PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS OF YAM PRODUCTION
1.1 Background of the Study
Yam (Dioscorea spp) are generally classified under the genus Dioscorea, family Dioscoreaceae, and order Dioscoreales. They are the most important food crops in West Africa, except for cereals (Okonkwo, 1985). Yams are the second most important tuber crop in the whole world after cassava, in terms of production (11TA, 2013). They also form an important food source in other tropical countries including East Africa, the Caribbean, South America, India and South East Asia(Okonkwo,1985). Average yam consumption per capita per day is highest in Benin (364 kcal), followed by Cote d’lvoire (342 kcal), Ghana (296 kcal) and Nigeria (258 kcal) (11TA, 2009). Yam may be barbecued, roasted, fried in oil, grilled, boiled, baked, smoke, pounded into paste (fufu) or grated and made into a dessert. It may be cooked or fried with rice, beans, plantain, sweet potato, lamb, chicken and butter nut as squash soup (Umar et al., 2016). It can be boiled, roasted and eaten with oil, vegetable or sauce (11TA, 2004; Timothy and Bassey, 2009). The tubers may be peeled and sliced into tiny pieces and dried to very low moisture contents and milled into yam flour and flakes (Udoh et al., 2005). The tubers may be peeled and prepared into porridge and cooked with traditional spices and served for the sick and aged as appetizer. Yam prices have been increasing in recent years due to strong demand for the crop in Africa and even in Europe and the United State of America where rapidly growing West African migrants’ communities still have big appetite for their traditional preferred staple. Nigeria exported US S27.7 million worth of yam to the United States of America in 2011 (Babatunde, 2012) and it is expected that much foreign exchange through yam trade would be realized in future.
Nigeria is the highest world producer of yam with more than 45.004 million metric tonnes (mmt) annually with Ghana (7.119 mmt), Cote d’lvoire (5.808 mmt), Benin republic (3.220mmt), Ethopia (1.448mmt), Togo (0.786mmt) and Cameroon (0.579mmt) (FAO, 2014), following that order. Yam contributes more than 200 dietary calories per day for over 60 million people in Nigeria (Nweke et al., 1991). In many yam producing areas in Nigeria “yam is food and food is yam”. It is the only crop which is usually celebrated during and after harvest, called yam festival (Ugwu, 1996). Yams are also important as sources of pharmaceutical compounds like saponins and sapogenins, which are precursors of cortisone and steroidal hormones (Okonkwo, 1985).The most important species of Dioscorea include Dioscorea rotundata, D. cayenensis, D. dumetorum, D. esculenta, D. Bulbifera, D. trifida, D. opposita, D. japonica, and D. hispida. The genus is further divided into 5 sections within which the species are grouped. The section Enantiophyllum comprises the most economically useful species (D. rotundata, D. alata, D. cayenensis, D, opposite and D. Japonica) and are distinguished by the fact that their vines twine in a clockwise direction. The section, Lasiophyton consists of D. dumetorum and D. hispida: Opsophyton, of D. bulbifera; Combilium, of D. esculenta, and Macrogynodium, of D. trifida. All the species in these latter four sections have vines twine anti-clockwise. Dioscorea rotundata Poir (common names: white yame; guinea yam) is the most widely grown and eaten yam species in Nigeria and indeed, West Africa, and it is the most important in the whole world. Germplasm collection and breeding work on yams, especially on the all- important D. rotundata is going on at the National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (11TA), Ibadan both in Nigeria and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Puerto Rico and Universities in Nigeria and throughout West Africa (Okonkwo, 1985).
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The pattern of yam production in Benue State, Nigeria is characterized by many problems such as: problem of continuous decline in the yield of yams since the past decade. This is characterized by reduction in land area used for planting yams in favour of cassava production. There is continuous decline in yam production in comparison with cassava production in Benue State. The factors responsible for these includes low fertility of soil due to overuse of land, pest infection and lack of incentives to the farmers (Shehu et al, 2010).
The consequence of this ugly situation is that yam tubers continue to increase in price and most people cannot afford to eat yams on daily basis as it was practiced in the past decade in Benue State. On the other hand, cassava production and consumption continue to increase in the study area (Shehu et al, 2010). The effect is that, the production and marketing of yams has not been encouraged in the study area. The persistent decline in yam production in Nigeria generally was noticed by FAO (2009), whereby it was stated that yam production decreased by 11.5 per cent over the previous year.
The methods of harvesting yam, transportation, processing, storage and marketing yams are poorly developed resulting in post-harvest loss or wastage. According to FMARD (2001) about 30 per cent of root and tuber crops cultivated annually in Nigeria got lost due to deterioration. At harvest yam tubers contain about 60-80 per cent moisture depending on the specie. The high moisture content encourages sprouting and high rate of deterioration. Such rottening which reduces the shelf life and food value of yam tubers was also documented in Obeta et al, (2011). The farmers therefore sell their yam tubers at farm gate prices to the middlemen to avoid spoilage and thereby achieving very poor returns; low profit discouraged farmers and production per head is greatly reduced.
