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New project to boost yam production in West Africa

Smallholder farmers in the main yam-growing areas of West Africa will benefit from a new project that aims to develop new varieties of this crucial staple crop and enhance yam breeding capabilities and partnerships in the region.

Source: IITA

The five-year project, called “AfricaYam: Enhancing Yam Breeding for Increased Productivity and Improved Quality in West Africa”, will be led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) with key partners in the four main producer countries in West Africa: Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria, and international research organizations and universities.

In West Africa yam plays key roles in food security, income generation, and the sociocultural life of at least 60 million people. In 2013, the West Africa yam belt produced a total of 54.5 million tonnes of yam on 4.4 million hectares. This represents 90.6% of the total global production and 88% of the total world area planted to yam.

The yam sector in the West Africa subregion, however, is plagued by low on-farm productivity, high production costs, high losses due to pests and diseases, and unsustainable production practices. High production costs are primarily driven by the high costs of seed and labour, with potential profit margins further reduced by moderate yields and postharvest losses. The most important constraints are nematodes, viruses, and anthracnose which will continue to grow in economic importance as yam production systems are intensified unless resistant varieties and beneficial cultural practices are adopted.

“Yam breeding can make major contributions to addressing this situation. The new project AfricaYam will raise the capacity for yam breeding in West Africa by developing high-yielding and robust varieties of white and water yams preferred by farmers and suited to market demands,” said Robert Asiedu, IITA Research for Development Director, West Africa. He said that important traits for breeding include tuber yield, tuber quality, and resistance to yam mosaic virus (YMV) in white yam (Dioscorea rotundata) and Yam Anthracnose Disease (YAD) in water yam (D. alata).

The project partners will work towards increasing yam productivity while reducing production costs and impact on the environmental by developing and deploying farmer-preferred varieties with higher yield, greater resistance to pests and diseases, and improved quality.

The project aims to:

  • Breed for high yield, good quality of tubers, resistance to diseases (anthracnose and yam mosaic virus) and nematodes
  • Establish a breeders’ community of practice for participating countries with a focus on upgrading skills in crop improvement and management of a breeding program, including national and international trials
  • Test promising breeders’ lines in the region that are currently available and additional ones that will be generated during the project and identify potential new varieties for pre-release trials in each country
  • Develop molecular tools to raise the efficiency of yam breeding through faster and more accurate identification and selection of plants with desirable traits
  • Develop a database for curating and integrating yam research data
  • Conduct training and capacity building for partners in the national agricultural research systems.

The project will be supported with a $13.5m grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and co-financing from the participating institutions.

The key project partners in West Africa are the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) and the Ebonyi State University (EBSU) in Nigeria; two research institutes under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Ghana (the Crops Research Institute and the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute); the Centre National de Recherche Agronomique (CNRA), Côte d’Ivoire; and the Université d’Abomey-Calavi (UAC), Dassa Center, Benin. Research partners outside the subregion are the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS), and the Iwate Biotechnology Research Center (IBRC) in Japan; the James Hutton Institute (JHI), UK; the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), France; and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (BTI), Cornell University, USA.


About IITA IITA is one of the world’s leading research partners in finding solutions for hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. Its award-winning research for development (R4D) approach addresses the development needs of tropical countries. IITA works with partners to enhance crop quality and productivity, reduce producer and consumer risks, and generate wealth from agriculture. IITA works on the following crops: cowpea, soybean, banana/plantain, yam, cassava, and maize. IITA is a member of CGIAR, a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future.

Contact: Robert Asiedu, R4D Director, West Africa

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