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Bill Gates Foundation gives $12m for IITA project to boost yam production in Ghana, Nigeria

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The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and some partners have announced a $12 million initiative to improve yam production in Ghana and Nigeria.

The funding is provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The project is expected to double the incomes of three million yam farmers in West Africa.

Yam is an important crop in Ghana and is produced throughout most of the country and Ghana is the third largest producer of yams in the world, behind Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire.

In 2005, for instance, Ghana produced approximately four million metric tons of yam, compared to approximately 34 million metric tons produced in Nigeria and five million metric tons produced in Cote d’Ivoire. Following Ghana is Benin, with a production of about 2.1 million metric tons, and Colombia, Brazil, and Japan with smaller quantities of production at around 200,000 metric tons.

The country exported 20,841 metric tons of yams in 2008.

Yams were first domesticated by African farmers 7,000 years ago. Today, 48.1 million tons of yams are produced annually across 4.4 million hectares of land in West Africa’s “Yam Belt”—which extends from Cote D’Ivoire to Nigeria, representing over 90 percent of the global production, the IITA said in a press release.

The project according to IITA will focus on increasing yields through better seed tuber supply and improving markets for the underground, edible tuber.

IITA says, the multifaceted five-year effort has a vision of doubling the incomes of three million small-holder farming families.

“The initial focus of the project is on 200,000 smallholder farm families in Ghana and Nigeria—90 percent of whom cultivates less than two acres. A key priority is to ensure that affordable pest- and disease-free seed yams are available to farmers, along with storage and handling technologies that can reduce post-harvest loss,” it said.

It adds that yam breeders will develop and widely disseminate new, higher-yielding, disease-resistant varieties.

The organisation explains that the private sector partners on the programme are expected to play a key role by providing certified seed and working closely with efforts to link small-holder farmers, particularly those in remote areas, to markets where a strong and steady demand for yams should allow them to realize the economic benefits of increased productivity.

“This will be coordinated by AGRA’s Farmer Organization Support Centre in Africa (FOSCA) programme,” it says.

“Right now, most farmers cultivate yams mainly for household consumption, but if we can increase yields, while also improving marketing conditions, then many of these farmers should be able to earn a steady income from growing yams,” IITA’s Director-General Dr. Nteranya Sanginga was cited as saying in the release.

“Yam prices have been rising in recent years because there is a strong demand for the crop in Africa, and even in places like Europe and the United States, where rapidly growing West African immigrant communities still have a big appetite for their traditionally preferred staple,” he said.

Other partners in the project are the governments of Ghana and Nigeria, the UK’s Natural Resources Institute (NRI), the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and the Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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