Food Crops

Food Crops

In 1987 the staple food crops made up about 38 percent of the value of agricultural production. The principal food crops in Côte d'Ivoire were the féculents, or starches (yams, plantains, cassava, and taro), which made up 76 percent of the value and 60 percent of the bulk of staples output. Gross production per annum amounted to approximately 4.5 million tons. Gross production of cereals (paddy rice, maize, sorghum, and millet) amounted to about 1 million tons per year; however, cereals, which occupied a larger cultivated area than did the féculents, had a higher of value total protein. Food crop production increased by approximately 3.4 percent per annum between 1965 and 1984, with cereals having a slightly higher rate of growth. At the same time, food crop productivity per rural family increased by about 1 percent per year, well under the rate of population growth. This shortfall, along with a preference on the part of much of the population for imported rice and bread over indigenous foodstuffs, increased rice and wheat imports to a high of 590,000 tons in 1983, or about 40 percent of national cereals consumption. Cereal imports dropped to 150,000 tons in 1985 after prices for imported foodstuffs had increased, good rains had ended the drought, and the government had inaugurated a food self-sufficiency campaign. In 1987 imported cereals amounted to about 14 percent of the national diet, as compared with 20 percent earlier in the decade.

Measured by area cultivated and tonnage, yams were the leading food crop, especially in the region east of the Bandama River. A number of varieties of yams grew in Côte d'Ivoire, differing by size of tubers, moisture requirements, and length of growing season. Yams had stringent soil needs, however, and demanded far more labor to plant and harvest than the other root crops required. In addition, roughly one-quarter of the crop had to be reserved to seed the next crop. Seed yams were planted near the top of conical mounds, usually two to four feet high and three to four feet apart, and formed from finely cultivated soil. Usually other crops such as corn, beans, tomatoes, or peas were planted on the sides of the mounds. Providing support for the yam vines (which could reach as high as twenty feet) were either stakes or liana--long, climbing vines--which hung from dead, leafless trees purposely left standing in the yam fields in the forest zone. Depending on the variety, the yam tubers, which varied in weight from a kilogram or less to as much as forty kilograms, were ready for harvest after about eight months. The best yields in the Bouaké region were about 12.4 tons per hectare. In the more humid south, the yield was higher, and further north it was lower. The heaviest yam-producing areas were around Bouaké, Séguéla, and Korhogo.

West of the Bandama River, rice was the principal food crop although rice cultivation was spreading across Côte d'Ivoire wherever conditions were suitable. Local farmers had cultivated a native variety of rice for centuries. In the twentieth century, however, French colonial administrators introduced more prolific Oriental species of both upland (dry) rice and paddy rice. Dry rice predominated, probably because it required less technology, matured more quickly, and could be interplanted with other crops. Dry rice matured in about three months and yielded about 560 kilograms per hectare, compared with a five- to six-month maturation period for wet rice and yields averaging 786 kilograms per hectare.

Among cereals, maize followed rice in tonnage harvested. It was planted throughout the country; however, except in the northwest where most maize was produced, it was subsidiary to other crops. Local varieties of maize matured in as little as two months, making it particularly suited to the north, where it could be planted after the first rains in May and harvested during the period when old yam stocks were depleted and the new yams were not yet mature. In the south, two crops per year were common. Because maize depletes the soil, farmers often interplanted it with other crops such as yams, beans, and gourds or cultivated it in fertilized household gardens. Yields, which were low by Western standards, averaged nearly 1.3 tons per hectare, reflecting the absence of both fertilizers and mechanized farming practices. As was true for other crops, insects, rodents, and, in the south, moisture, made maize storage difficult.

Other important food crops were plantains and cassava. The plantain, which is of the same genus as the banana, followed yams in annual tonnage harvested. Because it required sustained rainfall, production was limited to the south, where it was often interplanted with cocoa. Plantains were raised from shoots removed from the base of a mature tree. The shoot formed a stalk (about three meters high) that bore a single cluster of fruit ready for harvest after twelve to fifteen months. After the plantains were harvested, the stalk was cut off at ground level, and a new shoot was allowed to sprout. After five or six years, the old root system was removed, and a new tree was planted. Harvesting continued throughout the year; yields varied with soil conditions but averaged just under five tons per hectare.

Manioc, which served as a hedge against famine, was third in importance after yams and plantains. Cassava was also a root crop that was easy to cultivate, resisted pests and drought, and took little from the soil, yet still produced fair yields. Because cassava was propagated by stem cuttings, the entire crop could be used for food. The growing period was from six to fifteen months, but even after the roots matured, they could be left in the ground for several years without damage. In the south, where two plantings per year were common, cassava was often interplanted with other crops and held in reserve or planted as a final crop before a field was abandoned for fallow. In the north, only a single planting per year was possible. Estimates of yields ranged from about five tons to just under ten tons per hectare. These figures were unreliable, however, because roots were harvested only when needed.

Other food crops included taro (in the south) and varieties of millet and sorghum (in the north). Individual households raised garden vegetables, including okra, tomatoes, peanuts, and eggplant, in small plots near dwellings or interplanted among field crops. Tropical fruit trees, both wild and domestic, produced sweet bananas, avocados, oranges, papayas, mangoes, coconuts, lemons, and limes. Oil palms and shea trees provided cooking oils.

Even in the best of years, Côte d'Ivoire imported vast quantities of wheat, rice, meat, and milk. To achieve food selfsufficiency , the agricultural recovery program proposed by the Council of Ministers sought to increase production of rice, maize, peanuts, and the newly introduced soybeans, all of which were grown primarily in the northern savanna zone. In addition, the government intended to revamp the Food Marketing Bureau (Office pour la Commercialisation des Produits Vivriers--OCPV) to streamline the marketing of such food crops as yams, plantains, and manioc. Finally, the Council of Ministers also inaugurated a project to achieve self-sufficiency in animal proteins.

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