Chapter VII





We have traced the agricultural cycle and in so doing have followed the women to their farms, watched them at work, gained some insight into their attitudes to their various tasks; and, finally, made some estimate of the amount of time devoted to agriculture, as compared with that spent in the compound in pursuit of other activities. We have not yet examined the return for their labour in terms of harvest, the extent to which this is adequate for the needs of the household, and the degree to which women engage in trade as a means of supplementing the family income. These matters and their bearing on the standard of living will be discussed in this chapter.

Until recently there was very little information available on farm yields in Bamenda. Earlier Government Reports contained, in most cases, only a very rough estimate of the cash value of crops from an average holding (1.0 to 1.75 acres); and, if quantities were given at all, these were nearly always in terms of baskets of unknown capacity. The lack of precise data is understandable if the conditions in which the surveys were made are taken into account. The Assessing Officer usually spent only a few weeks in each tribe and, even if he were present at the harvest of one or more crops, he had no scales. The cash value assigned was sometimes an arbitrary one, in that some of the foodstuffs were never sold in the market; and, more importantly, in some areas there were no markets at all. Finally, most of the assessments were made between 1926 and 1934, and since then the cost of living has more than doubled. But, apart from this factor, it should also be remembered that the price of foodstuffs in the very large markets near the main roads (Bamenda Station, Kimbaw, and Bali) was and still is higher than in the remoter areas of the Province. Hence the fact that the cash value of crops in Kimbaw is greater than that in Mbembe is not necessarily indicative of a higher standard of living.

In most tribes which I visited I made inquiries about the approximate yields of grain and root-crops, but as I lacked scales I was in the same predicament as my predecessors. I was more fortunate in Kimbaw for I not only witnessed the harvest maize and millet but, in my first tour, I was able to borrow a small pair of scales for weighing small baskets of goods in the market and compound. On the basis of my results, I modified Mr. W. Bridges' original estimate of the weight of a kegati of grain from 130 to 110 lbs.1 In my second tour, when I was lent a large spring balance and could weigh vegati of grain, 1 found that even this had been an over-estimate and that the average weight of millet and fresh maize was about 85 lbs. As I have mentioned earlier, women bring in only very small quantities of root crops as required for the kitchen, and my figures for the harvest of these are more arbitrary. To use a term aptly coined by one Senior Agriculture Officer, they fall into the category of "guestimates". However in some instances I was present when women were digging out yams, rizga and sweet potatoes and was able to measure the area and arrive at some idea of the yield for the whole plot. In nearly all cases this was higher than the estimate made by men and women. Some recent figures were also available for yields of crops produced, under local methods of cultivation at

1 Vide, W. M. Bridges, Re-Assessment Report, Banso, 1934, paras. 188-194; and my own Preliminary Report on Fieldwork in Bamenda (mimeog.), 1946, p. 6.




Bambui Government Farm and these provided me with some comparative data and a check on my own estimates.

(a) Maize (nggwasang). As might be expected, there is considerable variation in the size of the maize harvest in Kimbaw: between 3 and 14 vegati to the acre (or between 255 and 1,190 lbs.) Benedict Somo, a mixed farmer who had an exceptionally fertile strip of alluvial land and who had received some training at the Government Farm, obtained in 1947 some 16 vegati (1,360 lbs.) but even this fell below that of the Demonstration Plot at Bamungo in the Ndop Plain, where 1,500 lbs. were obtained in one year, and 1,885 lbs. in 1947.1 In most of the villages of the Ndop Plain the yield would be higher than in Nsaw, and in addition there is also that from the smaller dry-season crop. In Laikom (Kom), some of the wives of the Føn told me that they filled between 20 and 30 baskets, or an equivalent of some 13 to 20 vegati.

In Kimbaw the average yield per acre for the farms of more than 25 individuals was 7 vegati (or 595 lbs.), but as many cultivated only 0.9 acre or less the amount obtained for the household was about 6 vegati (510 lbs.)2. In exceptional cases, where the working team comprised two or three individuals and the area under cultivation was over 2 acres, the harvest was much larger. Thus Elizabeth-Bika in 1945 and 1947 obtained a little over 10 vegati, and Kengeran 20 and 21 vegati. Neither, however, had a surplus for sale, since each had to provide for a household of seven dependants. Most women reserve one kegati of cobs for seed, and from the end of January supplies must be husbanded carefully, a point to which I shall return later.