Scholars such as Ehirim et al (2007) researched on the structure of yam marketing in Umuahia, Abia State and found out that yam production in the area especially Dioscorea rotundata did not attract the buyers. There is however a missing link in that work on both production and marketing which are twin concepts in agriculture were not considered together. Makoto et al, (2011) worked on yam production and marketing among the Nupes of Niger State. They found out that the middleman were mainly exploiters of the farmers as they tend to maximize too much profit on the sale of yam tubers. There is however a missing link here in that in most places especially agrarian communities in Nigeria the middlemen were seen to participate actively with the yam farmers in the sale of yams. Mohammed (2004) researched on yam marketing in Gwer Local Government Area of Benue State and found out that yam farmers did not suffer too much in the process of transportation of yams from Benue State to other states due to the development in transportation system in Nigeria shows that the cost of transportation of food crops usually lead to increase in prices especially bulky crops like yams. Also, Mshelia (2004) worked on wholesale marketing of rice in Adamawa State Nigeria and found out that readily available markets in the environment promotes the business. What is missing here is that the periodicity and organization of markets affect the production and distribution of rice. Mshelia and Reuben (2011) also studied structural analysis of yam markets in Taraba State, and found out that the structure of yam markets exhibits features of important markets of monopolistic competition; they failed to realize that, yam marketing is mainly rural to urban form of transaction. Also, Migpap and Audu (2012) researched on yam production in Nigeria and found out that, the pattern of marketing has minimal effect on the processes of sales of yams. They failed to consider the periodicity of marketing which plays crucial role in its marketing. Although several researches have been carried out on the production and marketing of food crops at various places and times in Nigeria, yet there are inadequate works conducted specifically on the structure, pattern and problems of yam production and marketing in Benue State with emphasis on the transportation of yams from the farms to the various markets located both within an outside Benue State.
Secondly, the role of middlemen or marketing intermediaries has generally been misunderstood for example, Tersoo (2006) in his study of groundnut marketing in Benue State and Makoto, Hidehiko and FU, (2011) in their study on yam marketing in Niger State. These people accused the middlemen of creating artificial scarcity and fixing prices arbitrarily and thereby creating barriers to entry into the market. The above situation creates a research gap in agricultural activities in Nigeria as a whole and Benue State in particular. The present study is meant to investigate this problem in order to recommend solutions.
Furthermore, modern farmers in Nigeria and Benue State in particular are interested in knowing possible yam markets where they can sell their yams at reasonable prices. It is also important to identify new trends in the marketing of agricultural products such as direct marketing of agricultural products to the consumers and marketing through cooperative. The consumers would want to know which of the market channels to patronize in order to conserve money and the same time get maximum satisfaction from the goods and services they purchased (Asumugha, Njoku, Okoye and Akinpelu 2009, Oguoma 2010).
The above missing links such as problems of transportation of yams from the farms to the market, role of middlemen, storage of yams, its processing system and periodicity of market which earlier scholars neglected creates a research gap in agriculture, which we want to fill in the present work on the structure pattern and problems of yam production and marketing in Benue State, Nigeria. Although the study is limited to Benue State, it is believed that the findings will be useful to other states of Nigeria in view of the structural similarities in the production and marketing of foodstuffs.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The aim of this research is to investigate the problems and prospects of yam production in Benue State. The specific objectives of the study are:
i. To examine the socio-economic characteristics of yam farmers and the volume of yam production in Benue State.
ii. To examine the problems and prospects of yam production and marketing in Benue State.
iii. To make recommendation based on the research findings for possible policy intervention in the production and marketing of yams.
1.4 Research Questions
i. What is the socio-economic characteristics of yam farmers and the volume of yam production in Benue State?
ii. What are the problems and prospects of yam production and marketing in Benue State?
1.5 Significance of the Study
This study will be of immense benefit to other researchers who intend to know more on this study and can also be used by non-researchers to build more on their research work. This study contributes to knowledge and could serve as a guide for other study.
1.6 Scope of the Study
This study is on the problems and prospects of yam production. The study will be conducted in Benue state, Nigeria.
1.7 Limitations of the study
The demanding schedule of respondents made it very difficult getting the respondents to participate in the survey. As a result, retrieving copies of questionnaire in timely fashion was very challenging. Also, the researcher is a student and therefore has limited time as well as resources in covering extensive literature available in conducting this research. Information provided by the researcher may not hold true for all research under this study but is restricted to the selected respondents used as a study in this research especially in the locality where this study is being conducted. Finally, the researcher is restricted only to the evidence provided by the participants in the research and therefore cannot determine the reliability and accuracy of the information provided. Other limitations include;
Financial constraint: Insufficient fund tends to impede the efficiency of the researcher in sourcing for the relevant materials, literature or information and in the process of data collection (internet, questionnaire and interview).
Time constraint: The researcher will simultaneously engage in this study with other academic work. This consequently will cut down on the time devoted for the research work.
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