Beaming with pride, Chief Joshua Ojedele showed off his 2-hectare yam field cultivated from improved varieties that he got from the Yam Improvement for Income and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) project. His field was lush green with healthy foliage, indicative of a promising harvest. All the mounds planted with yam had at least one plant with tubers. Chief Ojedele stated while he led the YIIFSWA-II monitoring team through his field, “this has never happened before; see, no mound is missing a plant.”
Chief Ojedele lives in a community where yam was the preferred crop for cultivation, but farmers stoped growing it due to poor yields and subsequent crop failures. According to him, farmers in Agunrege, Atisbo Local government in Oyo state were finding it difficult to make ends meet with the local yam varieties in their barns. After each cropping season, they neither had enough to eat nor sell in the market for income. Consequently, they had no benefit from cropping yam. “We thought it was the land, so we abandoned yam production and started cultivating cassava and maize. But with these IITA yam varieties, no matter how small you cut it, they produce something. Now I now know it’s not the land. The local varieties we were planting were old and of poor seed quality,” Chief Ojedele said.
According to Dr. Beatrice Aighewi, YIIFSWA-II’s Seed System Specialist, “ in the traditional system, farmers recycle their seed yam year after year. As a result, the quality of seed tubers of local varieties is lost after years of accumulation of pests and diseases like nematodes, viruses, fungi, and bacterial infections. The consequence is that, yam farmers in Nigeria experience losses of up to 50% due to the use of poor quality seed tuber.”
She also stated that the current average yields of local yam varieties are less than 25% of the yield of released improved varieties, which range from 30 to 40 tons/ha. New agricultural technologies, such as high-yielding improved varieties coupled with good agronomic practices, offer the promise of improving productivity and farmers’ livelihoods. However, the adoption of these improved yam varieties has been slow due to the absence of a formal seed system which can sustainably produce and distribute large quantities of quality seed at affordable prices.
The adequate supply and distribution of these improved varieties is critical to the intensification of yam production in Nigeria, where the high level of production is a reflection of farmers’ practice of periodic relocation of yam fields in search of more fertile soils, rather than input intensification.
Agricultural intensification is critical for agricultural productivity growth.
In the initial years of implementation, the project successfully demonstrated to farmers the high performance of the three promoted, improved and released varieties, namely Asiedu (TDr 89/02665), Kpamyo (TDr 95/19177), and Swaswa (TDa 98/01176), as well as the value and better performance of quality seed vs. farmers-saved seed.
YIIFSWA, in its second phase, is working towards establishing a formal seed system that is commercially viable and sustainable to boost yam productivity in Ghana and Nigeria. The project seeks to ensure that farmers like Chief Ojedele have access to quality seed tubers that are varietally pure (true to type), free from pests and diseases and have a high percentage of sprouting for good field establishment.
Reaping the benefits
Chief Ojedele, who participated in all three types of demonstrations, is already reaping the benefits of early adoption of these technologies.
According to Chief Ojedele, since his inception into the YIIFSWA-II project, he spent the first couple of years multiply the few seed tubers he acquired from the field trials using the Adapted Yam Minisett Technology (AYMT). In 2019, he
planted the clean seed tubers he amassed from the AYMT, and his yield has been fantastic. From the data collected in his field, the yield of Asiedu was 32.64 tons/ha, Kpamyo 30.0 tons/ha, and Swaswa was 37.5 tons/ha.
“In fact, these yams have been good to me. The yams produce big tubers and in multiples. It is what I used for my son’s wedding. In Nigeria, you can not marry without presenting yam to the bride’s family. My yields have been so good that I had more than enough for my son to give to his bride’s family as part of the bride price. I can’t thank YIIFSWA-II enough. These yams have taken me to places I have never been to in my own country. I was so excited when I crossed the Onitsha bridge to go to the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI, Umudike) and participate in the naming ceremony of these improved varieties. YIIFSWA-II makes me feel like I am part of a greater farmers’ community outside of Agunrege,” Chief Ojedele said.