Department of Tiv Language Studies,
College of Education, Katsina-Ala, Benue State, Nigeria.
E-mail: [email protected]

Department of French,
College of Education, Katsina –Ala, Benue State, Nigeria.
E-mail: [email protected]

Department of Hausa Language,
College of Education, Katsina –Ala, Benue State, Nigeria


Nigeria is blessed with vast arable land, a vibrant manpower and a fairly good climate to engage productively in agriculture. Indeed, before the mid 1970s, agriculture was the mainstay of the nation’s economy. Sadly, today, agriculture is relegated to the background in Nigeria. For this wrong judgement, the country is paying heavily. Lately, there have been calls, both by the government, corporate bodies and even well meaning individuals, for a return to agriculture to get Nigeria back on her feet. The thrust of this paper is to show how the effective use of indigenous languages deployed in areas such as: education, (re)orientation, instruction, provision of guidelines and general information dissemination among others, could greatly boost agriculture in the country. In particular, this paper argues that providing Tiv farmers with needed awareness, help, instruction, (re)orientation, guidelines and such other agricultural extension services in the native language, (Tiv), would go a long way to enhancing agricultural growth not only in Benue State, but in the North-Central Nigeria as a whole.

Keywords: Modern agriculture, indigenous languages, Tiv, sustainable development, re-orientation


All human endeavours are made possible through language. Language therefore, has remained the only vehicle that has driven mankind forward. While no right thinking person would deny that we have come thus far because of science and technology, it is equally true that language is the tool for science and technology. One common denominator for industrialisation is language; a common language, for the society in question. Agriculture in turn, is the back-bone for industrialisation. What is true for individuals is also true for societies. An individual needs food before he could pursue any other endeavour; in a similar vein, a society needs food security before it could engage meaningfully in other ventures. The above underscores the importance of agriculture in the life of individuals and by extension, that of societies. Agriculture has passed through the stages of fruit-gathering and hunting, to subsistence farming and presently, is in the stage of modern or industrialised farming. Today, no nation could hope to attain food sufficiency and/or security without modern/innovative agriculture. But in addition to this, agriculture could be a veritable foreign revenue earner for a country. To advance to modern agriculture however, a society needs not just hi-tech equipment, funding, improved seeds, and agro-chemicals, but also an effective education and/or training of her farmers to bring them up to and keep them abreast of better ways of doing agriculture. That effective education or training may only be beneficial if provided in a language the farmers know well, such as an indigenous language.


Before we get into the discussion proper, some basic terms need clarification to put the paper on a good footing.


Language is a special gift to humans by their creator, God. The concept, language, has no one definition, so different writers see it in slightly different perspectives. Adam and Adam (2007) in Abdullahi, and Mohammed, (2013) sees language as a process by which infinite set of sounds or utterances which produce meaning are being used by human beings to communicate with one another. The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar (1994: 219), defines language as “the method of human communication consisting of words either spoken or written”. In view of the above, language could be seen as a systematized way of communicating ideas, feelings and even values which may involve sounds, signs and symbols. It is by means of language that humans transmit their values, norms, including agricultural practices from one generation to the other.


The term Tiv could assume three varying dimensions:(1) The patriarch Tiv, who according to oral tradition is the progenitor of the Tiv people. (2) The ethnic group who presently occupy mostly the Benue River Basin. (3) The language spoken by this ethnic group. The language is a sub-group of the Benue- Congo family group. Tiv is classified as Tivoid of southern Bantiod, a subgroup of Bantiod of the Benue-Congo phylum (Blench 2001) According to Nyon (2016), Tiv is genetically related to Berom and Tarok (spoken in Plateau State) Kataf and Piti (spoken in Kaduna State) and Eggon (spoken in Nassarawa State). Tiv is listed among the top 10 languages spoken in Nigeria ( It is a language of broadcast: Federal Radio Co-operation of Nigeria (FRCN) Enugu, Radio Benue, Makurdi, Harvest FM, Makurdi, Nassarawa State Broadcasting Corporation, Lafia, Taraba State Radio, Wukari, and Ashi Waves FM, Katsina-Ala, Benue. Tiv as used in this paper refers to the language; except otherwise indicated.

The Tiv, have farming as their main occupation; Apart from rearing livestock(mainly chicken and goats), the people cultivate yam, cassava, groundnuts, soya beans, guinea corn, millet, beniseed, orange, mango, maize, among other crops, in commercial quantities.


