Orijemie, Emuobosa Akpo

A Newton postdoctoral research investigating ancient farming in the Benue Valley, Benue State, north-central Nigeria was initiated in early 2016. It is one of the outcomes of the African Farming Network Project. The main study areas of the current research are Ushongo and Katsina Ala towns of Tivland. The Tiv have been farmers for as long as they can remember; their major crops being yams (Dioscorea spp.), cereals, legumes and vegetables. Oral tradition holds that yams were the earliest crops while cereals were introduced subsequently. Where did the Tiv migrate from, Cameroon or the Congo? At what time did they arrive in the Benue Valley; did they bring yams with them, from where and by whom were the cereals introduced into the valley? Archaeologists have not yet been successful in ascertaining what constituted the earliest food crops as well as ancient farming strategies of the Tiv. Employing systematic archaeobotanical and geo-archaeological approaches, this research attempts to reconstruct the vegetation and soil histories of the Benue valley, and decipher farming dynamics as well as human impact on the landscape.

In the first field season (April-May, 2016) archaeological excavations were conducted in Ushongo and Katsina Ala areas of Benue State. Archaeobotanical research had hitherto not been attempted in Tivland partly because of the lack of personnel and erroneous assumption that plant remains are not preserved due to the acidic nature of the soils. Presented here are preliminary results of archaeobotanical remains recovered through flotation of samples from the excavations. Also included are results of ethnobotanical survey conducted in three markets namely Adikpo, Katsina Ala and Ushongo.

Macrobotanical Remains: A diverse array of materials including seeds, pottery, animal and fish bones, beads, charcoal, iron slag, smoking pipe and hammer stones were recovered from the excavated units in Tse Agwa and Tse Azenda (Ushongo), and Tse Akwadam (Katsina Ala). Preliminary analysis of macrobotanical remains revealed the following:

Domesticated species: Pennisetum glaucum (millet), Sorghum bicolor (guinea corn), Arachis hypogea (groundnuts), Carica papaya (pawpaw), Elaeis guineensis (oil palm), Parkia biglobosa (locust bean), Piper guineense (pepper), Anacardium occidentale (Cashew), Citrullus lunatus (melon), Oryza spp. (rice) and Vigna subterranea (Bambara nut).

Wild species: Dracaena sp., Phyllanthus sp., Prosopis africana and Poaceae (grasses).

Ethnobotanical survey: Three markets namely Adikpo, Katsina Ala and Ushongo were visited during their market days. Interviews were conducted on eighteen individuals. Sixty seven (67) plant food types, some of which are collected in the wild, were recorded. Of this number the Tiv identify and cultivate thirty one (31) different yam species, among which are true and water yams. The names of some of the yams suggest their introduction from Idoma (Agatu) to the north-west, Cross River (Ogoja) to the south-east, and Taraba-Adamawa (Mumuye) and Cameroon-Sudan (Sudan) to the north-east of Tivland. No doubt, yams are the most important foods in Tiv. Judging from the way they classify food, it may be that yams are indeed the earliest crops. The Tiv call yams, usually in its boiled or pounded form, Luam, i.e. “prepared food that satisfies”, while other food types namely rice, other cereals and legumes (for example groundnuts) are known as “snacks”.



It is gratifying that the archaeological data is complemented by the ethnographic findings. However, the remains of yams are yet to be recovered. Field observations show that all parts of yams are consumed including the peels which are fed to ruminants especially goats and sheep. What might escape the two processes are discarded as refuse and eventually burnt. These phenomena have partly rendered yams “invisible” in the archaeological record. Therefore the best chance of recovering remains of tubers will either be directly in the form of charred remains and and/or indirectly through pollen from coprolites of ruminants, and insects (beetles and termites) associated with yams. Whichever way, the successful recovery and identification of yams from an archaeological context will be a ground-breaking feat and a turning point in the narratives of ancient farming in Nigeria and indeed the West African sub-region.

Posted by: Matthew Davies | November 13, 2015

Dr Emuobosa Orijemie is awarded a Newton Fellowship

Many congratulations to Dr Emuobosa Orijemie who has been awarded a two year Royal Society Newton International Fellowship in Cambridge to build on the African Farming Network by developing new research in Tiv-land Nigeria.

With Professor French in Cambridge and ongoing support from the African Farming Network, Dr Orijemie will undertake a project titled ‘New applied approaches to African farming systems: the long-term history of farming in Tiv, Nigeria’.

We look forward to working with Emuobosa in the future and wish him all the best with the move to Cambridge!

