Demographic Characteristics of Respondents
The respondents (for both IDIs and FGDs) had cassava-related agricultural (farming, processing) activities as their primary occupation as this was the criteria for selecting the participants, as well as a few civil servants who had farming as their secondary occupation. For women secondary occupations included trading, operating milling machines, tailoring and hair dressing. With the exception of a few single men and a few widows all respondents were married. The secondary occupations for the men included artisanship, livestock rearing, hunting, butchery, and commercial motorbike riding business. From the FGDs, it was clear that each community cultivated different fruit, tree, cash, food, and vegetable crops, but cassava cultivation formed the bulk of the food products produced across all communities.
Analyzing all study sites together, significantly more women processed and sold cassava products then men, while men mentioned sale of fresh roots significantly more often (Fig. 1). Closer examination of trends in the Southwest and the Southeast separately revealed this effect to be more pronounced in the Southwest (Fig. 1). There was no evidence of differences between women and men for processing involvement in the Southeast. Processing activities in the Southeast are more integrated with the whole household usually involved in home level processing. This situation is reversed in the Southwest, where processing centers outside the home are common, and cassava producers go to these centers to process their roots for a fee (Abdoulaye et al. 2015). In West Africa, especially in Nigeria, women dominate cassava processing and are largely responsible for marketing products (Walker et al. 2014). Yet, this gender role has different effects depending on the regions, markets, and resources available to women. It appears that when the processing centers are located outside the home (such as in the Southwest), the gendered roles in cassava production and processing are more pronounced.
Varietal Diversity and Preferred Varieties
Using names provided by respondents, a total of 55 varieties were identified across the eight sites included in this study (Table 1). Interestingly, while 34 varieties were identified from six sites in the Southwest region, 23 varieties were identified from only two sites in the Southeast. Comparing data from the IDIs for the Southwest and the Southeast, farmers in the Southwest cultivate significantly more varieties per farmer (an average of 3.41 compared to 2.63, p < 0.001 independent t-test). This indicates a greater diversity and range of varieties grown in the Southeast, compared to the Southwest of Nigeria.
The study sites in the Southeast were proximal to the National Roots Crops Research Institute in Umudike, where all officially registered new cassava varieties are available after release. These communities may therefore have greater opportunity to participate in on-farm trial evaluations and thus have access to new varieties as they are released (Oparinde et al. 2016). Larger socio-cultural factors could also be at play. Cassava production in Southeast Nigeria largely takes place on small plots of land owned by resource poor farmers. Korieh (2010) shows the size of farm holdings in Imo State (0.07 ha average) were below the national average of 0.57 ha. Land scarcity is driven by traditional lineages of communal land ownership, under which lineage heads allocate land each year to the households making each household more and more dependent on a smaller piece of land. Seeking actively for higher yielding varieties can therefore be an extra incentive under these constrained conditions.
Women in the Southeast are more empowered compared to women in other regions of Nigeria (Ayevbuomwan et al. 2016). This is reflected in cassava production; cassava in Imo state (Southeast) has been an important crop for women since the 1920’s as a food security and subsistence crop, but also as a means to generate income independently (Korieh 2010). Yams used to be the “king of crops” in the Southeast and have traditionally been associated with masculinity, reflected in typical male names such as Ezeji (Yam king) (Korieh 2007, 2010). Yams have been largely replaced by cassava production by women, and cassava is now referred to as the “mother of all crops.” Genetic diversity of cassava has been linked to marriage exchanges, where kinship structures influence seed exchanges and diversity of cassava in Gabon (Delêtre et al. 2011). The “feminization” of cassava farming in the Southeast, coupled with high levels of women’s empowerment and access to diverse sources of planting material through kinship structures may finally explain the larger diversity and range of cassava varieties grown in the Southeast.
