Farmers in Agunrege, Atisbo Local Government Area of Oyo State, are finding it difficult to make ends meet with the local yam varieties in their barns. After each cropping season, they neither had enough to eat nor sell in the market.
In the community, yam is the preferred crop for cultivation. But, farmers stopped growing it due to reduced yields and subsequent crop failures of the traditional varieties.
Surprisingly, that is not the case with Joshua Ojedele, a community chief and yam farmer. Beaming with pride, he showed off his two-hectare yam field cultivated from improved varieties that he got from the Yam Improvement for Income and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) project.
The project seeks to develop and establish a functional, commercial seed yam seed system in Nigeria and Ghana to benefit smallholder farmers through timely and affordable access to high-quality seed yam tubers of improved varieties.
However, Ojedele’s farm is lush green with healthy foliage, promising a good harvest. All the mounds had at least one yam plant with tubers. “This has never happened before. See–no mound is missing a plant”, Ojedele said while he led the YIIFSWA-II monitoring team through his field.
Before the YIIFSWA-II project, the Agunrege community had no benefit from cropping yam.
“We thought the problem was the land, so we abandoned yam production and started cultivating cassava and maize.
‘’But with these International institutes of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) yam varieties, no matter how small the planting materials are, they produce something. Now I know it is not the land. The local varieties we were planting were old and had poor seed quality”, Ojedele said.
YIIFSWA-II’s Seed System Specialist, Beatrice Aighewi, says “in the traditional system, farmers recycle their seed yam year after year. As a result, the seed tubers of local varieties lose their quality after years of accumulation of pests and diseases such as nematodes, viruses, fungi, and bacterial infections. Consequently, yam farmers in Nigeria lose up to 50% due to the use of poor-quality seed tubers.”
She also stated that the current average yields of local yam varieties are less than 25% of the yield of released improved varieties, which range from 30 to 40 t/ha.
New agricultural technologies, such as high-yielding improved varieties coupled with good agronomic practices offer the promise of improving productivity and farmers’ livelihoods. However, the adoption of these enhanced yam varieties has been slow because of the absence of a formal seed system that can sustainably produce and distribute large quantities of quality seed at affordable prices.
The adequate supply and distribution of these improved varieties are critical to the intensification of yam production in Nigeria. The current high level of production is due to farmers’ practice of periodic relocation of yam fields in more fertile soils, rather than input intensification. Agricultural intensification is critical for agricultural productivity growth.
In the initial years of implementation, the project successfully demonstrated to farmers the high performance of the three improved and released varieties, namely Asiedu (TDr 89/02665), Kpamyo (TDr 95/19177), and Swaswa (TDa 98/01176), as well as the value and better performance of quality seed vs. farmer-saved seed.
YIIFSWA-II is working to establish a formal seed system that is commercially viable and sustainable to boost yam productivity in Ghana and Nigeria. The project seeks to ensure that farmers like Ojedele have access to quality seed tubers that have the consistent characteristics of the varieties, are free from pests and diseases, and have a high percentage of sprouting for good field establishment.
Reaping the benefits
Ojedele, who participated in three types of demonstrations, is already reaping the benefits of early adoption of these technologies.
According to him, since he participated in the YIIFSWA-II project, he spent the first two years multiplying the few seed tubers he acquired from the field trials using the Adapted Yam Minisett Technology (AYMT).
In 2019, he planted clean seed tubers he amassed from the AYMT, which resulted in “fantastic” yield. Data collected in his field showed yields of 32.6 t/ha (Asiedu), 30.0 t/ha (Kpamyo), and 37.5 t/ha (Swaswa).
‘’These yam varieties have been good to me. The yam produces big tubers and in multiples. It is what I used for my son’s wedding. In Nigeria, you cannot marry without presenting yam to the bride’s family. My yields have been so good that I had more than enough for my son to give to his bride’s family as part of the bride price.
‘’I can’t thank YIIFSWA-II enough. The yam has taken me to places I have never been in my own country. I was so excited when I crossed the Onitsha Bridge to go to the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI, Umudike) and participate in the naming ceremony of these improved varieties. YIIFSWA-II makes me feel like I am part of a greater farmers’ community outside of Agunrege”, Ojedele says.