Posted by: Matthew Davies | November 12, 2015

Fourth Workshop, Cambridge May 2015

Between 4th and 8th of May 2015 we held the final network workshop in Cambridge, UK. As with the other workshops, this consisted of a week-long series of meetings, field-visits and practical demonstrations. The workshop was attended by participants from Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and the UK, including Dr Freda M’Mbogori (National Museums of Kenya/British Institute in Eastern Africa), Mr Timothy Kikeu Kiprutto (Marakwet Research Station/British Institute in Eastern Africa), Dr Alex Schoeman (Witts, South Africa), Ms Tanya Hattingh (Witts, South Africa), Professor Caleb Adebayo Folorunso (Ibadan, Nigeria), Dr Emuobosa Orijemie (Ibadan, Nigeria), Dr Matthew Davies (Cambridge/UCL, UK), and Professor Henrietta Moore (UCL, UK). We were also joined at times by Professor Charly French (Cambridge, UK) and Professor Martin Jones (Cambridge, UK) and number of other invited UK academics.

On day one we reviewed the previous field workshops, with sub-project members presenting on what they had learned from the other projects. This was led by presentations from Professor Folurunso and Dr Orijemie (Nigeria) on the Bokoni sub-project (South Africa) and Dr Alex Schoeman (South Africa) on the Tiv project (Nigeria). These presentations were used to develop a number of cross-cutting concepts and ideas which link each of the sub-projects and which might be used as the basis for future joint publications and research projects. On day two we began with a consideration of material culture and heritage, led by Dr M’Mbogori (National Museums of Kenya), including the relevance of theories of materiality to understanding the physical nature of human-environment-crop-animal interactions. The discussion was fruitful in pointing toward newer theoretical concepts which may allow us to combine physical science and social science perspectives. In the afternoon of day two we visited Flag Fen Bronze/Iron Age archaeological site and museum. The comparisons with research into the archaeology of early European agricultural settlements were useful – not in terms of direct analogy – but rather in terms of understanding the range of techniques and methods that may be applied to reconstruct past economic systems. The use of fine-grained geoarchaeology to identify agriculture related microscopic soil structures was especially illuminating.

The comparative discussions of day one were picked up on day three where we considered a range of key topics across each sub-project. These included:

  1. Successive crop regimes
  2. Management of resources, water, soils, fuel
  3. Soil fertility and broader cosmologies of fertility
  4. Evolution of farming systems through time via patterns of settlement and land-use, including the discussion of temporalities (i.e. different social timescales, gradual vs. punctuated change)
  5. Kinship, family structure, gender and agricultural labour
  6. Colonial and post-colonial development narratives and the uses of a deeper historical approach
  7. Broader ‘food’ strategies, planning for shortage, seasonality, climatic variability, differential and complimentary resource (especially crop) ecologies
  8. Broader understandings of climate change and adaptation
  9. Current agricultural challenges/concerns i.e. agrarian reform in South Africa

The workshop participants were in agreement that the above topics each offered considerable potential for future collaborative and comparative research and publication – with considerable work already undertaken by each of the projects on many of these topics. The discussion also usefully allowed us the chance to review differences in the types and focus of data held by each sub-project and to identify key areas in which each sub-project requires further work to bring it into line with the other projects. This balancing out of data across each sub-project is essential for allowing proper comparative study.

On the afternoon of day three we undertook a tour and practical demonstration of the geoarchaeology laboratories at the University of Cambridge, led by Professor Charly French. This allowed for a much deeper understanding of the process of preparing, analysing and interpreting soil thin-sections. Professor French was able to talk us through his analysis of the Marakwet soil samples collected in Year 1 and we were able to discuss practical arrangements for future soil science research between Cambridge and the partner projects. These discussions ranged from the construction of formal collaborative grant proposals, to access of the facilities by African visiting students and the possibilities of remotely sending samples for processing. In the evening of day three we also had a formal drinks reception with the members of the Division of Archaeology in which we were able to discuss our network activities in detail with potential collaborators.

