The farming cycle in Ika begins between January and February each year, at a time when the harmattan wind has opened up the bushes. The general pattern is a block system in which segments of a village make their farms in one section of the village land each year. The duration of the ‘bush fallow’ reflects the pressure of population on land. In the olden days, in some villages, the period of the bush fallow varied from seven to fifteen years whereas a five-year or less was characteristic of some other villages. Nowadays, the duration has reduced to three or two years and even less in some villages.

Men brush the bush with machetes and lately with shovels. Trees are felled or their tops lopped in recent times as a result of the tenderness of the trees. The substances are allowed to lie on the ground to dry whereby they are burnt to form an ash base, the chief source of fertilizer. While clearing the farm after burning, sticks for staking yams are collected. In recent times, bamboo sticks are mainly used for staking as there are not enough sticks in Ika bushes any longer.

Planting starts with the first rains which generally occur in late March or early April. Men use hoes or shovels in recent times to make cylindrical holes at about 180 centimetres (six feet) intervals. The period for planting and staking is one of great task for the men. Some who have arrears of work, for any reason, often engage the services of their kinsmen, in- laws or paid labour in recent times. Before the services of paid labour were known in Ika culture, there were several ways through which the Ika farmers side-tracked the difficulties of obtaining labour for their farm work. Apart from the household, extra labour was supplied by work parties. A work party is formed when three or four men agree to pull their efforts together and work on another's farm in turn. Sometimes, additional labour is supplied by a person's distant relations. There is another system referred to as otu-ohu/ofu; in this case, two men work in each other's farm in rotation throughout a farming season.

The economic interest of Ika women in the farm is so well recognized that the women crops follow the men's. Even before the planting of yams (the prime crop), portions, mkpa, are allocated to the women individually. Each woman plants such women crops enumerated above after yams are planted. This gives place to inter-cropping, a system where three or more crops maturing at different times are grown on the same plot of land. While the women are busy planting their crops, men stake the growing yams. From this period on, the women tasks in the farm increase, while those of the men are reduced to periodic visits to support the yam veins. Weeding is done twice or thrice on each farm, and it is usually performed by the children. The first weeding occurs in April, the second or perhaps the third in July, August or September.

In March or April, women plant cassava and sometimes, early okra in their special garden (ofia oka or ali igari), cassava farm. This is a recent development caused by the fact that even on poor soils; cassava has a high yield than yam. There is an increasing demand of the growing town population for cassava flour and garri, coupled with the fact that cassava has a comparatively low cost of production. Its food is easy to prepare and ideally suits the bachelor and the migrant. Initially, the Ika people who have not lived outside their villages regarded garri as nni ndi aghalo-uzo, the travellers' food. However, the older people then regarded it as an inferior food lacking the prestige of yam, the traditional staple. It was regarded as the poor man's food. Nowadays, among the people who are losing the older dietary preference, and acquiring new ones in Ika community culture, garri is superseding all other staples in importance, but certainly not in prestige.

By June, all the yams have been planted. A period of food shortage called famine, (ogen onwu/ugari) sets in. As yams become scarce, men depend on their wives for subsistence. The chief staple then becomes cocoyam or cassava in more recent times. In the olden days, when cassava was not known in Ika community, pudding of various types saved the situation during the famine period. Ogen onwu or ugari is caused by lack of well-developed system of storing surplus yams during the harvesting season for their use during the out-of-season period. Men of prestige and high social status, however, keep enough yams for themselves and their visitors. In the olden days, people also saved the situation by planting an early variety of yams called ore, which were planted early and harvested very early. This helped to shorten the famine period.

Before the final harvest begins in October, the yam house (oban), barns, have been repaired or new ones prepared. The yams are harvested by men and carried by women and children. Some people still maintain two separate yam barns, one in the farm and the other at home. Yams are tied to long up-right sticks secured permanent live posts by means of ropes in those days, but nowadays, by threads imported by traders. From the harvest to the next planting season, yams are eaten as often as possible. In addition to farm crops, the Ika people add in their diets, banana, bread fruits, oranges and pears. The men often wash the food down with palmwine. The trees that provide these supplementary foods are often grown in separate groves. An important source of food supply from the nutritional point of view is obtained by the collection of wild vegetable products such as mushroom, ujuju, oziza, oda, onunu-abun, utenzi, orioma, etc. In recent times, where close settlement and extensive cultivation have reduced the natural vegetations, these wide vegetables have become scarce. To be continued…
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