The term agriculture has Latin origin. The two Latin words: “ager” and “cultura” mean; field and cultivation respectively. Loosely therefore, agriculture could mean; field cultivation. Following this, Erebor (2003:10) sees agriculture as “the science of preparing the soil for the production of crops and rearing of animals for human use.” In every society, the occupants posses what is termed indigenous knowledge (IK) of raising livestock and crops for consumption and distribution. No society could hope to survive without Agriculture because of the crucial role it plays in providing food, employment, economic earning and fuelling industries among other things.

Modern Agriculture

Nigeria is a vast agricultural nation “endowed with substantial natural resources” which include: 68 million hectares of arable land, fresh water resources covering about 12 million hectares, 960 kilometres of coastline and an ecological diversity which enables the country to produce a wide variety of crops and livestock, forestry and fisheries products (Arokoyo, 2012, in Oyakhilomen, and Ziba, 2014:208).Science and Technology has changed virtually every facet of the known universe. In agriculture for example, the hoe and cutlass/machete were the chief tools for cultivation and everything on the farm was done manually. Also, because in the past, the land was fertile and agricultural practices never or rarely abused the soil, organic fertilizer was not used; indeed it was unknown. Today, all of that has changed. Hi-tech weather equipment determine the weather for the modern farmer, tractors till the soil, planting machines plant improved seed varieties, herbicides/ pesticides of assorted types take care of the weeds and pests. Combined harvesters help bring in the harvest, the raw materials are processed by hi-speed processing machines and so on. So from pre-cultivation to processing and storage, mechanical slaves are used for enhanced production. Indeed without technology, man can hardly feed the earth’s teeming population and earn money for other needs.

Sustainable Development

Simply put, sustainable development refers to using and managing the world’s resources, both human and natural, in ways that meet current and growing human needs, without compromising the ability of future generations to also meet their needs.(UNESCO, 2012) For a truly sustainable development, many factors have to be considered and evaluated, before embarking on a development programme. If this is not carefully done, then some sectors will suffer adversely, if not now, then later.


Nigeria has an estimated population of 166.6 million people (UNDESA, 2011) with a total area of923,800 sq km. She occupies about 14 per cent of land area in West Africa. The country lies between 4oN and 14oN, and between 3oE and 15oE. Nigeria is located within the tropics and therefore experiences high temperatures throughout the year. The climate of the country varies from a very wet coastal area with annual rainfall greater than 3,500 mm to the Sahel region in the north western and north eastern parts, with annual rainfall less than 600 mm. (Oyakhilomen and Zibah, 2014:211).

Nigeria obtained her political independence from Britain in 1960, and has since then had turbulent political governance. This has resulted in truncated policies, including agricultural policies. Economically too, Nigeria has not always fared well. From a vibrant economy, her economy has declined to a state of recession. According to Ahmed (2017:10), Nigeria is currently passing through economic recession, since her first and second quarters of growth in 2016 were -1.7% and -2.06%, respectively. Apart from failed leadership, a major factor for such economic downturn is inconsistency in policy formulation and implementation. Among the major policies related to the agriculture sector are: the Operation Feed the Nation, (OFN), the Green Revolution and the Directorate for Foods, Roads and Ruler Infrastructure (DFRRI), among others, introduced by the Obasanjo, Shagari, and Babangida administrations respectively. Today, there is again a clarion call to return to agriculture so as to diversify Nigeria’s economy.


A language is not just a tool of communication. It is a channel for transmitting values, traditions and cultures. According to Fulgence (2003: 79-82), it is a whole way of looking at reality, at life. For a people to become useful to themselves and to the society, they need to be taught in a language that is indigenous to them. An indigenous language as used here could also mean one’s mother tongue, (L1). The mother tongue could simply mean the first language one acquires in his early years of life and which normally becomes his natural instrument of thought and communication. When it comes to indigenous people, the statistics is disturbing.

According to a report by the UN millennium campaign under the United Nations Development Programmes (henceforth UNDP) for “Millennium Development Goals (henceforth MDGs) and Indigenous People”, there are over 370 million indigenous peoples in some 90 countries, living in all regions of the world. While they constitute 5 per cent of the world’s population, indigenous peoples account for 15 per cent of the world’s poor. As high as 75 per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas and most of them depend on farming. For this reason therefore, agriculture must be part of the world economic growth, poverty reduction, and environmental sustainability (UNDP, 2012). Agriculture is critical not only to achieving global poverty reduction but also to sustaining the development of all developing countries, often in terms of its share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and almost always, in terms of the number of people it employs (IDA, 2009).

