By Jonathan Ugbal
A first time visit to Alifokpa-Yache community in Yala local government area will definitely trigger questions about the sincerity of past and present governments across the three tiers due to the almost impassable road network which is only about 20 kilometers in length.
The community, mostly agrarian, produces large chunks of the foodstuffs sold in markets near and far including, but not limited to yams, sesame seed, melon and oranges.
These, alongside rice, form the major foods consumed in Cross River State in particular and Nigeria as a whole. But, residents say the lack of an access road for the evacuation of their produce, security and farm inputs over the years has impoverished them.
Mr. Joseph Okara, an orange farmer told CrossRiverWatch that he loses between 60 to 80 percent of his farm produce due to his inability to access a market as well as customers accessing his orchard which spans the length and breadth of over 75 football pitches or 150 acres.
“I decided to go into orange farming (and) sometimes it yields sometimes it doesn’t. I do manual labor and I don’t have any helping hand,” he said.
“I have been farming for about 18 years in this business. Because of the lack of equipment and bad road that is why it is still like that. That is the area we are lacking. The road is bad and before you can get someone to come and buy, they will come and offer ten naira and when I look at how I labor for it, I feel bad,” Mr. Okara added.
He sells about 20 to 30 pieces of oranges for just Ten Naira (NGN10 or less than 3 US Cents).
Continuing his lamentations, Mr. Okara averred that: “Our major challenge is the road. Just today that the rain fell, see how the road is! When it starts falling two to three times nobody agrees to come to our village. If the government will hear from me, it is just to help us and repair the road. That is the first thing they are supposed to do.
“Sometimes the Benue people come to buy but they can’t drive in because of the bad road. They have to park their trucks afar and sometimes they come with motorcycles.”
CrossRiverWatch gathered that passers by are allowed to harvest as much as a small sack can carry so long as it is not for sale; a privilege, this reporter enjoyed on his visit to different orchards.
For Mr. Aprah Solomon, who is also an orange farmer, manual farming is not a bad idea if you have support and a means to evacuate your products.
He told this reporter that: “Farming manually is not that bad, but when you keep doing it on your own without any help, like in this village we don’t have any equipment, we only do it manually; that is the only area we feel is stressful and sometimes we feel discouraged when doing it.
“For instance, if you want to do a better farm that you can commercialize, it won’t be successful; you can’t meet up with so many things. When you don’t have the facilities, the money and fertilizer, that is when you breakdown and the yield will not be as expected.
“So many times we hear that the come here and give us funds for empowerment, that they will supply fertilizer and give us farm equipment buy we hardly see those things. If we can have those things in this locality, it will aid us and we can do better.”
Nigeria is the 9th largest producer of citrus in the world with over 3.4 million metric tons of the commodity produced annually according to statistics from the Food and Agricultural Organisation. The country also accounts for 65 percent of the Yam produced in Africa. But, the value chain system is said to be almost nonexistent especially for oranges due to lack of storage facilities.
The Alifokpa market in Yache is only about 5 kilometers away from the beacon that separates Benue and Cross River States. Peace is been threatened as the natural boundary, a forest has been depleted. A visit to the market showed a rather interesting scene as people from all walks of life brave the tough road to do business at the market.
Customised and rickety vehicles are used to convey foodstuffs with expertise required to navigate the sandy parts during the dry season and the mud during the rainy season.
For those who own motorcyles, several techniques are employed to ensure their goods are well secured and do not fall off.
Makeshift tents constructed with sticks and palm fronds are used to shelter some sellers and buyers from the scorching sun.
And, a seller, Chief Emmanuel Odenekpa told CrossRiverWatch that after losing out on dealing in foodstuffs, he now sells fertilizers, chemical bags among others in the Alifokpa market.
Odenekpa who spoke in pidgin, blamed the government at all levels for failing to provide the needed infrastructure for the market to thrive as well as the creation of wealth.
He averred that: “We are suffering here since, nothing to help for us here and we want somebody, people to help us. We live like we are in Badagry, no road here, the market is bad. There is no shade, they have not done anything, we are outside, we are under the sun.
“Formerly, we were selling rice in bags, groundnut, and yams in large quantities but due to the bad conditions of road, people stopped coming to the market. If the road was good, people will come. We need the road to be fixed now. We have goats, everything to sell but because there is no road, there is no way the vehicles can pass.
“There are people from Benue here but they bring in only petty things. Benue is not far from here, it is about four miles and they are so many of them here.”
The market day comes every five days and it is called “Obarike Ogidi” by the locals.
A local buyer, Janet Agbai told this reporter that the lack of processing machines and equipment alongside the lack of electricity and access road has forced many to leave the community while those who stayed back are suffering.
Agbai who also sells processed cassava and spoke in pidgin called on the government to fix the road and provide electricity as they were basic for development. She argued that: “We don’t sell enough here and if there was an access road, we would have taken our produce to another place because it is a boundary market. The lack of a good road has kept us behind.”
But, what is the view of those whose job is to ply to this road?
Daniel Iyokaka, a transporter whose mixed parental background makes him a dual native of Alifokpa and Konshisha said that the road has been in a bad state for 28 years.
“We have lots of problems on this road. Right from 1990, the government has not done anything on this road. We have a lot of farm produce here but we find it difficult to take the farm produce to the market because we don’t have access road,” Iyokaka said.
Another farmer who spoke in pidgin and gave her name as Beatrice averred that: “This road is not good. We have been crying since and we have not seen a government that will help us. When it rains, we suffer for food because we can’t pass here to go and carry food. We are crying, let the government hear us and help us.”
But, roads are not the only infrastructure or need lacking. The community also lacks electricity and a potable water production and reticulation system as residents rely on streams.
And, despite poles been mounted for a period of over 10 years in the National Integrated Power Project, there is no electricity; a situation which one resident said does not bother them like the roads.
When asked if she will prefer electricity over roads, Beatrice told CrossRiverWatch that: “Road first, road before electricity. If you can’t walk through a road, you won’t get electricity so we pray for God to hear us and for government to help us.”
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