Are yams the solution for Africa's hunger puzzle?

Yams are displayed during the annual Yam Festival in Ho, the Volta Regional Capital, about 165 km northeast of Ghana's capital Accra, on Sept. 22, 2012. The age-old Festival, usually held in September at the end of the rainy season, marks the end of hunger, in celebration of a new yam harvest. Photo/XINHUA

What you need to know:

  • Farmers in Kenya continue to face the challenges of unpredictable weather patterns that either bring too much or insufficient rain and extreme weather conditions.


Is there anything like feeding an African stomach? Stories have been told, studies have been done and aid has been raised to buy relief food for millions of Africans and especially in this side of Sahara where every year starvation books a date with its inhabitants.

But even as leaders grapple with the hunger puzzle which has been hard to solve, experts say Africa only needs to think outside the box to replenish its stores. And Elijah Kamanda, a farmer in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County seems to have heeded the advice. 

He has ditched maize for yams which are said to be more resilient to harsh weather and if his last harvest are anything to go by, he will soon be smiling all the way to the bank.

"I have tried maize, beans and even potatoes but I am now tired. I read about how yams turned around a Ugandan farm's into a money minting machine and thought why I shouldn't give it a shot.  It is so discouraging when sometimes you have the land but you can't even feed your own family," says Kamanda.

The farmer who has been relying on his farm to feed and educate his family says farmers have to think outside the box with the erratic weather. "Most of my neighbors lost a lot of harvest to the rains that pounded this area towards last year during the harvesting season.

They had enough yields but the rains overwhelmed them," says the father of four. And as farmers in Ol Kalou ponder on their next move, their counterparts in Homa Bay County are using a simple technology to produce disease-free seed yams for planting which has so far raised production by an impressive 20 per cent after years of endless losses.

The technology dubbed  minisett technique, developed by The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), has helped the farmers get better, healthier yam seed so that their production can increase.

The technology involves producing smaller seed yams, smaller than what the farmers are used to be able to come out with the small tubers that later on will be planted to get the big tubers for eating.

When the Homa Bay farmers want to grow their own seed yams, for planting the following season, they normally take a yam tuber and cut it into two or three pieces, which they plant.

This is where the problem begins.  Farmers traditionally use a cut set for growing seed yam, usually larger size, and they normally dust it with wood ash.

The size of the tuber and the archaic pest control methods have been responsible for the constant pest and disease attacks.  The technique therefore ensures that farmers use a certain size and treat the tubers with a pesticide coating.

This venture has been as a result of constant gripes by farmers who have scaled their yam cultivation but have constantly been grappling with diseases and pests that have defied conventional pesticides.

The aim of the project has been to give farmers a new method, which will enable them to produce a sufficient number of seed yam using only a small part of their harvested crop, and also produce seed yam that are free of diseases.

This should help to ensure that when the seed yams are planted in the following season, they grow into strong healthy plants which produce large, good quality yams for selling or eating. But farmers who grow yam often struggle to get good yields, and one of the main causes of this is that their yam plants are infected by diseases.

Farmers in Kenya continue to face the challenges of unpredictable weather patterns that either bring too much or insufficient rain and extreme weather conditions.

The situation has been worsened by the loss of local and traditional seed varieties that are more resilient to dry weather. The overdependence on maize as a staple and its prioritisation by the government has not helped much.

There are other grains and pulses that can be promoted and which actually perform better in drier areas. These grains include millet, sorghum, finger millet and pulses like green grams, lentils that can help in ensuring food security. (Xinhua)