On day four we turned our attentions to the future of the African Farming Network and our plans post the British Academy grant. In the morning each sub-project outlined its current activities, funding and immediate research plans. The work of various students and ECRFs were also discussed as were project specific funding plans already in process. For example, in Nigeria we heard about the developing plans for Dr Orijemie’s international fellowship and for Mrs Ngonadi’s proposed PhD. In South Africa we heard about Ms Tanya Hattingh’s ongoing PhD research and other masters research projects. After assessing the current research landscape of each project, we discussed the areas in which we might wish to concentrate the future resources of a larger joint collaborative project and how this might be structured in terms of institutions, personnel, research and studentships. There was a general consensus that the way forward is to train African students in a range of key research methods such as geoarchaeology, palaeoecology, archaeobotany, ethnobotany, and ethnography and interview techniques. We all also felt strongly that such students should be pan-African in their outlook and able to learn from and work across the continent irrespective of where they were trained – this would in effect lead to a network of peers with relative specialisms and the ability to share capacity across the partner projects. All partner projects also expressed an interest in community engagement and the benefits of a more citizen science oriented approach. Finally we discussed immediate and future publications/outputs and put in place a schedule for the production of thematic comparative papers.

On the afternoon of day four we were able to tour the archaeobotany laboratories of the Division of archaeology and to see first-hand the current cutting edge work being undertaken on the histories of old world crops. Professor Martin Jones was able to outline this research and make strong suggestions for how similar ideas might be applied to African crops. In particular, we engaged in a detailed discussion of the nature of the Columbian exchange and the movements of new world and Asian crops into Africa, and African crops into Asia. Although the focus of the partner-projects is relatively localised, consideration of our work within broader global narratives was especially useful and provided a new dimension to consider the relevance of the work we are all undertaking. In particular, in order to reconstruct global scale narratives, high quality localised data are also required and each of the African Farming Network Projects has a great deal to contribute here. The possibilities of incorporating our projects into a broader Cambridge centered network exploring the archaeobotany of the Columbian exchange seems an unexpected by highly desirable potential outcome.

On the final and fifth day we held an open workshop at Pembroke College in Cambridge. Each of the sub-projects presented on their detailed research findings with comments on what they had learned through interaction via the network. The projects also commented on their future plans and ideas and how these had been informed by the network. Introductory and summary comments from Professor Henrietta Moore outlined the aims and objectives of the network and our future plans. Professor Moore particularly focused on the comparative themes as listed above and the aim to establish a wider research and training network as the next step. In order to gain the opinions and ideas of specialists in the field of African agricultural history and historical ecology we invited a number of specialist guests, including Professor Michael Bollig (Cologne), Professor Bill Adams (Cambridge), Dr Liz Watson (Cambridge), Dr Daryl Stump (York), Professor Charly French (Cambridge), Professor Martin Jones (Cambridge), and Dr Diane Lister (Cambridge).  These invited participants offered a variety of constructive comments and broad encouragement and we are greatly thankful for their input.

Overall the African Farming Research Network (AFN) has been a great experience and we are excited to take the next step and to maintain the network across new phases of funding. Alongside the numerous ongoing activities of each sub-project, the AFN has directly generated a wide range of new data, including soil micromorphology/ geoarchaeology in Kenya, palaeoecological coring in Nigeria, ethnobotanic interview data in Kenya and Nigeria, and new soils and phytolith work and an experimental crop garden in South Africa. We have generated a wide range of new concepts and directions for comparative pan-African research, many of which are listed above. We have generated a number of small grant applications and have been successful with funded post-doctoral and PhD applications for our Nigerian contingent. We have presented as a group in Johannesburg, South Africa, Ibadan, Nigeria and Cambridge, UK. We have submitted one joint paper for publication and have plans for future published outputs. Most of all we have strong plans for the next phase of research funding, African student training and the continuation of what has been a hugely profitable enterprise.

Please watch this space for more activities!

Posted by: Matthew Davies | June 17, 2015

Photos from African Farming Network Reception in Cambridge

Please follow this link for pictures of our African Farming Network Reception in Cambridge in May 2015. The event was held jointly with the Cambridge African Archaeology Group who hosted a talk by Sirio Canos Donnay (UCL) and with the Nigerian ‘Introduction to Archaeology course’ organised by Pamela Jane Smith and the McDonald Institute.


In late 2013 Professor Charly French was able to collect samples and make preliminary observations on the geomorphology and soils of the Tot-Sibou region in northern Marakwet as part of the African Farming Network. These preliminary oberservations were presented on this website in a post back in 2014 – click here for further details.

Since 2013 Professor French has been able to pocess the collected samples and has produced and updated research report which can be downloaded here.

Many thanks to Charly for all his hard work!

