Mwuese Joseph has a garden egg farm near Apir, a rural suburb of Makurdi metropolis of Benue State.
She began by planting the fruit to serve her in times of need. However, the venture afterwards became a reason for her to smile as she has been able to make profits from sales to save for her family on a regular basis and use same to prepare local delicacies for consumption.
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The mother of four children said garden egg as a fruit is cherished by her rural consumers who believe it helps to fight against cancer and other serious diseases.
Similarly, a dry season garden egg farmer at the Wurukum Waterside, Bala Nuhu, told our correspondent that garden egg farming is quite lucrative except that he lacked access to sufficient input and modern technology to boost production.
Nuhu said he hired a portion of land during the dry season under the bridge in the Wurukum side of River Benue in Makurdi to grow garden egg and that during harvest, buyers, who are mainly retailers, come to the farm to buy up the produce. He also stressed the need for the state government to provide more opportunities for the development of small scale vegetable farmers like him who contribute their quota to the production of the crop.
For Vitalis Tarnongu, a big farmer in Benue State, who also produces cucumber, garden egg and watermelon on his farm, located at the University of Agriculture in Makurdi, fruit farming is worthwhile.
According to him, a lot of opportunities abound in fruit farming, adding that there is a ready market while the duration is always very short, so a farmer can plant them more than once yearly.
“We plant these fruits (cucumber, watermelon and garden eggs) at least three times a year, thus attracting revenue.
“Depending on a farmer’s location, most of these fruits do not require much water, so one can always plant them whenever there is moist in the soil for them to germinate.
“For a smallholder farmer venturing into these crops, he can start immediately rain starts and can even plant them after first harvest, making it two times a year. But one can also install irrigation facilities to increase the number of circles per year,” he said.
Tarnongu explained that the system of farming cucumber, garden egg and watermelon involves simply making ridges, planting and staking for cucumber as watermelon can conveniently spread on its own.
He added that the farmer needs to have insecticides handy as they are usually prone to insect attacks while noting the advantages to include their short gestational period and less processing effort.
“There is a ready market for them, especially now that people are being careful of what they eat. These fruits are healthy and nutritious. However, one of the disadvantages is that it is highly susceptible to insects and pest attacks. They require much attention.
“But, a lot of markets is available for the fruits, both locally and internationally, especially if one grows them organically (not using chemical fertilisers and pesticides on them). One can grow them using organic pesticides and fertilisers,’’ he said
On his part, the chairman of the Fruit Farmers Association in the state, Atsaga Anemba, said of the three fruits, members of his association planted more of watermelon.
He said though they grew cucumber in large quantities, farming watermelon had become more common in the state, noting that many of the farmers take their harvest to Kaduna, Port Harcourt and Abuja, while some sell theirs in Gboko.
Anemba added that the fruits are planted in all seasons and that some of the fruits are producing now while others will be planted in the next two months.
He urged farmers to grow fruits if they have the wherewithal because it doesn’t cost much to produce.
He said those who planted were making money, even though the profit is not as much as that of tuber crops such as cassava and yam. He added that the advantage of cucumber hinged on the shorter duration period, unlike mango and oranges, which take up to three or four years.
In the same vein, the state chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Aondongu Saaku, encouraged farmers in the state to key into fruit production on a large scale because it could fetch them huge income.
Saaku noted that fruit farming is important because of its health benefits, which make it necessary inclusion on every family meal. He further said there was the need for farmers to give it a try.
“It’s a necessary requirement in our bodies. When one eats without fruits, sometimes it wouldn’t be profitable.
“Besides, there’s a market for fruits across the country. Those who farm fruits in Benue can take the produce to the eastern part of the country, where it is very valuable and have a good market.
“Even here in the North, you can see that those who sell food, especially rice, make cucumber, garden egg and watermelon part of their salad,” the AFAN chairman said.
Meanwhile, an expert at the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Dr Teryima Iorlamen, said all of the three fruits could equally do well in Benue State. He emphasised that farmers could grow them considering their nutritional value to the human body as they supply vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients.
Iorlamen added that the Benue soil was conducive for production, pointing out that because of insecurity in the regions, has become important for farmers in the state to produce for Benue people.
“All should not be planted in soils that hold too much water. They should avoid water lodge areas. We also encourage irrigation farming. Their quality is bigger under irrigation than rain-fed.
“We have experts that can train and guide their production. There is no eatery in the state that does not have this fruit juice on their shelves. There are many business opportunities since they are both eaten fresh and also processes. So fruit juice industries are already waiting for their production,” Iorlamen concluded.