Edo North is a contemporary designation for the area generally coterminous with regions inhabited by Edo-speaking peoples north of Benin City that in the past were designated as Kukuruku or Afenmai. More recently this has included Etsako, Owan (Ivbiosakon), and Akoko-Edo local government areas which have been subdivided even further in recent years. Most of the people of Edo North speak an Edo-language and trace origins to Benin in their orthodox histories. Declared Benin origins with the most reasonable dates for migration ranging between the 15th century and the early 18th century tend to mask the ethnic complexity of the populations living in the area that includes not only people who migrated at different times from Benin, autochthonous populations whose origins are unclear, but also Igala and Igbo-speaking peoples who settled on both banks of the Niger River in a kind of ethnic fallout in the aftermath of fishing, trading, and war expeditions.
Okpella and other northern Edo ethnicities dot the belt of rolling hills which cuts through northern Edo State. These hills extend west to Ekiti and east to Kabba, forming a main watershed between north and the south in Nigeria. It is also the area that marks the southernmost extension of the Islamized Nupe in the late 19th century—a threat that was neutralized by the British in 1897 when Niger Company troops finally took Bida. With the relative peace established by the Pax Britannica in this area after 1897 after the fall of not only Bida but the Benin Kingdom, many Edo North villages moved down from the hills where they had sought refuge from slave raiding and persecution from the Palace at Benin, and took advantage of their newfound freedom (or safety) to engage in trade with neighboring ethnic groups. Interactions built upon those established by refugees in the 19th century. These interactions are chronicled in the area’s expressive culture—as evidenced in the masqueraders’ songs sung in languages other than Okpella.
Within this region, the climate and vegetation are semi-savannah. The area is rich in minerals, especially kaolin, marble, granite and limestone—and the exploitation of these provides people with some livelihood. The population continues to concern itself with subsistence agriculture, with the sale of surplus foodstuffs providing individuals with cash income—as urban centers in Nigeria demand increasingly more food from the rural sector. Since the 1950s, Okpella's economy received periodic boosts through the influx of transients associated with military installations, road-building activities, and a government sponsored cement factory. (It remains the site of a new privately-owned cement factory, and today, women find it more lucrative to hand break granite rocks into gravel in their compounds than to weave.)
The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliens) is grown in Edo State mostly in the central and southern areas of the state due to the relatively high rain fall and bright sunlight which is essential for the rubber tree to do well.
The rubber tree is a fast growing tree which can grow up to a height of between 100 to 130 feet when left in the wild. In plantations however, the tapping of latex normally prevents the tree from growing to its maximum height.
The tree is most important for its sap which is tapped by cutting the bark of the tree to release the sometimes white or yellow sap. The rubber sap is the primary raw material for the production of natural rubber. The tree can also be cut down and used for furniture when the production of rubber sap declines.
Rubber is cultivated in Edo State on a pretty large scale and it accounts for the employment of people in the rural areas of local governments in Esan, Owan, Orhiomwon, Akoko-Edo, Ovia and Uhunmwode. The Rubber Research Institute of Nigeria (RRIN) is located in Iyanomo, Edo State.
The cocoa plant (Theobroma cocao) is grown in Edo state in similar locations as the rubber tree. The climatic conditions and soil composition are very suitable for the growth of cocoa.
Cocoa which is the raw material for cocoa mass, chocolate and cocoa powder is a very economically viable crop which is in high demand both locally and internationally.
Cocoa is of immense economic value to the people of Edo state as it has served as a source of employment to the rural farmers and even a foreign exchange earner to Nigeria because of its high international demand.
- Oil Palm
Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is the obvious money spinner crop which is cultivated on a large scale in Edo state. Oil palm is primarily cultivated for its oils (edible palm oil and palm kernel oil) which is extracted from the seeds. Apart from the oils, palm fronds are also used to make brooms.
It has been a source of employment to countless citizens of the state from time immemorial. The economic potential of oil palm to the state cannot be over emphasized hence the location of PRESCO and OKOMU oil palm estate in Edo state.
In fact, the road map, initial seedlings and expertise that set up the successful oil palm industry in Malaysia was taken from the Nigerian Institute of Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), located in Ovia North East local government area of Edo state.
Also known as corn, (Zea mays) it is a large grained seasonal plant which is grown all over Edo State, mostly by small and medium scale farmers. It is usually planted on the onset of the raining season, and is ready for harvesting within a few months.
A large majority of it is either boiled or roasted and eaten, or used to prepare maize pudding locally known as “ekusu” or it is used to prepare pap locally known as “akamu”.