French geoarchaeology of Marakwet 2013 preliminary report update

Professor Caleb Adebayo Folorunso

Dr Emuobosa Orijemie

Day One

On arrival from Lagos and Ibadan through Abuja and from Zaria; we settled down in our Guest house at Katsina-Ala. The field workshop was led by Professor Caleb Adebayo Folorunso and Dr Emuobosa Orijemie from the University of Ibadan. The team from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria included Dr Zacharys Anger Gundu, Dr Jonathan Ndera and Mr. Richard Chia from the Department of Archaeology. Mr. Sampercy Ingyoroko, a staff of the Benue State Council for Arts and Culture, Makurdi later joined the team. These researchers being Tiv themselves and having done archaeological and ethnoarchaeological studies in the Benue Valley have a good knowledge of the Tiv culture. Participating guests included Dr Freda M’Mbogori from the National Museums of Kenya, Mr Timothy Kipkeu Kiprutto from the British Institute in Eastern Africa and Marakwet Research Station, Dr Alex Schoeman and Miss Lauren Solomon from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Dr Matthew Davies from the University of Cambridge. In the evening of the arrival day, there was dinner where we had some briefings on what the field work was all about and what we would be doing in the next couple of days.


The major discussion on the first day centred on The Tiv of Central Nigeria specifically what constitutes Tiv Culture as the context for Tiv farming? This question was looked at from two perspectives namely (a) material and (b) non-material culture of the Tiv. The Tiv hold their land and farm produce in very high esteem hence conflicts sometimes arise from any factor that border on these two aspects. The Tiv have a saying that “land is life”. Conflicts usually arise due to infringements on two levels (a) intra-ethnic conflicts which are usually resolved amicably and (b) inter-ethnic conflicts especially with the Fulani herdsmen whose cattle devour crops and farmlands which the Tiv usually do not take kindly to. However, Fulani cattle manure may add to the fertility of cultivated soils creating an interesting tension. This situation is further compounded by pressure on available farming land as well as declining land fertility. These problems are caused by increased population and decline in the fallow system of farming. In the past, several expanses of land were available for fallowing, allowing cultivated field to rejuvenate and regain their fertility. Increased population now makes this practice very rare as more and more Tiv, unlike in the past, settle on their farmlands to prevent such lands from being “colonised”. During the cultivation period, the males clear the fields which are carefully distributed to male members of the family. The men also prepare the lands to suit the plants to be cultivated while the women cultivate and maintain granaries. Another key aspect of the Tiv is the Mbatsav, a traditional belief system used for settling disputes among the Tiv.

Day Two

Field work and discussions: Tiv Farming Traditions

The team visited Ushongo town, a major Tiv settlement in the Benue Valley. A visit was paid to the Ter Ushongo, the traditional ruler to obtain his consent and permission to visit archaeological sites and conduct oral interviews with farmers. There are two significant rock shelters located on Tse Dura rock outcrop, and an open air settlement remains on the Ushongo rock outcrop that form part of the archaeological landscape of the Tiv. The team on reaching Ushongo were talked through farming traditions of the Tiv by Messers Godwin Biem and Hile Biem, both sons of the Ter Gba family who were our hosts. The Tiv culture recognises the eldest male as the “owner” of the family land hence the responsibility of caring for and distributing the lands for cultivation lies with him. A plot of land is usually cultivated by a man’s family or by paid labour. Mixed cropping is practised; the major crops being yams and some vegetables (okra, melon and spinach) during the rainy season, and cassava and other hardy vegetable during the dry season.

The Tiv major food crop is yam which is given a lot of care during cultivation. They recognise over twenty species of yams among which are water (Agbo) and native (Tameniyo) yams. Men usually cultivate yam farms while the women weed at specific periods; yam heaps are believed to provide the yam seedlings with enough soils, protect them from excessive sunlight and water. Weeds are recognised as useful because they protect the soils, prevent erosion and add nutrients to the soils. Herbicides have been introduced alongside fertilisers; they kill weeds, but soften soils which are susceptible to leaching. Furthermore, some farmers misuse herbicides due to lack of understanding of dosage and direction of use as prescribed in the labels. There has been a recent introduction by the government of fertilizers and orchards and what was termed “improved varieties of crops” all of which is ripe for further study. This government intervention was considered a failure as the service rendered by the Benue Agricultural Development Authority (BENADA) Agricultural Extension workers did not take into consideration salient issues such as (a) pre-interaction process with the farmers and (b) appreciation of the socio-economic issues surrounding Tiv farming. Hence they adopted agricultural strategies alien to Tiv environment and ineffective for their farming systems. The Tiv farmers noticed, with continuous use of inorganic fertilisers (NPK [15:15:15] and Urea), drier soils accompanied by reduced water-retaining ability, over-use and under-use of fertilisers in right proportions, cropping, poor yields and neglect of fallow system. The orchards provide additional source of revenue but also compete with traditional crops for scarce farmlands. Other concerns surrounding introduction of new seed breeds, fertilisers and herbicides included “appearance” of stubborn weeds hitherto not found in Tiv land.