In countries such as Nigeria, where the share of agriculture in overall employment is large, broad-based growth in agricultural incomes is essential to stimulate growth in the overall economy, including the non-farm sectors selling to rural people. Hence, the ability of agriculture to generate overall GDP growth and its comparative advantage in reducing poverty will vary from country to country (FAO, 2012). The majority of the poor and food insecure in Africa live in rural areas, and most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. To support broad-based poverty reduction and food security in Africa, smallholder agriculture must be a central investment focus (Garvelink et al., 2012). But how could agriculture take a centre stage in investment in and re orienting the farmer in an indigenous language he has facility in, are sure ways to start.


In the early 1960s to 1980s, Nigeria was mostly self-sufficient in food production; Agriculture contributed about 42% of the GDP and provided employment for over 65% of the labour force in Nigeria. In recent times, however, the sector is characterized by: low yields, low level of inputs, limited cultivable area, and the continued use of crude tools for farming, contributing only about 20.8% of the GDP to the economy in 2017 (Izuchukwu, 2017:194). In 1961, for example, Nigeria was the leading exporter of groundnut, with a world share of 42%. It also had 27% of the world’s palm oil exports, 18% of cocoa, and 1.4% of cotton. Today, Indonesia and Malaysia lead in palm oil export, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana in cocoa exports, while Mali and Burkina Faso in cotton exports (FMARD, 2012: 40). The argument is that these competitors have maintained their dominance through strong extension systems, which link farmers to markets and provide support information, and improved planting materials, among others. Nigeria has the largest national agricultural research and extension system in sub-Saharan Africa, with seventeen (17) commodity-based research institutes, a specialized national agricultural extension institute; three (3) specialized universities of agriculture; thirty-seven (37) agricultural development projects (ADPs) and one international agricultural research centre (Onagwa, G.I, S. Abah and E. Jegede (2017: 76))


One factor responsible for the decline in agricultural production according to Eneh, (2008) is the poor extension services. According to Olajideet al. (2012), less than 50% of Nigeria’s arable land is cultivated by subsistent smallholder farmers, with about 1-2 hectares under a traditional farming system. In recent times, deliberate efforts have been made to improve agricultural production through the establishment and implementation of agricultural programmes. The dissemination of information on such programmes and the subsequent adoption of same by farmers is the primary responsibility of extension workers. However, the agricultural extension system is poorly organised and managed and so lack the essential resources to adequately take research findings to rural farmers. Thus, efforts by extension systems to transfer technologies to farmers have yielded a minimal result. Farmers rarely feel the impact of agricultural innovations either because they have no access to such innovation or because the technologies were poorly disseminated (Babaleye, 2007:16). While this picture is not good nation-wide, it is truly appalling in Benue State.

Benue State is situated within the Southern Guinea Savannah agro-ecological zone of the country. The State covers a land area of about 31,276.7 square kilometres with an average population density of 137 persons per square kilometres. The population of the State grew from 2.7 million in 1991 to 4.3 million persons in 2006 and a projected figure of 5.6 million persons in 2015 at 3.0 percent annual growth rate (NPC, 2007; Benue State Government, 2015). The State shares boundaries with five other States namely: Nasarawa to the North, Taraba to the East, Cross-River to the South, Enugu and Ebonyi to the South-West and Kogi to the West. The State also shares a common international boundary with the republic of Cameroun on the South-East. The State is popularly referred to as the “Food Basket” of the Nation because of the abundance of its agricultural resources and about 80 percent of the State population is estimated to be directly involved in subsistence agriculture (Benue State Government, 2015). Bauchi, B. M, M. C. Madukwe, S. Daudu, and E. A. Onwubuya (2008: 103) report the poor availability of extension services, (a meagre 16.7%) for a special crop production programme in the state in general; but in the Tiv speaking area of the state in particular, there is non- availability of extension services for the farmers. This adversely affects agricultural activities.

Until the mid-1980s Benue farmers, in general, and Tiv speaking farmers in particular, were provided with extension services, offered by the Benue State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Akperan Orshi Polytechnic(then College of Agriculture) Yandev. Later, the Benue Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (BNARDA) established by an edit in 1985, under the World Bank Assisted ADPs programme to take care of extension services to rural farmers in the state among other things(Ekele, G.E, W.D, Awa & A. Amonjenu (2017: 5)). Agricultural Extension services had offices spread across the corners of the state. In addition to educating and sensitizing the rural farmers on innovative agriculture, these offices also stocked agro-based materials. Fertilizer for example, was not only affordable, but also readily available. Before long however, these services fizzled away in the state, due in part to non- funding of the scheme and general neglect of the agricultural sub-sector by subsequent administrations in the state.