Those who assist at the reaping of maize on the farm of a lineage head receive a gift of some 8 to 10 cobs or vingaa (rubbish, or leavings) which are either small or have been spoilt by insects. On the 10th September 1945, I witnessed the maize harvest from two adjacent plots belonging to Fai-O-Ndzendzef. The Yelaa first plucked four cobs, the "Maize of God", from the corners of each plot, tied them together, and placed them in the centre of the farm. Then fifty women and girls worked under her supervision and, by the end of two hours, had reaped 18 vegati from 2.04 acres. Baskets of cobs were tipped on top of the "Maize of God" by the women, who were constantly exhorted by the Yelaa to work quickly and not to steal! A few were caught hiding green cobs in the bush nearby, and the Yelaa not only reprimanded them but threatened they should have no share of the vingaa. However she did not scrutinize their baskets when they left the farm and she gave each her portion. Out of the total harvest of 18 vegati, some 15 1/2 were sent to the storehouse of the fai, the remaining 2 1/2 being divided among the workers, including a man from an adjoining compound who had watched over the standing crops for the last few months and who received about 20 lbs. for his pains.

(b) Finger Millet (saar). My figures for the millet harvest showed a considerable variation, which was not only due to differences in the size of area cultivated but differences in the fertility of the soil. Thus Margaret, who had planted millet on a steep and rocky slope at Ro Kong, obtained only 3/4 kegati for her labour; while Bertha, who had a plot on more level ground at Dzøødzøng got only one kegati. The crop on a plot close by, belonging to Yirbongka, was so poor that it was not even worth cutting. At the other extreme were Yuliy who obtained 5 vegati from 0.4 acre, and Yeduda with 5 3/4 vegati from 0.3 acre. The average yield for 0.5 acre was 3 vegati or 225 lbs. of unthreshed grain

1 Agriculture Department, Bambui: "Planned Land Use and some 'Guestimates'," No. 585.13; 1946. Also Annual Report Bambui, 1947

2 In my Preliminary Report, op. cit., p. 7, 1 gave the yield of maize and millet from the farms of one of my informants, Dzøøndzøiy. Later investigations showed that these were higher than the average, as she had very fertile land. Mr. Bridges' estimates (op. cit., para. 192) of 6 vegati of maize and 4 vegati of millet are more typical, though he overestimated the total weight.




(510 lbs. to the acre). Most women said that they kept from 1/2 to 3/4 kegati of unthreshed grain for seed, but of course not all of that would be required for the purpose.

Most afai do not bother to have millet sown on their own farms; but, when they do so, the harvest is an occasion for festivity. Women and girls put on their best ornaments and form the main labour corps, though a sprinkling of young men assist spasmodically with the reaping. Male kin and affines of the fai bring calabashes of palm wine, and it is consumed on the outskirts of the field by men of rank. At one stage in the proceedings the fai, with his guests, parades in slow and dignified procession through the farm, distributing kola nuts to the women, thanking them for their assistance and urging them to work even more rapidly!

(c) Guinea corn (say). Guinea corn, as mentioned earlier, is not grown in very large quantity in Kimbaw; elsewhere in the Province it is becoming more and more a minor crop except, perhaps, in Mbembe and Mfumte. One of the N.A. Agriculture Assistants, who measured selected plots at Tabessob and weighed the harvest in 1948, obtained an average of 1,038 lbs. to the acre. As most women cultivated only one-third of an acre their average harvest was 340 lbs. (or 4 vegati). In Kimbaw in 1946 only three individuals in my sample planted guinea corn: one obtained nothing because birds destroyed the crop; another reaped about 1/4 kegati; and a third, Elizabeth Bika, only one kegati. In 1948 the latter reaped 1 1/2 vegati from a little under half an acre.

(d) Root Crops. For reasons which I have advanced previously my figures for root-crops must be treated with considerable reserve. On plots for trifoliate yams (ree) I watched on several occasions women dig out between 75 and 120 lbs. from 60 square yards, the former weight being a very poor one indeed for Kimbaw. I have assumed the average to be about 100 lbs., and this would give about 8,000 lbs. to the acre. Patches of 24 square yards under rizga yielded between 45 and 60 lbs., and I have taken the average here to be about 50 lbs. This gives an exceptionally high yield per acre, namely 10,000 lbs., but it should be noted that Nsaw women prepare the soil very thoroughly before planting. A patch of 60 square yards of sweet potatoes produced an average yield of 65 lbs. (5,040 lbs. to the acre), and some of the women estimated the yield of Irish potatoes would be a little less, or about 60 lbs.1 Cassava does not thrive in Kimbaw and I have hazarded a "guestimate" of 100 lbs. for the total crop from one woman's farms; while my figures for cocoyams - 800 lbs. - has also been based on estimates given by the women and some records from Bambui.

