BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Fluted pumpkin (Telfairia occidentalis Hook F.) is mainly cultivated for its leaves, tender vines and seeds (Ajayi et al., 2007). The leaves are rich sources of protein, oil, vitamins and minerals (Aregheore, 2007). Relative to most common vegetables, its protein content is high (Ladeji et al., 1995). Fluted pumpkin has been shown to protect and ameliorate oxidative brain and liver damage induced by malnutrition in rats (Kayode et al., 2009, 2010).
Fluted pumpkin is extensively cultivated in southern Nigeria especially by the Igbos (Aremu and Adewale, 2012). Its cultivation has spread to other areas of Nigeria where Igbos and their neighbours have settled (Schippers, 2002). The increasing popularity of the crop beyond the south eastern states of Nigeria had increased the demand on its produce.
To bridge this gap, yield increase can be through expansion or improvement in the productivity of the cultivated land area. The choice of the latter option is preferable as agricultural land is constantly under pressure for non-agricultural uses.
Currently there are no standardized or formalized techniques of producing Telfairia (Odiaka et al., 2008) which had led to yield loss. Standardization of Telfairia production technique will in no doubt improve the yield.
Ogar and Asiegbu (2005) concluded that agronomic practices like fertilizer rate and harvesting frequencyhad significant effect on the harvestable leaf and fruit yield of fluted pumpkin. Similarly, Odiaka and Akoroda (2009) reported significant effect of stage of fruit harvest and storage period on seed viability of T. occidentalis.
The horticultural practice of staking had been reported to improve yield in ridge gourd (Hilli et al., 2009); cucumber (Hardy and Rowell, 2002) and yam (Ndegwe et al., 1990).
Asante (1996) maintained that in cultivation of climbing crops, the use of suitable supports, in the form of stakes or trellises, is very important as they not only expose the leaves to sunlight for optimum photosynthesis but also keep the fruits off the ground, thereby preventing them from being infected by soil- borne pathogens.
Telfairia occidentalis Hook F. (Fluted pumpkin) is one of the most important vegetables grown in southern Nigeria. It is generally regarded as a leaf and seed vegetable. It is a pot-herb (Akobundu, 1987) cultivated mainly for its succulent young leaves and shoots.
It is a high climbing perennial with partial drought tolerance and perennating root system (Tindall, 1968). The leaf has a high nutritional, medicinal and industrial values being rich in protein (29 %), fat (18 %), minerals and vitamins (20 %) (Tindall, 1986; Badifu and Ogunsua (1991).
It has non-drying oil in the seed and is useful in soap making and cooking (Fashina et al., 2002). In the recent time, fluted pumpkin had gained medicinal recognition having been discovered to be purifiers (Aletor et al., 2002) and could therefore be useful in the maintenance of good health, most especially among poor resource ruralities in developing countries.
Akoroda (1988) observed that Telfaria occidentalis is a common homestead garden crop in southern Nigeria, mostly cultivated by women. Weeds reduce the quality and quantity of agricultural production (FAO, 2013).
Ayeni (1991) revealed that the number one pest which farmers contend with in 25 out of 30 common crops were weeds. Weber et al. (1995) reported that weeds and shortage of labour for their removal are two of the most important production constraints in smallholder farms in the Northern Guinea Savanna (NGS) of Nigeria.
Smallholder farmers spend 50-70 % of their total available farm labour on weed control and this is usually carried out by hoe-weeding. Although a lot of energy and resources are expended in removing weeds, crop yields are generally very low, partly due to untimely and ineffective weed control.
Although, Ogar and Asiegbu (2005) concluded that harvest schedule of 2-4 weekly internals gave high marketable vegetables, the effect of such harvest on the proximate composition is not known.
With this background, the present study was conducted to evaluate the effect of harvesting frequency and weed management on the proximate composition of fluted pumpkin.
1.3 AIM AND OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
The main aim of the research work is to determine the effect of harvesting frequency on leaf and pod yield of fluted pumpkin in owerri west, Imo state. The specific objectives of the study are:
to investigate the factors affecting the harvesting frequency on leaf and pod yield of fluted pumpkin in owerri west, Imo state
to examine whether rainfall affect the harvesting frequency on leaf and pod yield of fluted pumpkin in owerri west, Imo state
to determine the economic importance of fluted pumpkin in Nigeria
to proffer solution to the issues surrounding the harvesting frequency on leaf and pod yield of fluted pumpkin in owerri west, Imo state
1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The study came up with research questions so as to ascertain the above stated objectives of the study. The following research questions guide the objectives of the study:
What are the factors affecting the harvesting frequency on leaf and pod yield of fluted pumpkin in owerri west, Imo state?
Does rainfall affect the harvesting frequency on leaf and pod yield of fluted pumpkin in owerri west, Imo state?
What is the economic importance of fluted pumpkin in Nigeria?
What is the solution to the issues surrounding the harvesting frequency on leaf and pod yield of fluted pumpkin in owerri west, Imo state?
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1.5 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
The study on the effect of harvesting frequency on leaf and pod yield of fluted pumpkin will be of immense benefit to the departments of food science and technology in tertiary institutions in owerri west, Imo state.
The study will explore the fluted pumpkin and determine the factors affecting harvesting frequency on leaf and pod yield of fluted pumpkin.
The study will serve as a repository of information to other researchers that desire to carry out similar research on the above topic and hence give room for further research on the fluted pumpkin.
The study will finally contribute to the body of the existing literature on the effect of harvesting frequency on leaf and pod yield of fluted pumpkin
1.6 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
The study will cover on the effect of harvesting frequency on leaf and pod yield of fluted pumpkin in owerri west, Imo state
1.7 DEFINITION OF TERMS
FLUTED PUMPKIN: Telfairia occidentalis is a tropical vine grown in West Africa as a leaf vegetable and for its edible seeds. Common names for the plant include fluted gourd, fluted pumpkin, ugu, and ikong-ubong.
T. occidentalis is a member of the family Cucurbitaceae and is indigenous to southern Nigeria
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