Successive governments in Nigeria, over the past decades, have introduced agricultural policies and /or programmes such as: Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), the Green Revolution (GR), Directorate for Food Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), the Lower Benue River Basin (LBRB) among many others, which have direct bearing on the rural farmers in particular and development and food security in particular. While it cannot be said that these policies are not vibrant enough for rural and agricultural transformation, lack of continuity and eagerness on the part of government, to be identified with a named policy intervention of successive government in our country has been the bane of the much desired rural and agricultural development and transformation to guarantee self-sufficiency in food and fiber (Daneji, M. I.2011: 105). So over the years, there has been a sharp decline in the provision of extension services in Nigeria in general but in Benue state in particular, which has resulted in the failure of the noble policies and programmes in the agricultural sub- sector of the state.

At the federal government level, (Babaleye, 2007: 18),reports that the “Adopted Villages Scheme” was introduced to the National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs) in Nigeria by the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) in 2009, after the National Agricultural Research Project (NARP) collapsed. These are functional in states such as Abia, Adamawa, Enugu, Gombe and Kano, to name a few. In Benue state however, extension services supposedly provided by the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, the Aperan Orshi Polytechnic (formerly, the College of Agriculture, Yandev) and the Ministry of Agriculture, through agencies such as BNARDA have become moribund. Even while they may have been at their peak, there has been no deliberate plan to involve language experts so that such services will be provided in the indigenous languages of the State; Tiv being the major. There are no known offices of any extension service provider in the state located at the local government or ward level to cater for the agricultural needs of the Benue Rural farmer. BNARDA offices which used to found in some local government areas have been deserted, some are manned by not more than a handful of officers who visit them only once or twice in a month. A good number of staff have been retired or are otherwise dead, but there has been no corresponding recruitment of new staff to fill the vacuum. Even those in service are not properly trained and/or retrained, are owed salaries or poorly remunerated, work under poor conditions and as such are not motivated to perform.


Farmers need knowledge on what form of agriculture to engage in, when to engage in agriculture, where to engage in agriculture, how to engage in agriculture and even why they should engage in agriculture. The best way to do this would be in the mother tongue through a well trained and motivated extension services provider. Modern agriculture borrows ideas, skills, and technology among other things, from diverse cultures. Because English is the foremost international language, a good deal of books, information in manuals, brochures, on radio, the television, as well as on the net is in English. The typical Tiv farmer does not or can barely comprehend such information. This has serious implication on the development of agriculture. However, if such information is made available in the indigenous language; in this instance, Tiv, then the farmer will comprehend the information and use it appropriately.

Today the world is a village. It has been made smaller by improved travel and communication. The internet has added to the previously known outlets of information such as the radio and television. In the comfort of their homes and with portable devices, such as the mobile phone, the farmer in a remote rural setting can access the latest information on agriculture, advertise his products and also buy online. But when the language of the internet is English or some other European or Asian language, such becomes difficult. By adding Tiv to the list of internet languages and ensuring that sites on such web are dedicated to information on agriculture, a lot could be achieved in the direction of improving agriculture.

The Tiv of central Nigeria, if well educated and supported on modern agricultural practises, could feed the entire country and leave surplus for export earnings. It makes more sense to educate the rural farmer in his mother tongue for optimum results. One’s mother tongue is the language of the heart. To uplift the poor and thus promote agricultural development, individuals, corporate bodies and the government should ensure that Tiv farmers are literate, at least in their indigenous languages. This would lay the foundation for their training and re orientation in innovative agriculture.


  • Government should establish functional literacy centres in rural areas to make local Tiv farmers literate.
  • Agriculture extension workers should be trained/re-trained, and such services they provide should be provided in the indigenous languages.
  • Language experts should be used to collaborate with agricultural experts in developing a meta-language for agricultural terms
  • Label/instructions on agro products should be translated into Tiv, and periodicals, brochures, newsletters etc should be done in Tiv to benefit the rural farmers.
  • Government as well as corporate bodies should provide improved seeds as well as equipment to local farmers to boost agriculture in the north central region in particular and Nigeria in general.
  •  Provision of extension services should be free, and a continuous process. Relevant bodies/agencies should be mobilised and encouraged to get deeply involved. Such services should be sustained.


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