Yams are starchy staples in the form of large tubers produced by annual and perennial vines grown in Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, South Pacific and Asia. There are hundreds of wild and domesticated Dioscorea species. White Guinea yam, D. rotundata, is the most important species especially in the dominant yam production zone in West and Central Africa. It is indigenous to West Africa, as is the Yellow yam, D. cayenensis. Water yam, D. alata, the second most cultivated species, originated from Asia and is the most widely distributed species in the world.
Consumer demand for yam is generally very high in this sub-region and yam cultivation is very profitable despite high production costs.
Yam production is declining in some traditional producing areas due to declining soil fertility, increasing pest pressures and the high cost of labor. Smallholders therefore need access to innovations to reduce labor and improve productivity.
Yams are grown by planting pieces of tuber, or small whole tubers (‘seed yams') saved from the previous season. Small-scale farmers, the majority of producers, often intercrop yams with cereals and vegetables.
The major pests that affect yams include insects such as leaf and tuber beetles, mealy bugs, and scales; parasitic nematodes; fungi causing anthracnose, leaf spot, leaf blight, and tuber rot; and viruses, especially the yam mosaic virus (YMV).
In West and Central Africa tubers are planted between February and April, depending on whether in humid forest or on the savanna, and are harvested 180 to 270 days later. Care is needed during harvesting to minimize damage to tubers that lead to rot and a decrease in market value. Harvested tubers normally stay dormant (do not develop sprouts) for 30 to 120 days depending on environmental conditions, the date of harvest, and the species. This means that only one crop cycle is possible per year, possibly restricting supply.
IITA scientists have made progress in finding and analyzing the genetics of yam resistance to anthracnose and viral diseases. The sources of resistance have been used to develop improved varieties, which have been delivered to research partners.
We are increasing our efforts in developing and applying molecular markers for genetic improvement. We use state-of-the art techniques in tissue culture to eliminate pathogens, principally viruses, from samples planned for international distribution. Ongoing research includes improving protocols for rapid field propagation using vine cuttings.
In food science and technology we conduct research to improve the understanding of the relationships between physical and chemical properties of yams and the range and quality of processed yam products. Our current work also includes screening new variety samples and yam food products for their retention of micronutrients such as carotenoids, iron, and zinc, ascorbic acid, tannins, and phytic acid.
Our social scientists assess the financial viability and adoption potential of the technologies being developed. They are also working towards a better understanding of markets and demand for yams and yam products.
14 October 2013
Ghana has taken a major step ahead of other yam-producing nations with the launch of a strategy for the development of the yam industry from farm to market. This follows the global conference on yams held in Accra on 3-6 October and ongoing`strategic development for the sector.
07 October 2013
Increasing funding for research and development on yam will help unleash the potential of the crop, improve livelihoods, create jobs and enhance food security in Africa.
The Guardian: Infertility: How Yam Species May Fetch Breakthrough –Research
19 January 2013
THE prices of yam tubers along the highways in Benue and Ebonyi States, Federal Capital Territory, Delta-Edo axis of the Lagos-Benin-Asaba expressway and markets may soon skyrocket, with farmers smiling to the banks. Read more