Forty-five years ago, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) articulated in a program catalog (circa 1977) on display at the IITA library the institute’s vision and missions for agricultural development in Africa. One of its objectives was developing improved varieties and distributing them through established formal seed systems for adoption. Although IITA has developed several improved yam varieties, several challenges such as the lack of a formal seed yam system and the lack of technologies designed for commercial production of seed crops constrained the distribution of improved crops.
In the late 2010s, the dream became a reality due to some revolutionary developments. IITA, through the Yam Improvement for Income and Food
Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) project, developed a production system that utilizes novel High Ratio Propagation Technologies (HRPTs) like the Temporary Immersion Bioreactor system (TIBS), Aeroponics System (AS), Drip System Hydroponics (DSH), vine cuttings and robust diagnostics for quality seed production to multiply high-quality yam planting materials rapidly.
In 2016, the project launched a formal seed system for yam in Nigeria and positioned itself to scale out the novel technologies to commercial seed producers. At the inception of the project’s second phase in 2017, IITA, through YIIFSWA, scaled out the novel technologies to public and private partners for quality seed yam production in Nigeria and Ghana. From 2020, the seed producers started harvesting their first commercial seed yam crop!
The year 2020 was a busy one for the Seed companies regardless of the constraints of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from seed production,
they each undertook several aspects of production research, for example, population density trials, irrigation, trellising,
direct vine planting on nursery beds with rice husk mulching, and establishing a standard of operations to maximize outputs and lower production costs. Currently, the seed companies are analyzing their data to inform on the way forward for subsequent productions.
“The journey so far has not been easy. We are learning a lot as we go on perfecting our efficiencies to maximize our production of Early Generation Seed (EGS) yam,” said Kees Veldhuijzen, in charge of business development of Iribov Ghana Ltd. Speaking on the seed companies’ achievement, YIIFSWA-II project Leader Dr. Norbert Maroya said, “What some of the seed companies have harvested is remarkable. Their achievement is a testament to the viability of the novel technologies for quality seed yam production in Ghana and Nigeria. This is a giant leap for yam production in west Africa.”
Maybe 2020 wasn’t such a bad year after all.