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Food for when all else fails - collect from the wild or cultivate?

Tim Harris
11 February 2013
Blog team: 
A successful yam cultivation project in Madagascar cannot keep up with demand for cultivated yams.

In many parts of Madagascar and elsewhere, yams (from the genus Dioscorea) are eaten when staple crops, such as rice, fail or supplies have been exhausted. All the native species of yam in Madagascar occur only on that island and as most are edible, collection of  yams from the wild can become a threat which could lead to their extinction.

Yams being cooked and sold in the Ambositra-Vondrozo corridor forest

While some countries have a long history of cultivating yam species that grow easily, there has been little historic yam cultivation in Madagascar. The charity Feedback Madagascar, through its local NGO, Ny Tanintsika, with whom Kew is working closely, has been introducing yam cultivation to areas where it has not been practiced previously, particularly the Ikongo region.

The Feedback Madagascar-led project is very effective in producing large quantities of yam. The introduced yam species used in cultivation is Dioscorea alata which is native to Myanmar and has been cultivated in many countries around the world for centuries. It produces high yields. However, it is important both to the success of this project and the conservation efforts directed at the native, forest yams, that local villagers will enjoy eating the introduced alternative.

Scientists from Kew and botanists at the Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre in Antananarivo have been analysing the results of a survey carried out last year.  Villagers consistently favoured the introduced, cultivated yam species over the wild ones offered in the survey.

Famato Andriamampihatona and Tim Harris ask a farmer from the Ikongo district about different yam species

While the survey showed this strong preference of villagers in the region for the cultivated yam species, it was also clear that the quantities of yams extracted from the wild exceeded the quantities of yams currently cultivated. There is evidence that yams are exchanged between villages involved in the cultivation project and those which did not grow yams. There appears to be scope to expand the project to villages not growing yams at the moment. Feedback Madagascar has plans to expand the yam cultivation project to more villages, and Kew will be supporting these efforts to conserve the rare species of yams that are found in Madagascar. 

- Tim -


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