you the marketer delays because you want to sell it at a certain price, they begin to disturb because they are in dire need of the money. There is no bank here that we can borrow money from, so that they can borrow and pay later.
What’s the situation of the farms during rainy season?
Solomon: Now we have planted and sprayed our yam, the challenge then is how to get fertilizer. As it is now, anyone who didn’t keep like a hundred pieces of yam to sell during rainy season won’t be able to buy fertilizer and our government can’t even give us to use so that we can pay later after harvest.
What if your association applies, wont the government give?
Solomon: Noo, they don’t, anytime they bring fertilizer here, the rich people collect and re-sell to us farmers at a very exorbitant price.
So again, What exactly do you want the government?
Solomon: If the government wants to help us, they should give us fertilizer to the office of the yam marketers so that they can give to farms on loan and when it’s time for harvest, the marketers will collect the money and give it back to the government.
Has your office ever applied?
Solomon: Yes, we applied but it didn’t work
What was the reason?
Solomon: The commissioner that wanted to approve has been removed so till the new commissioners will be appointed.
The association to which you are also part of, what exactly are your duties here?
Solomon: Like me, my duty is to settle crisis between marketers and farmers, for instance if a farmer gives a marketer yam to sell and the marketers does not want to give him or her the money after selling the yam, our office intervenes.
Which post are you occupying Now?
Solomon: I am in a committee in this market. Thanks a lot Solomon…thank you.
I also met a buyer and found some interesting stuff from the buyer’s perspective. Quite revealing too…
How long have you been buying yam from this market?
Terwase: Its about 11 years
Where do you take it to?
Terwase: I take it to Port Harcourt and sell it.
For the time you have been in the business, I know for every business there are times when it’s good and there times when it’s bad. So when it’s good what are the reasons and when it’s bad, what are the reasons?
Terwase; This our business is never good all the way, some times good and sometimes bad like where I go to sell, the market is not controlled, anybody can go there and buy and anybody can go there to sell.
hmm, so here that you come to buy, is it controlled?
Terwase: No here too is not controlled anybody can come and buy. One of the reasons why its not good sometimes is that expenses are usually so much. When you leave here, before you get to Port Harcourt, you meet like 18 check points on the road. People block the road in their areas and say they are collecting money for produce, sometimes before you get to Port Harcourt, you spend almost all your gain. So the business booms when it wants to boom but there no time that you can say you are going to make it big today. So that is how the business is.
When you take it to Port Harcourt, do you sell in hundreds or you sell one-one?
Terwase: We are like wholesalers, so we sell in hundreds and the retailers buy and sell in small quantities.
How do you sell hundred pieces of yam in Port Harcourt?
Terwase: It depends on how you buy it, there are some you can sell for thirty thousand, forty thousand, even hundred thousand naira, depending on the size.
What is the cheapest price you can sell?
Terwase: Fifteen thousand naira,
Is there gain in it?
Terwase: There is gain, but not so much.
So what do you think the government can do to aid your plight?
Terwase: The government should help us remove the check points on the roads, let every state collect money for produce from their own market, so that when you are done from the market, you won’t be confronted with this issue of check points in every state. Because I believe that when you produce something that you collect revenue on it, but these ones on the road, they are just stealing from us. So if government can help to put a stop to that, it will be nice. When that is done both we the sellers and the buyer will benefit more.
There are some people outside Nigeria who have not heard about this market, and I have heard before that this market is the biggest in Africa,
Terwase: Yes and What I will like to tell them is that, if they can come and patronize people from this market and also find a way of turning these yams to powdered form, it will be nice because the yams get rotten easily.
You know as people grow older illnesses like diabetes and others surface and you are told to avoid foods like yam and other foods high in carbohydrates and the advocacy for people to stop eating yam is increasing by the day. Do you have any fear that one day you will be out of business because people don’t want to eat yam anymore?
Terwase: I believe that most times it is when someone consumes too much of it that it results to an illness, but even this yam has some things you can add to it that the diabetes won’t disturb you.
Things like what?
Terwase: Things like bitter leaf. I believe that if you’re adding enough bitter leaf and red oil to your yam before, even when you eat it for hundred years, nothing will happen to you.
Thank you very much. I wish you the best.
Before I left I saw many other forms of yams being sold at the market. Fried, roasted, boiled and pounded. What further struck my mind was the fact that yam farm lands are no longer weeded but sprayed by chemicals. This is hoping they have been educatedon the uses and resultant effects.