Iṣu Gambari: The Gambari Yam

By Bamidele Ademola-Olateju

Left home 6:30am yesterday morning for Ọ̀gbẹ̀sẹ̀. Ọ̀gbẹ̀sẹ̀ is the bubbling town just before Akure along the Ọwọ – Akure corridor. It looks and feels like a transit town because of economic migrants and itinerant traders who are constants there. As a rural dweller now, (Ará-Oko) 😁, I wanted to buy yams where it is cheap.

Immediately I got closer to the women. All I could hear was, ṣe ìṣù Gambari lẹ fẹ́ àbí iṣu Abuja? Do you want Gambari or Abuja yam. As a student of society, I knew the Yoruba no longer farm and have no capital. I knew what question to ask to get a practical, empirical grasp of the situation. I told a particularly resourceful woman (a 9month old baby strapped to her back) who stood in between five heaps of yam, that I wanted iṣu Yoruba. She told me with a straight face that; Yoruba ò gbẹ’ṣu – the Yoruba are not cultivating yam. I bought Iṣu Gambari.

On November 16, 2016, I wrote here on Facebook that our indigenous yams are facing extinction. The Yoruba have grown three species of white yam since they occupied this part of the earth from millennia. First among them is Òkùnmòdò (first picture). Second is Sọ̀gbẹ̀ and third is Eléésú. The International Institute For Tropical Agriculture listed them as facing extinction on their website.

What I saw yesterday confirmed my belief that hunger is about to teach us hard lessons. A heap of yam is 100 tubers. Right from Ọ̀gbẹ̀sẹ̀, one heap is N80k. That is N800 per tuber and it is not a uniform mix, some tubers are thin and short. N800 in November o! What will happen in April when yam “returns to farm” as we Ará-Oko say. When new Yam is three months away and old yam is scarce? How many people can afford a tuber of yam at N1, 000? How much will it cost in Lagos?

How and why did we stop farming? I know the activities of Herdsmen, bandits and territorist has contributed to low food production. We will have to face the issue or hunger will wallop us all. Aso, a journey through rural Western Nigeria early in the morning reveal young men, standing in clusters, talking through Sunrise, wasting away. My dad is above 80. He has never bought yam since 1980. He cultivates it. I have five tubers in my pantry from him. Unearned income and easy fixes will get us nowhere.

Being a public servant has opened my eyes about the nebulous nature of our problems. We blame everything on leadership but I have seen so much about our attitude to work, the extreme transactional mindset we have acquired, even the monetization of thinking. I know so much that if I write, I would be accused if blaming the victim but we must change as a people. We cannot continue this way. Whether we like it or not, circumstances will reset us. It is afoot.

Shout out to resourceful women out there. They are working hard to compliment housed income. Some are breadwinners. These are pictures from my visit.

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