Ushongo Archaeology and Land Distribution

On Day 2 the team were also led up to the two rock shelters in Tse Dura; the rock shelters though excavated still contained abundant and diverse pottery with unique decorations scattered on the floor of the shelters. Archaeological records from several open air sites on rock outcrops in the Benue Valley indicate a 15th-16th century period of occupation although older dates (4th century BC) have been recorded in the Late Stone Age (LSA) levels in the rock shelters. The occupation model of the area is that the rock shelters were occupied first but the identity of these earliest peoples is not yet known with certainty. Subsequently a group (probably the Tiv) moved into the valleys but were forced up onto the rock outcrops during the 15th-16th centuries. What could have been responsible for this almost contemporaneous migration up onto the rock outcrops? This hilltop settlement pattern might have followed houses being located on the basis of patrilineal descent as recorded in the ethnographic present. The compact nature of the distribution of huts on the rock outcrops further indicates attempts by the people to effectively utilise all available spaces and convert and manage otherwise unsuitable spaces for building. Suggested causes of such phenomenon include war, epidemic/plague or food shortage/scarcity.

The months of June-July are recognised as hunger months because of food scarcity as the harvested crops would have been exhausted. During this period, the Tiv resort to collecting wild plants and fruits. The Tiv used to cultivate millet (Pennisetum glaucum) and yams (Dioscorea spp.); today millet is hardly cultivated because of the difficulties involved in its production. It has gradually been replaced by Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor). Crops are harvested and brought to the compound. Yams are preserved in well ventilated house/hut or prepared area usually under a tree. Yams could be cooked and pounded or processed into yam chips or flour. Sorghum is threshed, treated with pesticides and bagged. They could be processed into three types of local beer namely Tashi which is fermented; Bier which is non-fermented or Lo which is a malt drink.

Day Three

Fieldwork and discussions: The Ushongo Rock Outcrop

The team visited the famous Ushongo rock outcrop (250-350m asl) where extensive archaeological studies have been carried out in the past. The rock outcrop is famous for its richness in archaeological materials such as pottery, kerb-foundations of huts, defence walls. It is central to Tiv history because it was at this rock outcrop that it is recorded that the Tiv won the decisive battle against the Ugenyi (Jukun). Unfortunately major parts of the site had been destroyed and converted to farmlands. This points to an interesting situation whereby former habitation sites, even in inaccessible locations, seem to retain enriched soils and encourage contemporary cultivation.

It was initially difficult for some individuals to climb up onto the rock outcrop but they were eventually assisted by the local guards and everyone made it!

Visit to the local Market: The team took a trip to the Ushongo and Adikpo Markets where they saw and interacted with vendors with regard to yams, cereals, beans, fruits, clothes etc. This gave us a lively introduction to the broader Tiv economy and the sheer range of plant and other foods on offer. The team also interacted with some of the vendors who informed us some of the goods and cereals (especially millet) were brought from neighbouring towns and villages. The team also witnessed cultural music and dance referred to as Kwangher.

Tiv pottery production

In the afternoon the team visited a traditional Tiv potter with the aim of thinking harder about the broader Tiv economy and material culture. Clay is sourced from the swamp or foot of the hills (e.g. Ushongo hills). It is prohibited for pregnant and menstruating women to embark on obtaining clay. It is believed that clay vessels made from clay sourced with iron implement would crack during firing hence no iron material is used. This may point to the practise of pottery production before the use of iron in the Tiv area. Potting is usually done by the women who are taught by their mothers or mother in-laws. Once the clay raw material is obtained, it is broken, sieved and soaked in water; no temper is added. Implements used in pottery production included Akinde leaf to shaping the rims, Iyase pod to enlarge the vessel to a desirable size, a mango seed to smoothen the clay vessel; bamboo sticks and plastic comb as decoration implements.

The Anthropology of Tiv soils

On returning from the field, in the evening the team discussed discussed the following: firstly, since the fertilisers were creating some ecological problems, it would be important to draw solutions from past experiences i.e. focus on traditional ways of improving the soils e.g. with some organic manure. Also, since land was becoming scarce and fallowing more difficult other strategies which are locally recognised as excellent for replenishing the soils should be adopted. Secondly, it was clear the history behind soil fertility needed to be understood; what is the Tiv perception of soil fertility, water regime, human and cultural management of soils. Thirdly were there any ecological effects on the soils due to the change from millet to sorghum cultivation? Fourthly it was also important to find out why the inorganic fertilisers are failing to produce the desired results.

