2 Socio-cultural aspects involved in the production of roots and tubers
Seen from the perspective of the history of mankind, the
societies whose nutrition is based on the cultivation of roots and tubers are
very old cultures The settlement areas for these societies originally comprised
the whole of the tropical equatorial region.
During the course of history, almost all "root and tuber
societies" have either been infiltrated by cereal cultivating societies or
destroyed by their hegemonic strivings. More or less intact "root and tuber
societies" have only been able to survive and retain their cultural heritage
until today m West Africa (Yam Belt) and on some islands of Oceania (COURSEY,
This, however, does not mean that all other former "root and
tuber societies" which have been modified by external influences, have lost
their specific heritage. On the contrary in these societies, the customs and
traditions showing the high cultural status of roots and tubers have survived.
Thus the vegetation cycle (planting, harvesting and storing) is
frequently embedded in a series of rituals serving to protect the roots and
tubers The harvest of roots and tubers is tabooed until certain rituals
supported by religious sanctions have been carried out.
In these societies, the individual plant often has a greater
significance than the crop population. For yams for example, ridge beds and
staking systems are set up for each individual plant it is the aim to maximise
the yield for each plant (largest possible tubers) and not to maximise the area
output. This concentration on the individual plant is also illustrated harvest
technology: with the greatest care, only a definite number of tubers is
harvested from each plant allowing it to continue to grow.
Post-harvest technology is also in line with the desire for
harmony in these societies. The purpose of this is more to avoid longer periods
of storage than to develop improved storage systems (LANCASTER and COURSEY,
1984). This may be one reason why traditional storage systems have a very simple
concept and often show no signs of endogenous development. The traditional store
for yams (yam barn) in West Africa does not only serve to preserve the tubers.
It also has a symbolic character and is a sign of the economic prosperity and of
the social influence of its owner
The overall field of post-harvest activities in these societies
is often seen as an extension of household activities. It is therefore not
surprising that the post-harvest tasks are the responsibility of the woman
(LANCASTER and COURSEY, 1984) Gender-specific division of labour however, shows
some differences depending on the variety of crop. The woman is thus involved in
cultivating and storing cocoyams and cassava or even in charge of this. In
contrast, the cultivation and storage of yams is exclusively a matter for men
Gender-specific division of labour is not exclusively based on
traditional behaviour patterns Changes in socio economic conditions, e.g.
temporary migration for reasons of employment, also affect labour division and
cause changes in role allocation between man and