By Ikenna Nwokedi
History was made on Thursday, 20th October 2022 as Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK) Farmers Association held a successful maiden Yam Expo.
The yam festival was held with the aim of showcasing Yam produce as the most significant farm produce and as well to encourage the habit of engaging in agriculture by the UNIZIK Community and beyond.
The event which took place at the UNIZIK Cooperative Arena saw the cream de la cream and custodian of the rich Igbo culture and tradition converge for the historic event.
In his address, the pioneer President, UNIZIK Farmers Association (UFA), Dr. Kingsley Ubaoji disclosed that the association started in 2020 owing to the advent of COVID-19 which paved way for all to see the importance of agriculture as the new oil in the world and next income generator for the nation.
Dr. Ubaoji said the association had made some modest progress by registering the association with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and have also ten different cooperative names under the umbrella of UFA.
He highlighted other successful records such as the rice farm of about 150 chains at Ugbenu, cassava farm of about 300 chains at Ozu near Ndiukwuenu community, piggery farm with nearly 100 piglets, apiaries for honey production located in Agbor, Delta State and Amansea in the state.
The scholar also asked the University management to consider allotting the association about 10 plots of land for plantation of coconut and building of farm village which will serve as a tourist centre that will generate IGR for the University.
Reacting during the occasion, UNIZIK Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Charles Esimone, expressed his delight that it was during his tenure that the agriculture revolution kick-started as a result of the pyschological trauma of COVID-19 in 2020.
Prof. Esimone commended Ubaoji and his team for the initiative borne out of innovation and entrepreneural spirit.
The Vice-Chancellor said that he was delighted to see yams of over 100 kilograms being harvested from the University ground.
He promised to give the UFA over 10 plots of land to set up the farm village and also said he will help the UFA to get sponsors that will drive the establishment of the farming village which should be completed before the end of his tenure.
The Vice Chancellor also advised Ubaoji and the management of the UFA to imbibe the spirit of inclusiveness by eschewing all forms of hierarchy and bureaucracy for the association to grow in leaps and bounds.
Delivering his lecture on the significance of Yam in Igbo Culture, Prof. Raphael Okigbo disclosed that yam belong to the genus Dioscorea with Nigeria producing about three quarter of the world total output of yams.
The Professor of Botany who majors in the study of Yam said that there are ten cultivated species of yam but the six most important species in Nigeria are Dioscorea rotundata Poir (White Yam), Dioscorea cayenesis Lam (Yellow Yam), Dioscorea alata (Water Yam), Dioscorea dumeterum (Bitter Yam) and Dioscorea bulbiferat (Aerial Yam).
Prof. Okigbo stated that yams are excellent source of fibre which are important for supporting bone health, growth, metabolism and heart function. The scholar opined that the use of chemicals have helped in control of rots in yam but the effect are hazardous to man and environment.
He said efforts are now directed at exploring the potentials of plant extracts as alternative to synthetic chemicals. He pointed out that in spite of the importance of yams, research and documentation of the stable food crop is still limited.
Also speaking, the Labour Party candidate for Awka North and South Federal Constituency, Prof. Lilian Orogbu stated that the celebration of Yam via the cultural practice of the New Yam festival has a history in Igbo land and Yam is the foremost food to be eaten by Ndigbo which is used to celebrate a successful farming year.
Prof Orogbu said that Yam is the most stable food cultivated in the land and that is why it is important to celebrate the very important farm produce.
The scholar turned politician stated that despite the ecological issues in the land such as flooding, there is urgent need for Nigerians to engage in Agriculture massively as the next source of income generation for the country.
Also present at the occasion was the Labour Party Candidate for the Anambra Central Senatorial District, Chief Sir Victor Umeh who highlighted the significance of the celebration and eulogized the innovation behind the maiden Yam Expo by the UFA.
Highpoints of the occasion was the display and cutting of the yam performed by one of the cabinet members of the traditional ruler of the Awka Kingdom. Members of the University Community made up of management, council, principal communities and staff members were part of the historic event.