Day Four

Fieldwork and discussions: the palaeoecology of the Benue Valley

The team was split into two groups. The first group went to Ushongo to discuss with a key informant, Mr. Atume while the second tram went to undertake a coring exercise so as to explore the potential for developing more extensive palaeoecological records.

(a) Visit to Elder Mr Atume

This discussion centred on Tiv farming traditions and changes in time. The team were informed that yams were the earliest and most prominent crops in Tiv land with over ten indigenous species (or varieties). The team immediately recognised this ethnobotany as an area requiring further study. The proposed study should involve ethnobotanical studies and origin of these yam varieties with attention on their archaeological significant; establishment of seed, pollen and phytolith collection/data bank to be used for future reference. Mr Atume also discussed the concept of food scarcity in Tiv culture; during such period the Tiv engaged in hunting and gathering exercises.

(b) Palaeoecological coring Exercise

It was thought that to shed light on the possible reasons why the Tiv moved up the hills from the valley and how the changing ecology has impacted on contemporary land management strategies, an attempt should be made at understanding the environment of the Benue valley during that period. It was concluded that sediment cores should be taken from areas where the sedimentation process has been relatively undisturbed by human action. The banks of the Katsina-Ala River were selected for coring. Before coring commenced, the paramount ruler of Katsina-Ala, Ter Katsina-Ala, HRH Benjamin Fezanga Wombo, was visited to obtain permission to work in his land. Having received us, he gave us a letter of authorisation and one of his sons accompanied us. Vegetation study and coring were carried out in the banks of the Katsina-Ala River. After several unsuccessful attempts, two sediment cores, 45cm and 55cm deep were obtained from the swamp under a water column of 30cm. The cores were obtained at N07’ 08.609”, E009’ 17. 886” (112m asl) and N07’ 08.611”, E009’ 17.899” (116m asl), and at 5cm intervals. A third set of samples was obtained from a freshly open wall section (110cm in depth) located on dry ground at N07’ 08.672”, E009’ 17.804”. These samples were obtained at 10cm intervals and will hopefully complement those from the swamp. Processing of these samples is ongoing and an interim report will be presented here shortly. 

Day Five

The Archaeology of the Tiv area

Following extensive team discussions and having established the contemporaneous nature of the settlements on the rock outcrops, it was decided that the defensive systems of the Tiv hills should be surveyed and inventory taken as to what needs to be done and by whom. This survey will involve collection of ceramics from hilltop sites and plot their locations with a GPS, and eventually produce a geo-referenced map. Such a detailed survey of the hilltop sites will afford the opportunity of documenting Tiv ceramic signatures, the extent and geographical spread of these signatures. In addition, these archaeological data will be compared with climate, vegetation and history as to what may have likely driven people up the hills. The possible factors include internal wars, slavery, political crises and epidemic. A documentation of Tiv folklore, proverbs and sayings will be done as they might shed light on some of these yet-to-be understood aspects of Tiv culture. All these shall form the focus of the next line of investigation.

Another focus of the Tiv project will be Archaeobotany and Geoarchaeology of Tiv plants and soils with special attention on indigenous crops and their cultural significance; introduction of “exotic” varieties and their effects on the cultural and ecological landscape of the Tiv valley. There is an urgent need to have a research design to handle crops particularly the staple crops of Tivland. With regard to the palaeoecology of the Tiv valley particularly the Katsina-Ala area, to ascertain environmental changes and their possible effects on the Tiv, the possibility of drilling boreholes in suitable sites in the valley for longer cores with greater time depth are to be considered. Two key factors crucial to the project are (a) staff and (b) funding. The Nigerian Universities particularly Ahmadu Bello University and University of Ibadan should take the lead in this regard. The experience of Marakwet where locals were engaged as part of the project is to be replicated in Tiv. For funding, it was suggested that the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) should be explored. The results from these studies will be compared with those from related hilltop sites in the region (Cameroon, East and Central Africa) to have a broader understanding of human-landscape interactions, ancient farming traditions and cultural association in these hilltop settlements.

Posted by: Matthew Davies | May 12, 2015

Moore on agroecology in the Ecologist

In the following article, African Farming Network lead investigator Henrietta L. Moore discusses the growing recognition of agroecological methods.



