From Femi Oyelola, Kaduna
Small scale farmers in the main yam growing areas of West Africa are to benefit from a new project aimed at developing new varieties crucial staple crop and enhance yam breeding capabilities.
The 5-year project, called “AfricaYam: Enhancing Yam Breeding for Increased Productivity and Improved Quality in West Africa”, is to be led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) with key partners in the four main producer countries in West Africa:
Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria, and international research organizations and universities.
Director of West Africa IITA Research for Development, Robert Asiedu stated this at a conference held in Zaria said, West Africa contributed 90.6% of the total global yam production in 2013.
He said, “In West Africa, yam plays key roles in food security, incomegeneration, and the socio-cultural life of at least 60 million people.
In 2013, the West Africa yam belt produced a total of 54.5 million tonnes of yam on 4.4 million hectares. This represents 90.6% of the total global production and 88% of the total world area planted to yam.
“The yam sector in the West Africa sub region, however, is plagued by low on-farm productivity, high production costs, high losses due to pests and diseases, and unsustainable production practices. High production costs are primarily driven by the high costs of seed and labour, with potential profit margins further reduced by moderate yields and post-harvest losses.
“The most important constraints are nematodes, viruses, and anthracnose which will continue to grow in economic importance as yam production systems are intensified unless resistant varieties and beneficial cultural practices are adopted.
“Yam breeding can make major contributions to addressing this situation. The new project AfricaYam will raise the capacity for yam breeding in West Africa by developing high-yielding and robust varieties of white and water yams preferred by farmers and suited to market demands”. He said.
Asiedu added that, “the important traits for breeding include tuber yield, tuber quality, and resistance to yam mosaic virus (YMV) in white yam (Dioscorea rotundata) and Yam Anthracnose Disease (YAD) in water yam”.
The project partners are expected to work towards increasing yam productivity while reducing production costs and impact on the environmental by developing and deploying farmer-preferred varieties with higher yield, greater resistance to pests and diseases, and improved quality.