Scientists begin work on genetic improvement of yam

Scientists from different parts of the world have started work on the genetic improvement of yam species to boost yam yield in Africa.
The Project Leader, Dr Patrick Adebola, made this known at the Africa Yam Annual Progress Review, Technical Advisory Committee and Work Planning Meeting, at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, on Monday.
He said that the project – Africa Yam — which was initiated in 2015, would use the latest technologies in plant breeding to develop high-yielding varieties of white yam (Dioscorea rotundata) and water yam (D. alata).
“These species will show great promise in resisting infestation by nematodes, viruses, and anthracnose, known to greatly limit productivity in West Africa’s most preferred staple crop.
“Every year, sub-Saharan Africa produces no less than 54 million tonnes of yams from about 4.6 million hectares of land but this output is only 40 per cent, compared with cassava production on the continent.
“Farmers are unable to cope with the demand for the crop and this is further constrained by low yield and losses in storage.
“In Africa, one very important constraint limiting productivity for most smallholder farmers, apart from climate change, diseases and pests’ infestation, is production costs,” he said.
Adebola stressed that the project recognised the challenge and was developing yam varieties that would make yam production more profitable for farmers.
“The project is also seeking to enhance active yam breeding programmes in Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Benin — the West African countries that are producing over 95 per cent of Africa’s yam.
“It will employ faster and more precise genomic tools to improve the efficiency of yam breeding programmes, while improving yam genotypes that are adapted to production systems and suited to market preferences.
“Africa Yam is led by IITA, in partnership with National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, EBSU, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), among others,” he said.
Adebola said that the project also received support from the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), France.
“Also, the Iwate Biotechnology Research Centre (IBRC), Japan; the James Hutton Institute (JHI), UK and Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS), Japan, are supporting the project.
“The Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (BTI) and Cornell University, USA also support the project,” he said.
However, Dr Asrat Amele, a Yam Breeder at IITA, Abuja, said that dealing with different species, flowering, slow rate of multiplication and loss of materials were some of the major challenges facing the project.
“We adopted techniques to improve flowering efficiency in breeding; we looked for propagation techniques to develop more tubers.
“To improve field plot experimentation, we used appropriate trial designs; we also used barcode for proper labelling and identification of plants,” he said.
Besides, Dr Julius Okonkwo, the Director, National Root Crop Research Institute, Umudike, said that yam contained between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of water, which made it highly perishable.

He, however, said that yam could be processed into various product varieties that could make it to last longer with better storage potential.


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