I write this on the road from Tiv-land to Abuja on the return from our highly successful third field workshop. Eleven participants from Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and the UK attended the event and over five days we have learned a great deal about Tiv farming and identified a wide range of topics for future study. As with previous workshops we explored past research conducted in the area and analysed the intersections between this and the themes of the African Farming Network.

The workshop participants on top of Ushongo Hill, a 15th century settlement site

The workshop participants on top of Ushongo Hill, a 15th century settlement site

In particular Professor Bayo Folorunso introduced us to the past archaeological and ethnographic work conducted in the region, which had identified a range of 15th century hill-top settlements as key markers of the early Tiv community. These sites will clearly form the foundations for deeper investigations into the history of the Tiv agricultural landscape. We were especially fortunate to hold extensive conversations with Tiv farmers and elders and to learn a great deal about Yam cultivation as well as Tiv social and labour organisation, settlement patterns and issues of soil fertility past and present. We were also able to collect preliminary samples for pollen and soil analysis and to visit two separate markets where we explored the range of agricultural produce for sale. We also sampled much of it first hand!

All participants found the wonderful hospitality of the Tiv people humbling and we all look forward to our next visit to the region! Many thanks go to the local organisers Bayo Folorunso, Emuobosa Orijemie, Zack Gundu, Jonathan Ndera, Richard Chia and Sam Ingyoroko.

Further posts on the workshop will follow shortly.

Posted by: Matthew Davies | December 10, 2014

Dynamics of Tiv Farming Systems

Emuobosa Akpo Orijemie

The dynamics of Tiv farming

I have just been privileged to return from a recent reconnaissance trip to Benue State where I was able to make some renewed observations on Tiv farming in preparation for the coming African Farming Network workshop in the region in January 2015. I here offer some preliminary comments.

The Tiv are linguistically regarded as a Bantoid group; this group is credited with the opening up of the forest with iron tools from Nigeria-Cameroon into central, eastern and southern Africa (Elenga et al., 1994). The Tiv currently occupy the Benue Valley, an area surrounded by hills reaching 300-500m asl; they are predominantly farmers the expression of which is reflected in one of their sayings:

Ishom woo ior itleu i been ga. The machete kills people but farming continues

The Tiv cultivate several crops chief among which is yam. At least three yam species are known to them namely Dioscorea alata, D. cayenensis and D. rotundata with many sub-varieties. During the earliest period of their occupation of the Benue Valley, it appears the Tiv predominantly cultivated yams (January-March), the preparation of which begins in October-December. Yams are usually harvested in August after which cereals (Guinea corn, maize and millet), benniseed (Sesamum indicum L.), groundnuts (Arachis hypogea), okra (Abelmoschus esculenta), soya beans (Glycine max) and garden eggs (Solanum melongena) are planted. When food is scarce usually before the harvest season i.e. in the months of May-June, wild plants and fruits such as figs are gathered. The tradition of food gathering was possibly passed on to the Tiv by their Late Stone Age (LSA) ancestors. Archaeological investigations of a rock shelter in the Tse Dura hills revealed Late Stone Age occupation dating to 4th century B.C. (Andah, 1983).

In the early 20th century, the Dutch Christian Reform Mission (DCRM) attempted to solve the problem of food scarcity and encouraged the diversification of the Tiv food-base. They introduced new food crops (beans, cassava and sweet potatoes), encouraged the production of orchards (mangoes, oranges) and propagated the use of fertilizers. Of all the recently introduced plants, cassava (Manihot esculenta) has emerged as very successful. Young cassava leaves are used as spinach/leafy vegetables; the plants are easier to cultivate because they require little tending and weeding compared to yams; their tubers can be processed into several other food types (e.g. cassava flour such as garri and elubo) and starch; they are harvested twice a year; the stems can be re-planted after harvest and used in the production of potash. No doubt the Tiv now produce a higher variety of crops but also battle with new problems—(a) low fertility of soils due to abandonment of Tiv traditional fallow systems and over-reliance on inorganic fertilizers, and (b) the nuisance of weeds in farm lands with concomitant increased number of weeding time and energy. The shift in cultivation impressed on Tiv-land by missionaries had its greatest effects on benniseed and yam, two important ancient crops of the African continent. Benniseed which constituted part of major exporting goods in the early 20th century (Dorward, 1975) is hardly cultivated in Tiv land today. Similarly, emphasis on cassava farming has led to reduced crop yield with particular reference to yam sizes.

