The successful cultivation of yam in the air by scientists in Nigeria is expected to reduce losses by at least 30 percent, provide additional income for farmers and investment opportunity for private sector seed companies.
The economic value of the yam industry in many African countries including Nigeria has grown quite rapidly in recent years with its foreign exchange earnings rising. There is rising demand for yam in both fresh and processed forms in American and European markets. There are indigenous companies in Nigeria exporting yam to Europe and America.
This system of growing yam in the air through a method called aeroponics carried out by scientists at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, is specifically for production of disease-free seed cuttings that would be planted in the ground. Aeroponics system is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil.
The technology is widely used by commercial potato seed producers in Eastern African countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Southern Africa.
But successfully growing yam on aeroponics is a new research aimed at getting new clean seed yam tubers in large quantities.
Norbert Maroya, the project manager for the Yam Improvement for Incomes and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) project at the IITA, said, “This method should be used for the breeder seed yam production, that is, first generation of planting material after the develop12 ment of any new yam variety. Investors/farmers can easily have access to certified seed yam of released varieties that are disease-free.” Continuing, he said, “This new technique is actually an opportunity for the private sector to tap into, and IITA will be willing to partner any private sector player that wants to invest in this technology.”
Robert Asiedu, IITA director for Western Africa, said, “Yam is an important crop in Africa and addressing the seeds’ constraint will go a long way in improving the livelihoods of farmers who depend on the crop for their livelihood.”
Alfred Uwheraka, chief executive, Frijay Consult, one of such agro-export firms attests to the fact that there is a growing demand for yams abroad.
His company which has been operating for more than five years in the country exports about develop12 to 15 metric tons of yam tubers worth N5 million at different times in a year and is still unable to meet demand.
“We plan to export this quantity every month to meet the growing demand, we are going to open a warehouse for yams and other foodstuffs in London very soon,” affirms Jerry Uwheraka, Frijay Consult executive director.
But the age-long practice in yam cultivation involves farmers losing as much as 30 percent of the yams they harvest from the ground as seed cuttings in subsequent planting seasons. If sold, the yams would have provided additional incomes for farmers. Also, according to scientists, during storage, these saved seeds often get infested with pathogens causing diseases that significantly reduce the farmers’ yield year after year.