Ranking and Reasoning for Preferred Varieties
FGD participants were asked to rank the varieties grown in each location. Comparing the ranking of varieties between men and women FGDs revealed different patterns based on location (Table 2). These results show that farmers cultivated several varieties at a time and allocated their largest fields to their most preferred variety. There was mostly agreement between women and men in ranking preferred varieties within each location. Reasons for selecting and growing preferred varieties differed between men and women farmers (Table 3). In Pontela-Akinola, the reasons for women and men tended towards preferred traits such as high yielding and early maturity in Molenkanga:
“At 6-9 months the variety is good enough to harvest and it gives quick money at a profitable price. That is why it is called ‘Molekanga’ i.e., a lazy person can make furniture from the income.”
Pontela-Akinola women FGD.
In Elere-Adeogun, Dangaria was ranked first by women; they explained that its young leaves were used to prepare soup/sauce. While women focused on the taste and early maturing traits, men preferred high yields because they use Dangari for livestock feeding (Table 3). Men and women both preferred its cooking quality traits. A similar result was seen for the variety Nwaocha in Umuoso. While men mentioned the product quality, the description by women of the quality attributes for products was more informative:
“Nwaocha is good for food products such as abacha, akpu and gari due to its fine white color. Unlike gari and akpu that may sometimes have dull white color, abacha must have bright white color which can only be got from Nwaocha variety.”
Umuoso women FGD.
The rationale for preferences of the variety IITA was also interesting. Men preferred IITA for its in-ground storability and high yield. This was different for women, who largely focused on early maturity, taste, and dry matter content (Table 3). While men and women did mention similar traits in varieties, the way these traits were expressed was often different. For example, while men just noted that they liked the variety that suppressed weeds, women went on to explain how it reduced the labor required for weeding:
“It [Idileruwa] suppresses weeds because of the canopy. It helps in reducing weeding cost” Agbetu women FGD.
Results from FGDs in Table 3 show that even though women and men often ranked the same variety similarly, their reasons for doing so were different. Women more often expressed product quality for gari, eba, fufu and lafun as a criterion, while men more often mentioned agronomic traits. This is in agreement with trait rankings from the IDIs (see below), and indicate a higher priority women place on product quality traits, reflecting the different roles men and women play in production and processing. Furthermore, the descriptions women gave to explain their preferences were often richer and more informative than men. The gendered division of labor in cassava production in Nigeria (Curran et al. 2009; Walker et al. 2014) likely equips women with superior tacit knowledge of cassava production and processing, akin to the folk taxonomic knowledge attributed to women as keepers of crop biodiversity (Howard 2003), including for cassava (Boster 1985).
Gender Specific Traits and their Intersection with Region
Unsurprisingly, cassava farmers across all study sites attached substantial weight to traits such as high yield, root size, early maturity, and dry matter content (Table 4). The yield of storage roots constitutes an important basis for farmers to cultivate the various varieties identified in the study sites. This finding supports the assertion that high yield is one of the primary traits in farmers’ varietal selection (Abdoulaye et al. 2013). There were however significant differences in the extent that classes of traits where mentioned by women and men (Table 4) across all study sites. Women attached greater importance to cooking/processing traits then men (P = 0.039). Statements coded in this category included: “Makes good products gari, fufu and lafun;” “Products made from it swell and draw and mold fine;” “It ‘fills’ the stomach when eaten and fufu and gari made from it draws;” “Gari made from it is appealing.” These statements closely follow and validate the FGD data for reasons of preference when ranking varieties (Table 3). Conversely, men attached greater importance to agronomic traits than women (P = 0.033). Statements coded in this category included: “Suppresses weeds;” “Good canopy formation;” “Beautiful, appealing in the field.” Together these findings validate the assumptions that gendered divisions of labor in cassava production and processing directly drive trait preferences and accumulated knowledge, as described above.
There were interesting differentiations between men and women’s preferences within regions. In the Southwest, flesh color and agronomic characteristics had significantly higher frequency amongst men (P = 0.023 and P = 0.003 respectively). This could directly reflect the high significant proportion of fresh sale of cassava roots by men (Fig. 1), who would therefore pay greater attention to fresh market traits such as flesh color. In the Southeast, fast cooking had higher incidence amongst women than men (P = 0.047). This could be related to the overall higher rate of home consumption in the Southeast (Fig. 1), together with the importance of cassava products typical of the Southeast such as abacha, that involves cooking (Etejere and Bhat 1985; Iwuoha et al. 1996). Abacha is grated fermented thin cassava pieces often consumed as snack or made into a salad.
