In Nigeria yam is ‘gold’
Yam is central to the culture of many Nigerian societies. Yam is so important that it has its own festival – the New Yam Festival. It is used as marriage dowries and a measure of a household’s social standing, Recently, Nigeria officially started exporting yam.
Yam is Nigeria’s most important cash crop worth nearly $14 billion annually; one-third of Nigerians, nearly 60 million people depend on yams as a main source of income; Yam is Nigeria’s no. 1 source of dietary calories, according to Tim McDonnell, a Fulbright-National Geographic Fellow and multimedia journalist covering environmental issues in sub-Saharan Africa, in an article published in NPR
But according to the United Nations, Nigeria’s yam yield has been dropping in the past few years and has presently dropped to its lowest level in two decades, even though the area of land under cultivation is rapidly rising.
What could be the cause?
“For a large number of farmers, seed yam is a big problem,” said Robert Aseidu, West Africa research director for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a non-profit research organization based in Nigeria. “It’s only now that we’re seeing how big a problem this could become.”
A “seed yam” is yam meant to be planted and not eaten. Tim McDonnell explained that due to genetic factors and many years of a flawed farm practice, most of these seed yams have disease. Yam farmers traditionally keep back the measlier yams and about a third of their harvest for planting the following season, and since yams are clonal, meaning each tuber is genetically identical to its ‘parent’, farmers are essentially planting the same yam over and over again, with none of the routine genetic mutation that typically occurs between generations to help ward off pests and diseases.
“When you have this recycling over so many years, then they keep accumulating pests and diseases, and then productivity keeps reducing until you get to a stage where it’s no [longer] economical to plant anything,” says Beatrice Aighewi, a yam specialist at International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
The need for disease free seed yams
The Nigerian Minister of Agriculture, tweeted, “On June 29, 2017, a total of 72 metric tons of yam will leave the shores of Nigeria to Europe/US, heralding a new dawn in our food exports.” And added that “according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, Nigeria accounts for 61% of yam production in the world.” This government’s yam export promotion will certainly lead to more exportation and domestic scarcity if supply is not increase accordingly.
On June 29, 2017, a total of 72 metric tons of yam will leave the shores of Nigeria to Europe/US, heralding a new dawn in our food exports.
— Audu Ogbeh (@AuduOgbeh) June 26, 2017
Seed yams from Aeroponics
Some scientists have seen the urgent need and high demand for seed yams in the country and are using the technology called Aeroponics to meet this need. Beatrice Aighewi and Ogbole Samson are some of IITA trained specialists who are taking advantage of the emerging market.
Beatrice opened an Agritech business a few years ago. She sources good seed yams from around the country and reproduces them in her field using aeroponics. She also produces high-yielding and disease-resistant yam variety, while Samson trains farmers, set-up and help them maintain aeroponics systems for yam production on a small and large-scale.
Aighewi says the solution to Nigeria’s seed yam crisis is large-scale Aeroponic farms for seed yam production adding that, there is not a single commercial producer of seed yam in the whole country.
Nigerian entrepreneurs should take advantage of Aeroponics technology and the increasing demand for disease-free seed yams by farmers. This is a business opportunity with a big Return on investment potential.