Cocoyam, a root crop, for many years served as a major source of revenue for rural women in the ancient town of Arochukwu in Abia State. But, of recent, the crop has disappeared, thus triggering off food insecurity concerns and threat to livelihood among the predominantly farming populace.
Though a remote town, with access roads in a poor state, Arochukwu parades such attributes as home to the popular deity “Long Juju,” the originator of the “Mazi title” used to qualify traditionally complete men, and a place where the African culture still waxes strong, despite the influence of modern civilisation.
But the people are facing hard times following the non-availability of different species of cocoyam, which used to be a major source of revenue for the women in the community.
Cocoyam cultivation is predominantly the business of women and, depending on the size of the farm, bigwig farmers among them could harvest numerous bags of the crop annually, making many of them breadwinners in their families.
But what started some 10 years ago, as the gradual decline in yield has led to the total disappearance of the crop and, as it is, locals cannot even produce enough for consumption, let alone for sale.
According to a woman leader, Mrs. Esther Obong from Ugwuakuma Village, which is the biggest farming village in Arochukwu Kingdom, the disappearance of cocoa has helped to increase famine in the land, while women suffer a lot to raise their children.
“Cocoyam has gone to extinction, and our people are suffering a lot. The impact is more on widows because they have to grapple with the task of raising their children with an empty pocket,” she cries out.
Following the disappearance of this important crop, many of the women have now taken to odd jobs, such as breaking of stone and cultivation of plantain, which require considerable amount of energy that a lot of them seem not to have.
A concerned husband, Mr. Philip Ikechi. explains, “Stone breaking has been an age long practice here with even children mastering the act of breaking large stones. But, in recent times, the number of people in the trade has increased tremendously because the farms are no longer productive. This time some years back, some of these women would be smiling to the bank with the sale of many bags of cocoyam.”
Cocoyam ranks third in importance after cassava and yam among the root crops cultivated and consumed in Nigeria, which used to be the world’s leading producer of the crop with about 3.7 million metric tons annually.
Nutritionally, it is said to be superior to cassava and yam, as it is a rich source of dietary fibre and starch that can speedily energise the body….