Why not yam? A case for investment in yam research and development in Africa

Yam feeds, nourishes, and provides a living for millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. In the largest am-producing country in the world, Nigeria, yam is more than just a crop. It is the king of crops, and the production value of yam is higher than the value of cassava and popular cereal crops (maize and rice) combined. Moreover, for exporting countries like Ghana, it commands a premium price in regional and international markets. So why isn’t Africa interested in the development of its most valuable indigenous crop?

According to Dr. Djana Mignouna, who recently published a paper titled Potential returns to yam research investment in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond., “Yam is often referred to as an orphan crop. It is seen as a minor crop relative to global crops like wheat, rice, and maize, even though it is an important economic and food security crop in sub-Saharan Africa and the diaspora. Therefore, it receives limited attention from African governments and regional development agencies. And due to such neglect, it is underfunded and under researched and, often not included in agricultural policies and intervention programs.”

To further illustrate the neglect of the root and tuber crop, he said, “When we look at Africa’s contribution to global food production, the continent contributes about 5% and 50 % of cereal crops and cassava to the global barn, respectively, yet African governments amply provide funds for research and support development programs. But that is not the case for Yam even though West Africa accounts for 97% of the total world production, and more than five million people in the Yam growing countries directly depend on the value chain for their food security and livelihoods.”

Although Yam has long been ignored, research projects like the Yam Improvement for Income and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) demonstrate that with funding technological developments present an opportunity to make a big difference in improving the productivity of Yam.

The flagship project executed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and partners explored major production constraints and developed technologies that could double yam yields and contribute to food security in Nigeria and Ghana. Currently, it is scaling out some of these technologies to address the constraints of lack of sufficient quantities and the absence of quality seed yams.

youths Learning how to plant AYMT in Iseyin, Oyo state

In the article, Dr. Mignouna showcases how yam research and development programs like the YIIFSWA project can provide high rates of return on investments over 10 to 15 years. He said that based on YIIFSWA’s experience, the adoption of key technologies such as the adaptive yam minisett technique (AYMT), varieties adapted to low soil fertility and drought (VALSFD), nematode-resistant cultivars (NRC), and crop management and postharvest practices (CMPP) could lead to the following results:

  • under the baseline adoption scenario, the land area coverable by various technologies ranges between 770,000 ha and 1 million ha in the eight countries of SSA and beyond: Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, Papua New Guinea, Jamaica, and Columbia.
  • Currently the value of the various technologies’ ranges from $584 million and $1.392 billion with the highest for NRC.
  • Moreover, if adopted, the technologies will lift 1.05 million people out of poverty, and more than 96 million people would be expected to benefit from the technologies in all the yam-producing countries by the year 2037.

In conclusion, Dr. Mignouna stated that “the realization of the potential economic gains depends on the rate and extent of adoption of these technologies. And due to the knowledge-intensive nature of some of these interventions, capacity building of potential adopters will be critical to increasing the sustainability of the yam sector, thereby enhancing food security and reducing poverty.”

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