Variations in time to maturity played an important role in the farming systems of cassava farmers across study sites and therefore constituted one of the major traits for which farmers cultivated varieties. FGD results indicated that even though late maturing varieties store longer in the soil and serve as collateral or savings for income in times of necessity, earlier maturing ones were preferred among all respondents across sites as a source of quick food and income. The rationale for early maturity for women was linked to the underlying food security for the household in mind:
“Few varieties have been abandoned because they don’t mature fast, taking about three years to mature before harvest. We cannot wait for that long before we feed our children”
Pontela women FGD.
The role of women as processors and sellers of cassava products can be considered leading in relation to their trait preferences for cooking/processing quality aspects. However even though men were much less involved in processing activities they also give high priority to these, illustrating that men were also well informed about the importance of processing traits as almost all the fresh cassava was bought to be processed. Both men and women farmers also considered profitable prices/marketability as the same and beneficial. This finding is similar to Asrat et al. (2010) who found that the ability of a variety to fetch a good price was an incentive to farmers’ selection of that variety. The CMS reports (Wossen et al. 2017) showed that one of the most important traits mentioned, especially by women, was “ease to peel” a task mainly performed by women. The fact that this was not mentioned as a trait in this study was probably related to the way variety trait preferences were assessed in the study areas. Instead of asking for preferred traits directly, this study asked farmers which varieties they grew, and asked which traits they liked most within that particular variety. This could be indicative that ease of peeling might not only be variety independent but more related to the season when harvested and to the age of the root. However, the large importance given to root size (Tables 4 and 5) can be related to the peeling work. Larger roots have a smaller surface to root weight ratio and therefore demand less peeling work.
Regional Preferred Traits and Intersections with Gender
When comparing trait differences between regions (Table 5) there were significant differences in the manner two major traits were valued: respondents in the Southeast attributed more value to “high yield” and “early maturing”. Both can be understood by the limited available land and the relatively smaller plots in the Southeast (Korieh 2010) necessitating preference for better value in unit space and time. When land is scarce early maturing varieties facilitate more harvests per time unit and optimizing yield is the only possibility to increase production. The scoping study reveals that this is also reflected socially in the presence of specific harvesting/processing/marketing days in certain parts of Imo and Abia state related to cassava creating a social ‘effervescence’ (Collins 2004) to get heavy work done effectively. Persons harvesting outside of such days are sanctioned.
Fast cooking is mentioned more in the Southwest than the Southeast. This might be ascribed to the greater role of boiled, pounded, or roasted cassava in the Southwest. Proximity to the international border between Nigeria and Benin hosts a substantial amount of immigrant farmers and farm laborers from Togo and Benin who play a substantial role in sustaining the agricultural sector through direct production and as source of farm labor (Agbonlahor and Enilolobo 2013). In Benin and Togo freshly boiled and pounded cassava is common (Nago and Hounhouigan 1998). Some varieties, like Atu, were sometimes also referred to as ‘Cotonou’ and are suitable to boil/roast and to pound. Only two of the respondents for the quantitative individual interviews in our study were from Togo. The influence of the immigrants from Benin and Togo might have made boil, pound, roast, or even eat fresh in the field as a snack or even as a meal at home more popular in the Southwest.
Table 5 shows that “dry matter content/swells,” “flesh color,” “good price/marketability,” and “agronomic characteristics” were more frequently mentioned in the Southeast. This lays credence to the larger role that cassava takes up within the livelihoods of farmers and farmer/processors in the Southeast. The more frequent mention of agronomic characteristics is comprehensible in a setting where small scale farmers and especially women are involved in cassava cultivation. This reasoning is strengthened as the specific role of women in cassava production and processing in the Southeast is illustrated when we consider only women (Table 5): “dry matter content/swells,” “flesh color,” “good price/marketability,” and “agronomic characteristics” almost all become even more significant or at least do not lose in significance. When only considering men, we see that the general observed trend when considering men and women together is maintained, but that the trait “post-harvest shelf-life” is significantly more important for men from the Southwest. This can be explained by the larger markets and larger-scale production present in the Southwest involving transport over longer distances in which usually more men than women are involved.
