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Studying yams in Madagascar

Tim Harris
27 January 2012
Blog team: 
Kew and Feedback Madagascar are collaborating to look at the preferences for different species of edible yam in Madagascan rural communities. Find out about the latest research being undertaken as part of Kew's work in Madagascar.

Yams in Madagascar

I have recently become involved in Kew’s long-running project studying Yams in Madagascar.

Yams are important to many rural communities in Madagascar. Collecting wild yams from the forest provides a food source during the months when rice is unavailable or prohibitively expensive. At least 30 of the 40 yam species found on Madagascar are edible. From a conservation perspective, Madagascar’s 40 species of yams are especially precious as they only grow naturally in Madagascar and some species are particularly rare. Many of Madagascar’s yam species are narrow endemics, being restricted to a small area, and 12 of them are provisionally considered threatened. All the yam species shown to be threatened are edible. For example, bako (Dioscorea bako) has been classified as Endangered and may be suffering from over-utilisation.

An inhabitant of the village of Beroboka in western Madagascar carrying Dioscorea bako tubers (Image: A. & M. Hladik)

Kew's work in rural communities

Kew is working with a charity based in Madagascar called Feedback Madagascar. Amongst other projects, Feedback Madagascar and Kew are collaborating to promote yam cultivation in rural villages. By increasing the numbers of cultivated yams, the aim is to reduce the pressure on wild yam populations from over-extraction and associated habitat destruction. Such cultivation of yams could also improve food security in these rural communities.

I will be travelling to Madagascar in May 2012 to visit some of the villages that have started to cultivate yams. I will be collaborating with Feedback Madagascar to survey villagers and see if they prefer cultivated yams over those that can be collected from the wild. This work is supported by both the Bentham-Moxon Trust and Kew Guild. I have been trying out parts of the survey in advance on colleagues at Kew!

A Madagascan yam tuber from the species Dioscorea arcutinervis

We hope that the survey in May will show which wild or cultivated yams are most favoured as foods in a group of rural villages and what scope there may be for cultivated yams becoming a locally tradeable food. An estimation of the value to a rural community of wild yams collected from a thriving forest may also be useful to local decision makers when deciding whether forest should be converted into fields or not.

- Tim -


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