Maize has a lot of commercial uses such as the production of Fructose Corn Sweetener for the food and beverages industry, processing of ethanol and other products. It is also a major component of animal feed especially pigs and poultry.
Pineapples (Ananas comosus) is a large fruit which is mostly cultivated in the southern and central parts of Edo state but majorly in Uhunmwode Local Government area, which is the chief producer of pineapples in the state, prompting the state government to begin the creation of a fruit juice processing plant in the locality.
Pineapples harvested from Ehor, the local government headquarters are usually taken to fruit juice processing companies all over the country.
Apart from its use as a raw material for fruit juice, the skin of the fruit can be dried and used as cattle and pig feed, while the leaves of the plant are used in the manufacture of high quality wall paper.
Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is probably the most cultivated crop in Nigeria, with Edo state being the second highest producer of the crop, producing up to 200 million tonnes annually.
Cassava is also widely consumed in Edo state in the form of staple cassava flakes (locally known as garri).
Apart from the staple consumption, cassava is also in high demand for the production of cassava pellets for use as animal feed because of its portability and high calorie content, ethanol production, industrial starch which is used in textile, paper and adhesive production, and cassava flour which is used as a replacement for wheat in the production of bread.
The rice plant (Oryza sativa) is regarded as the single most consumed staple food crop in Nigeria.
Edo state currently produces rice in Ekpoma, Ilushi, Agbede, Agenebode and the areas around them.
With the appropriate investment, the state has the potential to significantly increase the production of rice to supplement domestic consumption and reduce or completely eliminate the importation cost.
Plantain (Musa paradisiaca) is a very important food crop to the people of Edo state because it provides food as well as employment to a large majority of rural farmers as the state is the largest producer of plantains in the country.
Plantain is readily eaten as food as well as snacks – the popular plantain chips (locally known as kpekere).
Plantain flour which is a staple food in most parts of Nigeria is a derivative of the plantain tuber. The economic viability of plantain has been on the increase in recent years due to the higher demand for plantain flour because of its health benefits. The peels from the plantain tuber is also used as animal feed.
Edo state happens to be one of the major producers of cashew (Anacardium occidentale) in Nigeria. The tree is normally cultivated for its apple which is consumed locally or can be processed into a delicious fruit juice and its nut which can also be consumed or processed into cheese or cashew butter.
The shell of the cashew seeds has a host of industrial uses such as in the manufacture of paints, lubricants, oil and acid proof cold setting cements, floor tiles and automobile brake linings.
It is widely known that you cannot separate an Edo man from pounded yam. Yam (Dioscorea) is one of the most common staple foods eaten by the Edo people either boiled or pounded. It is also an important part of numerous traditional and cultural activities.
The local production of yam in the state is currently not enough to meet up with the high demand hence it is also largely brought in from other parts of the country.
Apart from human consumption, the yam peels also serve as animal feed for goats and cattle. Industrially, yam is processed into yam flour which is used for the production of biscuits, bread and cakes. It is also used for the production of heart medications as well as industrial starch.
Edo state has the land and resources to be the food basket of the nation. However, it requires is appropriate support from the government and well-meaning individuals ready to invest as well as the skills required to turn the largely subsistent style of agriculture to a commercial one.
Since the creation of Edo state in 1991, agriculture has been a mainstay of the internal economy of the state, providing food and employment for a majority of the people of the state.
The wet climate of the southern and central regions, dry climate of the northern region of Edo state and the over 1.6 million hectares of arable land makes it suitable for a wide range of crops to be grown successfully on a commercial scale.
The Okpella People celebrate Olimi festival at the end of the dry season to honor their ancestors and purify the community for the coming year. Partway through the dry season (November-December), the senior masked messenger or Anogiri in a festival congregation makes his first public appearance. He calls on the village chief, senior titled men (Itsogwa), elders, and other important or wealthy men in the community as well as on the Mothers, (Inyilimi--mothers of spirits), women who hold the festival title. As servant and messenger of the Dead Fathers, that is, the commemorative masquerades, this masked character collects gifts of drink and money from the individuals he visits, exhorting them to prepare for the coming festival. His appearance ushers in a three-month period known as Ukpeogbe--the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.
During Ukpeogbe, members of the community with personal problems (health, barrenness, or crop failure) consult the masked heralds Inogiri (pl.), who appear at intervals in the village and pledge offerings for the remedy of those evils. Preparations are made for the bringing out of new masquerades, and old costumes are refurbished and embellished. Food, money, and drink are put by for the upcoming days of entertainment and feasting.