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Inside the tricky Ogbono trade

It is called ogbono or Irvingia Smithii. In some places it is called African wild mango. By whatever name it is called, the ogbono soup…

It is called ogbono or Irvingia Smithii. In some places it is called African wild mango. By whatever name it is called, the ogbono soup has grown in popularity across Nigeria. It is a soup consumed with some artistry and traders of the ogbono seed have been enjoying a boom, as our correspondent finds out.


Christian Okorie, 25, is a graduate of Mechanical Engineering from the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Owerri in Imo State. After searching for a job for years, he decided to dip his hand into the sticky and slimy ogbono trade in 2014.

Ogbono is a staple food especially in Southeast Nigeria, where the soup, usually prepared with stock or roasted fish, is considered a delicacy. It is gluey, necessitating the person eating to draw the dollop of fufu dipped in it, with a slick thread of the soup trailing the food to his mouth. No wonder it is often referred to as draw soup and some say this quality, makes it easier to swallow balls of garri, fufu, amala, pounded yam.

Christian is no stranger to getting his hand in this slippery commodity as it was something, he ‘inherited’ from his mother. She had been in the business for 20 years and it was her proceed from the trade that she used to put him and his siblings through school. Two of them have graduated already.

Today Christian could be found at the Eke Agbani Market, Nkanu West where he talks proudly of his trade.

“We have a plantation of Ogbono trees in my village at Obe where we harvest it. If eventually we exhaust the ones we have here in Nkanu, we travel to other areas such as Benue, Ebonyi or even to Cameroon, where we can buy large sacks of  Ogbono that would fill a truck,” said Christian, who quickly added: “I didn’t actually make out time to learn the trade. When I was in school, during long vacation, I would join my mother in the business.”

There are quite a number of families that have made a living from ogbono trade. Mrs. Eucharia Nwodo recalled how her mother used the proceeds of ogbono trade to educate her children.

Mrs. Nwodo, now mother of three, said when she was still single and living with her mother, she joined her in the ogbono, trade travelling to places as far as Mile 3 or Mile One in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, to sell the product.

“We used to buy from Eke Agbani Market every Eke market day, and then we would travel to sell,” she said. “We had ready buyers in Port Harcourt; that’s why we went that far to sell.”

In Enugu State, Nkanu  and Nsukka are the two areas known for planting, harvesting and sale of Ogbono.

For the people of Nkanu West, there are two species of ogbono—Ado ogbono and Ujiri. The ado ogbono has better taste and is said to draw longer when prepared as soup.

For Dr Val Okechukwu, of the Agronomy Department, Faculty of Agricultural Science, Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), Agbani campus, ogbono, [botanical name is Irvingia Smithii], is not the main choice.

“We in this part of Enugu, Nkanu land only eat it as a substitute for okro soup,” he said.

The Secretary, Ogbono Traders Association at Eke  Agbani Market, Mr. John Okwudili, who has been in the business for over 20 years, described ogbono trading as a “business that feeds and trains the poor or less privileged people in the area.”

Okwudili said there are two categories of the trade—the “dry and rainy season types,

In a short while from now, he said, the ‘dry season’ (ado) ogbono would be exhausted, leaving them to sell only the ‘rainy season’ (ujiri) type.

“Buyers usually like the ado (dry season) ogbono because it draws longer,” he said.

“Ogbono is a fruit God harvests himself,” he said, because it’s not always easy for man to manipulate the planting and harvesting of the fruit by the application of fertilizer.

“It is a business for those who are patient. If you want to make fast money; it’s better you look for another business,” he said.

Okwudili, who said he joined the ogbono business when he was 20, said that the objective of their association which was inaugurated by the Nkanu West Local Government Area is “to encourage unity, progress and welfare of the members.”

On his part, Christian is quick to offer the going price of the commodity in the market.

“The price is not fixed for a bag or sack but as of now, a sack sells at N127,000. Each bag contains about 18 to 19 painters [paint container]. As at today, a painter costs N8,500 or N9,000. The price may increase tomorrow. It all depends on the price you bought it for,” he said.

For him, price fluctuation is one of the challenges ogbono traders usually experience.

Apart from the profits a trader could make from the sale of ogbono, its trees have environmental benefits.

“The trees can be used to control erosion in an erosion affected site. Government can plant ogbono tree in such areas and it will serve dual purpose in such case,” Okwudili said.

“The mature ogbono tree  could be hewed as timber for roofing. When the trees are up to 15, 17, and 30 years, the wood can serve as plank because it is very strong while the remnants can serve as fire-wood,” Christian said.

Although in some circles, ogbono fruit is believed to have some health benefits such as boosting immune system because of the vitamin c and zinc content; lowers heart disease and risk of anemia, reduces risks of diabetes, accelerate metabolism, among others. Dr. Okechukwu said scholars in his institution have not subjected ogbono to any research to ascertain the validity or credibility of such claims.

“For you to establish whether ogbono has health benefits, you have to carry out a thorough research on the crop. It is the result of such research that will determine the credibility of such claims,” he said.

Professor Michael I. Uguru of the Department of Agricultural Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka corroborated what Okechukwu said.

A major challenge for the ogbono traders is a lack of proper storage facility. Improper storage of the crop could lead to huge losses on the part of the dealer/trader.

“After harvesting, you sun-dry it before bagging it. You need to keep it in an airy place. Assuming you are living in a three-room apartment, you can spread the ogbono on the floor of one of the rooms and put on the ceiling fan on a very low speed so that it will air the ogbono. At a certain stage, it is not good to continue to sun-dry it because it could shrink.

“When under storage, ogbono should not be touched by water as it will cause decay and if you use same ogbono to prepare soup, it will affect the taste,” Christian said.

He urged the government to invest in the business by providing storage facilities and mapping out land for ogbono plantation to take care of scarcity of the product since it is seasonal.

“If you plant ogbono seed in 2019, it will take about seven years for the tree to mature and bear fruits. It has to be cultivated through natural means; you don’t add fertilizer to grow it,” he said.

With or without fertilizer, ogbonno has continued its march towards national dominance, as a soup for all seasons.

This article was first published April 3, 2019.

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