(e) Plantains and Other Crops. When measuring farms I also counted the number of plantains and bananas, though I regret to say that I did not always distinguish between these two kinds of tree. In general, young men and women have only about 50 trees, while the more elderly, particularly if they have large households, have anything from 150 to 500. But it should be stressed that less than half of these bear in any one year, and that losses are often incurred when torrential rains and gales beat down the trees. Some people sell a little of the fruit, but among those whose budgets I kept the maximum earnings for six months were only five shillings. Dwarf beans and groundnuts do not thrive in Kimbaw, but in the more lowlying areas of Nsaw about 4 vegati

1 At Bambui Government Farm various experiments have been carried out with different varieties of potatoes. In 1944, the local "Twenty-Eye" potato did not give as good a yield as "Up-to-Date", but some 34% of the latter were affected by black-heart disease. A smooth kidney-shaped variety is also grown by Nsaw women, but is often affected by the same disease. Vide, Annual Report, Bambui, 1944. Beds prepared as kinfuuni gave a yield of 4,772 lbs. Mr. J. Pedder (S.A.O.) suggested, in his "Guestimates" in 1946, a yield of 6,720 lbs. of sweet potatoes per acre on local farm outside Bambui, and a yield of 1,500 lbs. of cocoyam per acre.


(or 120 lbs. shelled) of the latter crop may be harvested in one year. Gourds for calabashes are grown in most farms and provide about ten in a good season, but only about one or two in a bad one. Large calabashes of more than a gallon in capacity are bought from Ndop.

On the following page I have tabulated the approximate annual yield of various crops from a farm-holding of 1.3 acres in Kimbaw and have therefore omitted guinea corn.1 For the more southern and Iowlying parts of Nsaw a guinea corn harvest of approximately 340 lbs. per holding should be included; and it should also be noted that the yields for groundnuts, beans and cassava would be higher. The list of crops is more comprehensive than that given in the Report by Mr. W. Bridges, and the cash value has been based on market prices in Kimbaw in 1947-48. Throughout the year the cost of maize and potatoes varies considerably: at harvest a 35 lb. bag of hulled grain is about 1s. 6d. as compared with 3s. and even 4s. in the period of scarcity; while a 30 lb. basket of Irish potatoes rises from 3d. at harvest to about 6d. or 9d. later. Neither finger millet nor guinea corn is ever sold in the market, and the value given is based on assessments made by the Nsaw Council, when judging cases in which Fulani cattle had destroyed these crops.

The figures in Table IX have been calculated on the basis of the average size and yield of plots in one woman's holding given over to the main cropsmaize, millet, yams, rizga, sweet potatoes, and so on. The gross weight from 1.3 acres is about 5,340 lbs. (exclusive of guinea corn), and the approximate market value at harvest is £5-8-0. In so far as plantains and bananas are frequently tended by the men these crops should in most cases be excluded when estimating a woman's contribution to the household. The value of the crops grown by her would then be £4-13-0 in Kimbaw, and a little higher elsewhere, if guinea corn is planted. Of course, not all individuals grow the same amount of cereals, root vegetables and legumes, but the average value of all crops is fairly constant. In my sample of all the plots of twenty-one individuals (excluding those of the Føn, lineage heads and one mixed farmer) only nine had total holdings which ranged between 1.0 and 1.4 acres; the majority of the others cultivated a little more, since they received assistance. The average value of the crops harvested by the nine women was £5-9-9; or, if plantains and bananas be excluded, then £4-9-3, - figures which approximate closely to those given in Table IX.

For the reasons adduced previously, a comparison of the figures given above with those in the Government Reports for other tribes in Bamenda would be of little value, but there is some justification for regarding them as a maximum for the Province as a whole. It is true that, in the fertile Ndop Plain, the yield of maize and groundnuts is higher than in Nsaw, but there is not the same variety of crops.

In the seventh column of the Table, I have made a rough estimate of the net weight of each crop (exclusive of that kept for seed) left for the household. Maize and guinea corn depreciate about 15% when hulled, and finger millet about 20%. The average amount of grain, root vegetable or beans consumed at a meal by a household, comprising a man, wife and child is given in the eighth column. This is based on my observations of quantities cooked, and also on statements made by various women as to what they used at harvest and during the period of scarcity. Children ate as much, if not more than, adults and, in addition, they had snacks of cooked food at mid-day. If supplies were short it was the mother who deprived herself of her due share, just as in this country it is the woman who frequently surrenders her ration of

1 For comparative data on the estimated size and value of harvest in Nsei (Bamessing), vide Agathe Schmidt, "Some Notes on the Influence of Religion on Economics in a Tikar Subtribe, West Africa," African Studies, 1951, vol. X, No. 1, p. 22.




prev. | next