The Garrick Memorial School Ground located right in the heart of Benin City, Edo State capital, wore a colourful look on Saturday, 11th November 2023 as the Alaghodaro Food Fair (The Edo Market) got underway.

As one approached the ground located just opposite the Ekehuan Campus of the University of Benin, there was no mistaking the fact that something really spectacular was in the offing. Varying sizes of billboards with assorted images of farm produce and different inscriptions greeted the eyes.

Then, as one got past the outside decorations and walked through the gates of the ground, the sea of cheerful faces told a similar story. From the vendors to the participants, it was a story of both excitement and expectancy. The people were excited because they had never seen a thing like that in the state, and expectant that the experience would be worth their while.

Everywhere one turned, there was one farm produce or the other on display, from crop produce like garri, plantain, banana, cocoa, coconut, okro, palm oil, groundnut oil, rice, beans, mushrooms, pineapple, yam, cocoyam, vegetables and pepper, to animal produce such as poultry, catfish, crayfish, pig/pork, snail, beef, among others. These food items were from Edo State farmers who had come from various communities across the 18 local government areas of the state to showcase their produce and make sales.

At one corner, a group of men who brought a live cow were busy slaughtering the animal, and in a matter of time huge chunks of fresh beef were spread out on a large table and buyers gathered to haggle over their preferred portions.

At the other corner, poultry farmers displayed different sizes of chickens in cages as well as crates of eggs. If one wanted, one could point at a live chicken and, once a price was agreed, the chicken was slaughtered, dressed and packaged for the buyer.

Same for the heaps of pineapples, bunches of plantains, kegs of palm oil, and many more. And there was the tantalizing aroma of freshly-grilled or barbecued chicken in the air. Just turn to your left and the sight of it would make you want to empty your wallet.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the Alaghodaro Food Fair, organised by the Edo State Government as part of events lined up for the 7th edition of the annual Alaghodaro Economic Summit, was that the these items were sold at prices reasonably lower than their market prices to encourage more purchase. Some vendors said the directive on price reduction came from the government.

Some of the buyers who spoke to The Nigerian Observer, including Mrs Bola Kunle, Mrs Comfort Ogie, Sarah Akugbe, Evelyn Ekhator and Ngozi Ekene, expressed joy that prices of food items at the fair were cheaper compared to the market prices. They listed some of the foodstuffs they bought and the prices. For instance, 50kg bag of local rice was sold at N48,000 as against the market price of N50,000, a custard bucket (painter) of crayfish sold for N3,000 as against the market price of N5,000, a 25-litre can of groundnut oil sold for N28,000 as against the market price of N35,000, while 4 litres of palm oil was sold for N4,000 as against N5,500 in the open market. Other items and their prices included 15.5kg of yam at N6,000, 5kg bag of local rice N5,000, a bunch of plantain N2,000, a pack of dry catfish N1,300, 4 litres of Okomu oil N5,000, among others.

Many dignitaries from across the state graced the fair, including the First Lady of Edo State, Mrs. Besty Obaseki, who appreciated and commended the participants and also purchased various food items to show support to the vendors.

Speaking to newsmen, Edo State Commissioner for Agriculture, Hon Stephen Idehenre, showered encomiums on Governor Godwin Obaseki for boosting the state’s agricultural sector and attracting industries to the state.

“For instance, Dufil, a major consumer of cassava starch, has come to establish 600 metric tons-per-day cassava factory in Odighi; that means that he is taking all the major cassava excess from our farmers,” Idehenre said.

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The Chairman, Small Scale Palm Oil Millers and Palm Kernel Crackers Association (SSPOMA), Edo State, Mr Patrick Ogiesoba, commended the organizers of the food fair which he described as a welcome development that showcased what the farmers in the state were capable of producing.

“Those in the agricultural value chain come here to display their goods; we come to tell the world that we have these natural oil and those who want to reach out to us have the opportunity to do that,” Ogiesoba said.

Director of Agriculture, Orhiomwon Local Government Area, Mrs Peace Awaritoma, commended Governor Obaseki and the organizers of the food fair which she described as first of is kind.

“This is the largest fair in Edo State and Orhiomwon has come with bumper harvest. I want to tell you that Orhiomwon is the food basket of the state if not the nation at large,” she said.

The Chairman, Lentus Foods and Agro Limited, Mr Isima Udoh, also commended the state governor. Describing the Alaghodaro Food Fair as a good development, Udoh said it gave opportunity to farmers to showcase what they have and produce locally in Edo State. He said Edo State is endowed with many crops and advocated that the food fair be held monthly so as to bring farmers across the state together to showcase the natural food endowment of the state.

Also, vendors from different associations were on ground to collaborate and also exhibit their works.

Speaking on behalf of the National Rubber Producers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (NARPPMAN), the National President, Mr Otunba Prince Igbinosun Peter, said, “We are here as rubber value chain to show our support for the food value chain. For this event, our association is donating N520,000 worth of male rain boots, female rain boots and hand gloves.”

The Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprise in Niger Delta (LIFE-ND), which partners with NDDC in the area of agriculture, was also on ground to give support to the farmers and also showcase the farm produce of its members. The association cuts across several states in the Niger-Delta region and currently has nine LGAs from Edo State registered with the association.

Beyond the buying and selling, there were other side attractions, such as a raffle draw, where winners went home with gift items like bags of rice, knapsack sprayers and herbicides, cutlasses, wheel-barrows, electric fan, and so on, as well as a cooking competition and a food competition, where the winner went home with N50,000 cash and others won N10,000 each.

To maintain law and order, the organisers ensured there was a heavy presence of security personnel, from the Nigerian Police to NSCDC, Edo State Security Network, PUWOV, EDSTMA, Fire Service, and much more.

The food fair was a first of its kind, and even though many citizens did not have prior knowledge of the event, it witnessed a large turnout of both sellers and buyers from across the state. Many residents who attended were full of excitement and showered praises on the governor and the organizers of the food fair. They said the fair came at the right time, especially in light of the current steady increase in prices of food items in the market. But they all had one appeal to the government: let the food fair be a monthly or a quarterly event.