This chapter establishes three major long-term trends in the relationship between population growth and agricultural change in the Ngwa-Igbo region of eastern Nigeria.
The first, characteristic of the first thirty years of this century, is a trend of agricultural diversification and commercialization. The adoption of cassava, the latest in a long series of New World species, and the expansion of oil palm export production enabled the Ngwa farming system to support a dense population (by African standards) at a rising standard of living. Thus, this trend may be described as a form of agricultural intensification--that is, as a set of changes that increased returns to the land and labor resources in Ngwa agriculture.
The main motive for these changes was probably to improve the local standard of living rather than to support a growing population. Colonial census data indicate that the local population was growing slowly, if at all, during this period. Thus, the relationship between agricultural growth and population pressure may have worked in a way exactly opposite from that envisaged by Boserup ( 1965). Improvements in the standard of living may eventually have stimulated increases in population density by improving children's nutritional status and life expectancy. Certainly, throughout this century Ngwa women have spent much of their income on dietary inputs that had been scarce in their region, especially meat, fish, or salt. However, as Goldman notes in chapter 8 of this volume, the causes for the historically high population densities of the Igbo region as a whole remain obscure, and the causes of accelerated growth since 1930 are equally hard to ascertain. Detailed historical research on changes in the nutritional and health status of the Ngwa and other Igbo peoples is urgently needed to resolve this point.