Yams are significant in Tiv culture; they are used as marriage/dowry and funeral goods; presented as gifts to in-laws and important visitors and used in certain ritual activities. Hence presentation of small yam tubers to visitors is considered inappropriate as well as a sign of disrespect. In order to have better yam yields, farmers prepare the soils into heaps well ahead in the dry season (Figure 1), practise mulching, engage in fallowing and weed farms up to five times in the planting year. The pounded form of yam is the dominant food type of the Tiv usually served at important occasions and ceremonies. The importance of pounded yams among the Tiv is expressed in a common saying: ‘The pounding of yams sends out invitation’. In contrast, cassava is considered unfit for the purposes enumerated above; in fact it is of little cultural significance in Tiv-land, a reflection of its status as an introduced crop. Despite the change in food production brought about by differing farming systems and emphasis in Tiv-land, the cultivation and cultural significance of yams have not diminished. The Tiv have developed and employ new strategies in overcoming the challenges posed by modernisation. These efforts are not merely for food security but geared towards further maintaining the deep cultural significance of yams in Tiv, a phenomenon which clearly sits in antiquity and has stood the test of time.

Andah, B.W. 1983. The Bantu Homeland Project: Ethnoarchaeological investigations in parts of the Benue Valley Region. WAJA 13: 23-60

Dorward, D.C. 1975. An Unknown Nigerian Export: Tiv Benniseed Production, 1900-1960. Journal of African History, 16 (3): 431-459

Elenga, H., Schwartz, D. and Vincens, O. 1994. Pollen Evidence of Late Quaternary and Inferred Climate Change in Congo. Palaeogeo., Palaeoclim., Palaeoeco. 109: 345-356.

Posted by: Matthew Davies | December 8, 2014

The archaeogenetics and ecology of African cereal crops

Alex Schoeman

Matthew Davies 

This text has been modified from a recent project proposal developed out of the African Farming Research Network. It highlights the importance of recording, analysing and preserving the great genetic and ecological diversity of African crops and food plants. 

African rural communities cultivate unique varieties of various crops including
globally important sorghums and millets. These local varieties are often adapted to
unique ecological and climatic conditions and crops with variable characteristics are
often inter-cropped to insulate communities against unpredictable climates. We
believe that this local ecological knowledge and the crop resources on which it is
based represent reserves of genetic and ecological variation which can and
should contribute to resilient futures, both in Africa and globally. Unfortunately
these resources are under-studied and threatened by ecological and land-use
change including the spread of mono-culture, the allocation of land to commercial
and non-food crops and other GM and hybrid varieties. Several previously
widespread varieties have also disappeared over the last few hundred years and
are only recoverable through archaeological techniques. We argue that it is essential
that these crops and associated knowledge are recorded, analysed and preserved
as essential resources for the future.

Understanding traditional African solutions to climatic and ecological change and
their contemporary importance requires the development of reference collections
and interdisciplinary analysis combining archaeological research into historic
agricultural systems with identification of crops in the archaeological record, and
the contextualisation of this through studies of present-day crop varieties and their
uses. At the same time genetic analysis of archaeological and present-day
specimens will allow for deeper understandings of the ecological history and
unique characteristics of these varieties. We hope that ongoing research under the African Farming Network will lay the foundations for a more integrated study of African crop varieties from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives. We aim to establish effective protocols for collecting modern and archaeological reference collections, and establish effective networks of human resources, skills training, knowledge sharing, and laboratory resources.

As we develop this work we will draw on the expertise within the African Farming Network. In initial phases we hope to establish herbarium quality botanical reference collections from Marakwet Kenya and Mpumalanga Province South Africa including several varieties of sorghum, finger millet, pearl millet, maize, squash and beans. This work will build on ethnographic data already collected in Marakwet and especially on the experimental crop gardens established under the Bokoni research project. We will collect a wide range of ethnographic and contextual data on these specimens and establish both physical and online repositories of the crops and associated data. Workshops in Cambridge and South Africa will train team members in botanical collection and preservation methods and share knowledge concerning the range of more advanced analytical techniques to be applied in later phases. Special focus will be paid to the future potential of crop genetic studies drawing on the reference collections. We also hope to expand the collections and analysis to other parts of the continent, especially to the Tiv-land component of the African Farming Network.

Given global and local concerns over climatic and ecological change and the
extensive resources expended by governments and international organisations to
develop mitigation strategies, we believe that this pilot collaboration will enhance and contribute directly to global stores of ecological resilience.

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