Access to Stem Sources and Decision Making around Planting Material
The main stem source for men and women farmers was their own farm and neighbors through gift or purchase (Fig. 2). A similar study in Uganda on cassava farmers’ source of seeds indicated that about 89% obtain seeds from informal sources, for the most part from their own saved seeds, the local market, and neighbors (ISSD Uganda 2014). This reliance on informal seed systems held in an analysis of five countries across sub-Saharan Africa (Mcguire and Sperling 2016). Figure 2 shows that stems were mostly obtained from “own farm” and as a gift from other people in the village. Within these two categories there were no significant differences when comparing regions for both sexes together. However, significant differences appear for the sources “Buy from farmers in the same village” and “Buy from farmers in another village” that were both mentioned more often in the Southeast. This is hard to explain other than that plant material is scarce as all plots are intensively cultivated while in the Southwest extensive cultivation for stems is possible as land is less scarce. When only considering men, the same pattern appears which is understandable as men will not be much involved in rotating working groups that provided labor for each of the members’ plots without any money or in-kind transaction. In the Southeast, women form such work groups along the lines of kinship, age grades, friendship circles, or social or finance clubs, and provide an important means of labor for cassava production (Korieh 2010). These work groups could provide a conduit of exchange for planting materials, and among such women groups free exchange of stem material would be more common than among men.
Intersection with Religion
Keeping intersectionality in mind, we disaggregated stem sources by religion. Respondents in the Southeast were all Christian while respondents in Southwest included both Muslim and Christian. For the stem source within the Southwest, Muslim women mentioned “Gift from another farmer in the same village” less often than Christian women. Furthermore, Muslim men mention “Gift from other farmers in the same village” more often than Christian men (Table 6). When only considering Muslim respondents, a very significant difference appears between Muslim women and men: Muslim men mentioned “Gift from other farmer in the village” much more than Muslim women. Muslim men also mention “Buy from other farmers in other village” far less than Christian men. This suggests that Muslim men may maintain very strong reciprocal relations while this is not as true for Muslim women, who often buy stem material. Adekunle et al. (2016) indicates the role of religion as having a possible large influence in the adoption and success of innovative technologies especially for cassava that is on the rise in popularity and significance. Taking note of religious norms and roles in relation to technology development and seed dissemination can therefore be important from an equity perspective as religion often sets specific norms and rules. These results are interesting, but difficult to explain with the current data set, and require significant further study.
Decision Making around Planting Materials
There was a greater agreement on variety ranking in Umuoso and Imerienwe in the Southeastern region, than Pontela-Akinola and Elere-Adeogun in the Southwest between women and men (Table 2). A general norm for married women to consult their husbands before deciding on planting a new variety may inform women in the Southwest and may influence their decision to adopt and utilize it for cassava products:
“If there is something new that is being introduced, we may not be quick to do those things but if our men do them, then we too will do them”.
Pontela women FGD.
“Men mostly decide on where to plant which variety because they gave portions of their lands to women to plant as well as the varieties to plant. Men also decide when to plant because it is unsafe for women to go to farm alone. Men have access to new varieties. If they are old varieties, the women take their own decisions on which one to plant because they source from the previous harvest”
Adogo women FGD
However, this norm is less pronounced in the Southeast:
“We don’t consult anybody before planting anything. Men don’t know anything about the cassava we are planting”
Imerienwe Women FGD
This tendency for more autonomy in production, and decision making around planting material reflects the higher levels of empowerment experienced by women in the Southeast (Ayevbuomwan et al. 2016), especially around cassava production. These “cassava queens” (Korieh 2007) hold an important place in the social fabric of the communities, and may experiment and introduce new varieties. Our results concerning greater varietal diversity in the Southeast can also be linked to this increased decision-making power of women around planting materials.