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YAM – an alternative to maize dependence in Zambia

MAIZE has continued to be Zambia’s staple crop for many years. The crop has been a major source of food for many households from time immemorial. But this dependence on maize as a staple crop for the country has come with a lot of challenges in the recent past. Issues of climate change and the ever-increasing price of farming inputs have made cultivating maize a big financial burden for most farmers in the country.

It is high time Zambian smallholder farmers reduced dependence on maize and reintroduce growing indigenous crops such as Yam to help reduce poverty levels in the country and create employment. Zambia started losing some indigenous crops like millet, cassava, sorghum, and yam when maize was introduced in the country. Yam is a traditional tuber crop and an essential food crop in most African countries.

Besides being an important food crop, it is also a fundamental source of nutrients and can as well be a source of income for small-scale farmers in Zambia. Cosmas Lushibashi, a small-scale farmer in Mungule area in Chibombo district of Central Province, has adopted the cultivation of yams as an alternative to maize on his farm.

In an interview recently, Lushibashi said growing yam has been an easy undertaking for him and also cheap on inputs compared to other crops, such as maize.

He narrates that the crop is able to withstand harsh climatic conditions that the country has been experiencing of late.

“I urge my fellow small-scale farmers to venture into yam farming as it has both economic benefits and nutritional value at home,” Lushibashi explains.

“Yam is less expensive to grow; all one needs are tubers and the making of mounds.  Fertiliser is not required, only composite manure is needed to have a healthy plant. Yam have an advantage over other crops in that it has medicinal components and for those with diabetes and high blood pressure, it is the best food for them.”

Yam is high in vitamin C and B6 potassium and manganese, with low in saturated fats and sodium. Yam provides good balance in human body and protects against heart diseases and diabetes. Yam also gives more sustainable energy and it promotes longevity in life as it also acts as an anti-ageing agent.

Lushibashi further boasts that his yam field is just about 20 metres by 20 metres, and he only planted 400 yam seed tubers but after harvest, he is expecting not less than 2,800 kilogrammes of yam tubers, at a local market value of K20,000.

To promote diversification due to climatic changes that have drastically hit the country, Monkey Orange Crafts – a Social organisation has come up with the initiative of empowering farmers countrywide with skills and knowledge in yam production.

Monkey Orange Crafts is sensitising Zambians on the importance and benefits of growing yam, an important source of income which will in turn increase food security in the country.

Monkey Orange Crafts Organisation founder Micheal Mwandila advises farmers in Zambia to start cultivating yam.

“From one single plant of yam, a farmer can harvest about 25 kilogrammes that is the reason Monkey Orange Crafts Yam Project has invested in training farmers with interest in the growing of the crop,” he says.

Mwandila explains that yam can be stored up to six months without refrigeration, which makes it a valuable resource from the early period of scarcity at the beginning of the season.

Monkey Orange Yam Project is focusing on encouraging small-scale farmers to start growing organic yam as it does not require chemical fertilisers if the soils are fertile enough.

The organisation is championing growing indigenous crop yam at a large scale.

It is supporting over 600 smallholder yam farmers across the country.

To grow organic yam, a small-scale farmer does not need large tracks of land especially that much Zambian soils have been more favourable to the crop way back when it was being grown in the country.

Mwandila told NAIS that his organisation is well linked to the objective of the national agricultural policy, which encourages increased agricultural production and sustainable use of land and natural resources.

The government through the Ministry of Agriculture has noted that growing organic yam can contribute to an increase in food security and incomes among the small-scale farmers as well as creation of employment.

“The ministry is in support of Monkey Orange Yam efforts as this is in line with the spirit of crop diversification which the ministry is promoting and therefore, there is need for the government to give a priority to such initiative,” explains Lusaka Province District Agriculture Coordinating Officer (DACO) Pharaoh Daka.

“I also call on youths and women across Zambia to develop keen interest in the cultivation of yam if they are to lead fruitful lives. Yam currently on Zambian market are imported from West Africa, India and Tanzania yet we have what it takes to grow them locally. If yam is promoted, supported and commercialised in Zambia there will be a lot of benefits from local farmers and the country because the crop has capacity to contribute to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). “

Yam is consumed in various ways, usually boiled and then eaten.

It is also a versatile vegetable. The product has been value added by producing mealie-meal, a nutritious drink, and chips.

We are aware of the nutritional importance of organic yam. But equally significant are the opportunities for family income generation and employment.

The Organic Yam production value chain can be a good financial earner once harnessed.

The demand for Yam products is projected to grow significantly in the coming decades due to an increase in the awareness of their nutritional importance and the resultant increase in their consumption.

This offers an opportunity for a small-scale farmer in Zambia to absorb an ever-increasing unemployed labour force.

Organic Yam production is labour intensive and can generate more than 30 times the employment and income per hectare of land compared to that of cereals like maize.

Yam will also create a number of job opportunities in complementary business that arises such as marketing.

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