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Traditional Agriculture

The traditional small agriculturists produced most of the country's food crops. Estimated to number about 160,000 households in the early 1980s, their total production and related economic activities accounted for about 18 percent of GDP . About 90 percent of the households cultivated rice, and about 70 percent also grew cassava. Other crops included maize, yams, taro, okra, sugarcane, peanuts, and assorted vegetables. Bananas and some citrus fruit were also grown around farmhouses. Additionally, one of every four to five households had a small section of land, averaging between about one?half an acre and one acre, on which coffee or cacao trees were grown to provide cash income. Rice, which constituted more than 90 percent of the smallholder output, was grown under rain?fed conditions. The generally low fertility of soils and the nutrient needs of the rice plant to produce a reasonable harvest forced farmers to clear new land each year for their rice crops. In the new area host of the large trees were cut down and burned; the ashes returned to the soil minerals that, along with organic materials accumulated during the fallow period, furnished sufficient nutrients for one crop of rice. If the soil was then not too infertile, it was used for a second or third year to grow cassava and peanuts, after which it was left to return to bush fellow. The system of short cultivation periods and the succeeding fallow term of usually eight or more years appeared to maintain an environmental balance without noticeable erosion and destruction of the soil.

About 10 percent of the rice production was swamp rice. The principal difference between traditional cultivation practices and those used in the growing of upland rice was the pre?germination of seed, which was then broadcast over wet freshwater swamp soils. The higher nutrient content of swamp soils permitted rice to be grown for four or five years, followed by a brief fallow period of only one or two years. Improved upland rice strains have been introduced in the integrated agricultural development projects (ADPs), and increased yields more than 25 percent above the average of 1,000 to 1,100 pounds per acre, using traditional varieties, have been reported. Many farmers, however, were reluctant to switch to the new strains because of concern over their ability to produce adequate crops as against the known certainties of traditional varieties. In swamp rice culture, efforts have been made to introduce irrigated cultivation using Asian?style hand technologies. An average of about 2,360 pounds per acre was achieved in the ADPs compared with about 1,400 pounds by the traditional method. But certain disadvantages have acted as disincentives to any great shift to swamp rice cultivation. They included factors such as danger from waterborne disease, inability to intercrop the rice in flooded fields with vegetables or other edible plants?a usual practice with upland rice?and a reported preference for the taste of upland rice. Lack of experience with water controls has also adversely affected results. In particular, the disruption to long?established family living patterns closely related to the upland rice culture cycle has tended to discourage change .

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