Growing yams improves food security and income

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Many communities have abandoned yams production for maize and other cereal crops. But yams are nutritious and can grow even with little rains and limited management.

Yams are a rich source of vitamin C, boosts the body's immunity, fastens wound healing especially to people with diabetes and strong bones, besides other vital nutrients required in the body. "Yam is a crop rich in nutrients including Vitamins A, B, C, and potassium which are crucial ingredients to strong bones, teeth and a booster to body’s immunity," says Ms Linah Njoroge.

Ms Njoroge, who is also a former head of nutrition, Kenyatta National Hospital. The crop is mainly grown in West and Central African Countries. Though it is an orphan crop in Kenya, it provides the families with an additional source of livelihoods besides providing healthy meals. In Kenya, smallholder farmers in Central and Eastern regions grow yams on their small parcels of land and reap a bumper harvest not only for their domestic use but also for commercial purposes.

Sale of yams has boosted a farmer’s income

Mr John Mwangi, sells his yams at Ongata Rongai open air market.

“For the last five (5) years, I have run a business venture of yams, arrowroots, cassava, bananas and pumpkins and my family’s income has improved. Yams are hard to find. But, their demand and prices are high compared to other crops I sell,” says Mr John Mwangi a businessman in Ongata Rongai, Kajiado County. Mr Mwangi says that depending on the size of the yam, the buying price at the farm is between Ksh 50 to Ksh 120 a piece. The retail price ranges from Ksh 100 to Ksh 180 a piece. “When I purchase a sack of yams at Ksh 3,000, I make profit of Ksh 4,000 from the same compared to the profits made from the sale of arrowroots and cassava,” he confesses.

High demand for yams

Mr Mwangi reveals that yams have different colours, but, the demand is the same irrespective of the colour. “I’ve customers who place their orders even before I get the yams from the farm. The demand for yams  continues to grow each year and most of my customers are middle class. Majority of my customers are above 45 years,” he emphasises.

“From the sale of these scarce crops, I pay school fees for my kids, I have built a home, I have dairy cows and goats among other investments i have made. For a period of five years, yams have changed my family’s income,” he says adding, “transport cost from Nyeri, Meru and Murang’a where I get yams to Ongata Rongai is high. Transport costs lower my profit. I’d like to grow yams in my farm to increase the quantities for sale, ensure continuous supply to my customers for increased income,” he adds. Mr Mwangi is among more than 700 yams, arrowroots and cassava traders whose experiences are the same. They operate in Muthurwa and Ongata Rongai open air markets respectively.

 


How to plant yams

Yams can be consumed by both humans and livestock. To grow yams, a farmer can source for seeds or tubers which are planted in mounds. Harvesting of yams can start three to five (3-5) years after planting. To   allow proper growth of yams, below is a procedure to successfully plant and grow the crop:

• Clear the land.

• Dig a hole that is one feet (1ft) deep. This is to loosen up the soil and allow the easy development of the yam’s root structure.

• Pour manure mixed with the soil into the hole.

• Plant the yam seed or tuber six inches (6 inches).

• Dig three (3) similar holes with 10 inches apart.

• Put a propping tree at the middle of the four (4) holes.

This propping tree will support the vine of the yams as they grow.

• Apply continuous water supply to allow growth of healthy crops.

Once the yam crop has attained maturity, spread ash at the base of the yam tuber to keep away the pests like ants.

According to Mr Stephen Nchebere, a successful yam farmer in Tigania West, Meru County, “Management of yams is demanding. But it is very rewarding. Once yams mature, the income is sustained throughout

the year.” Mr Nchebere has grown yams for over 10 years although in small-scale. But he enjoys the returns from the crop. “I grow yams to provide my family with healthy food.

I also sell to the business people to earn an income. During the harvesting season, I harvest between 30 to   50 yams from one plant. I also harvest tubers from the same yam tree to replant.”

For more information on growing yams http://www.infonet-biovision.org/PlantHealth/Crops/Yam

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