In the Benue valley, millions of mounds spread over hectares of land. Underneath them are yam tubers, growing. In its season, tens of thousands of farmers descend and harvest them, piling them into trucks headed for the Zaki Ibiam International Yam Market. Benue State is Nigeria’s leading producer of yam, and that figure is a chief reason why Nigeria is the biggest source of the crop, producing 17 million tonnes annually, accounting for 70-76% of global production. Most of the tubers, at a pace of two million weekly, pass through the market in Zaki Ibiam.
Considered Nigeria’s and possibly Africa’s largest mono-product market, it has around 635 stalls, according to a 2018 video report. Inside and around them are heaps of yam tubers, grouped based on size and newness. All around are wheel barrows, with yam being loaded onto them, and their carriers wheeling away hastily to any of the 200 waiting lorries, where another group, whose job it is to get them on the vehicles, take over. Farmers bring in yam on Monday, and the trading is busiest on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, when buyers arrive from different parts of the country and from Cameroon, Niger, and Ghana. Every day except Sunday is a market day.
The Zaki Ibiam International Yam Market is the biggest source of employment and revenue in Ukum Local Government Area. In June 2020, the Nigerian government commissioned a storage facility in it, meant to serve as a hub for even the neighbouring Nasarawa and Taraba states. The commissioned facility, reports Naira Metrics, includes 660 units of reconstructed sheds, new internal roads, administrative buildings, and a solar-powered borehole.
Aided by the long irrigating stretch of the Benue River, Benue State is acclaimed as the Food Basket of Nation. It accounts for 70% of Nigeria’s soybean production and is a leader in turning out rice, beans, cassava, sorghum, sesame, sweet potato, millet, and cocoyam. But in this state whose mainstay is agriculture, yam reigns.
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.