It has been asserted that yam is the king of crops. Yam is not just a primary and major staple crop in Africa, it is as well a major source of wealth creation for farmers, traders, processors, transporters and exporters. That apart, yam has high cultural value in that it is an integral part of our traditional festivals, rituals, ceremonies and hospitality.
This makes it one of the most sought after crops in Africa and the West Africa sub-region. In the traditional African society, the number of bans of yams a man possesses determines his net worth.
Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of yam accounting for over 70 percent of the production.
According to FAO figures of 2008, Nigeria was producing 35.017 metric tons of yams from 1.5 million hectares, that is, over 73.8 total production of yam in Africa. Benue State is the largest producer of the crop in the country. Other states with high production rate of yam are Adamawa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Imo, Enugu, Anambra, Ebonyi, Kaduna, Kwara, Plateau, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo and many others. Other African countries with high production capacity of yam are Cote d’Ivoire (6.9 million tons) and Ghana (4.8 million tons) in 2008 respectively.
Yam is a tropical crop with many varieties, as many as 600 species, of which most important of them are white guinea yam (Dioscorea totundata), water yam (Dioscorea alata), aerial yam (Dioscorea bulbifera), Chinese yam (Dioscorea esculent), trifoliate yam (Discorea dumentorum). However, the most common in Nigeria are white and water yams.
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has developed improved varieties of yam in terms of high and stable yields with minimum labour requirement. Yam is tuber in the family of root crops and rich in carbohydrates, Vitamin C, minerals and dietary fibres. Yam is prepared and consumed in a number of ways. It can be cooked, pounded (pounded yam), roasted, baked or fried. It can as well be processed into flour (fufu, elubo or whatever you call it). Whichever way, it is always a delicacy.
Yam is best planted between February and March in mounds or ridges by planting seed yams (pieces of tubers or completely small ones) preserved for the new planting season.
However, in some localities especially in riverine areas, land preparation, clearing and burning of grasses, heaping and ridging are done earlier. Yams allow intercropping with maize, guinea-corn, beans and vegetables.
Yams grow well in upland and well-drained field. Sandy loam, silt loam, clay loam or even stony soils are good for yam cultivation. However, virgin lands and forests are good soils for maximum yields.
In tropical region, forestlands offer ideal environment for yam cultivation in terms of soil quality and climatic conditions.
The steps for planting yams are: Clear the bush, allow the grass and leaves to dry, and then burn them. Next, you make heaps of loose soil of about one metre high and one metre apart. Alternatively, you make ridges of one metre apart from each other.
You then prepare the seed yams for planting. You can cut whole tubers into pieces or planted whole but bear in mind that the bigger the seed yam, the bigger the yield, all things being equal. The cut pieces are treated with ash and allowed to dry before planting. This is to prevent them from rotting. You then insert them into the mounds or ridges keeping the appropriate distance.
Provide some mulch at the point where the seed yam is planted by placing on top such materials as palm fronds, grass, leaves or corns stalks to conserve soil temperature or retain soil moisture so that the seed yam will not rot due to excessive heat.
When the vines sprout, grow and begin to crawl on the ground there is need to provide stakes for them to climb. Bamboo poles or other sticks can be used for the staking, depending on the locality. When the stakes are mounted, you twine the vines to the right.
The materials used for the staking should be strong enough to be able to carry the weight of the full-grown vines. When the vines start to be yellow or begin to dry, then you know that the yams are ripe for harvesting.
Weeds and Pests
The farm needs to be weeded at the appropriate time especially before the vines canopy covers the whole place.
Do not allow the farm to be overgrown by weeds. If that happens, it will adversely affect the yield. Pests such as beetles, mealy bugs and scales attack yams. Others are fungi, leaf spot, leaf blight and tuber rot and mosaic virus. You should take care of them by applying appropriate herbicides. Seek help from experts.
Farming of yam is very lucrative because of the pride of place yam occupies in the staples of the people. As such, yam farmers are in good business as there is always a ready market for their produce. Total yam production cannot meet the demand making it a high profitable agribusiness. Yams are sold in local markets, special markets for yams or in the farms.
Apart from farmers, many have made a lot of money trading in yams. They go to yam producing states including the Federal Capital Territory Abuja to buy yams in bulk, take them to high consumption areas in the cities, and make fabulous profits.