Unlocking Nigeria’s yam potential

  • Nigeria produces more than 60 per cent of the entire world’s yams.
  • Yam farming offers potential income-generating activities to Nigerian farmers who can grow this versatile tuber.
  • The sale and trading of freshly harvested yam creates business opportunities for vendors at local produce markets.

Nigeria is a country known for its rich agricultural heritage and the abundance of natural resources it provides. One of these valuable commodities is yam, which has been cultivated in Nigeria for decades. Yams are an important staple crop that provide both food security and economic opportunity to many Nigerians. The production and sale of yams present an array of opportunities for farmers, entrepreneurs, consumers, and businesses alike.

The agriculture sector in Nigeria employs approximately 60 per cent of the labor force and contributes to over 40 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Nigeria is the leading producer of fresh yams. According to the UN’s food agency, Nigeria produces more than 60 per cent of the entire world’s yams. Yams are also the fifth most widely harvested crop in the country.

What are yams?

Yams are a staple food found in temperate and sub-tropical regions – including Africa, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. They are starchy, fibrous tubers which are grown in the ground. Yams have brown tough skins and the flesh can vary in colour – anything from white to yellow to purple – depending on the variety.

In Nigeria, production of yam—which is commonly prepared into several dishes such as boiled yam, fried yam, roasted yam, amala (made from yam flour) and pounded yam—is exclusively carried out by low-income smallholder farmers in rural areas across the country.

Yam are harvested from August to October in the western part of the country while north central States like Benue, Nasarawa and Niger have yams in abundance in September to November. Other yam producing states in Nigeria includes: Cross River, Delta, Oyo, Edo, Ekiti, Imo, Kaduna, Kwara, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Plateau.

Yam farming offers potential income-generating activities to Nigerian farmers who can grow this versatile tuber on small plots or larger farms depending on their needs. Not only does growing yams create employment opportunities for rural communities but also provides them with essential nutrition as well as providing a source of income from sales at local markets or exports abroad if desired by the farmer or producer.

Additionally, successful harvests may lead to improved living standards through increased financial stability due to higher yields per acre than other crops such as cassava or maize grown in similar conditions throughout Africa’s savanna regions.

The sale and trading of freshly harvested yam creates business opportunities for vendors at local produce markets or those involved in exporting goods overseas while consumers benefit from having access to potentially cheaper prices due to competition amongst traders and sellers within each market place; thus providing more affordable options for all parties involved in the process of buying and selling yams across different regions within Nigeria itself as well as to international markets around the world.

According to the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ernest Umakhihe, Nigeria is the leading producer of fresh yams, yet it is unfortunate to note that despite the huge production, the country exports less of the product.

“If we must have sustainable food security for our teeming population of over 200 million people and have enough to export to other countries, there is a need to critically examine the factors working against the quality production and export of our major commodities, of which yam is one of them, ” he said.

According to the World Bank, Nigeria exported 3.2 million metric tons of yam in 2016, while the United States imported 797,000 metric tons, the United Kingdom imported 549,000 metric tons, the Netherlands imported 462,000 metric tons, and Germany imported 446,000 metric tons. Nigeria also exported a total of 475,000 metric tons of yam to other countries in Africa, Europe, North America, and Asia.

Nigeria Produces the most yam. [Photo/ Helgi Library]
According to the most recent data, the global yam production for 2019 is estimated at nearly 27 million metric tons. Nigeria accounts for approximately 60 per cent of the total production. In 2019, Nigeria alone produced about 16.2 million metric tons of yams, which is equivalent to about 2.4 tons per hectare. Additionally, the global export value of yams in 2019 was estimated to be around $1.2 billion, with Nigeria accounting for nearly 40 per cent of the total export value.

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As the demand for healthy, organic international food continues to soar, there are numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs to venture into the exporting of yam. Yam, whether fresh, frozen, or dried, has many advantages and resources that make it an attractive option for international trade and export.

With the right machinery and methods, yam can be sorted and packaged according to quality and size and then shipped efficiently to reach its destination. Furthermore, yam is highly nutritious, an excellent source of dietary carbohydrates, magnesium, copper, and many other minerals and vitamins. This makes it an appealing product for many customers in international markets.

Exporters of yam can take advantage of the increasing global demand for this unique food. Beyond the nutritional benefits, yam is a comparatively cost-effective option for traders.

Experts say deliberate action must be taken to move yam production, processing and marketing to the next level in line with international best practices.

Hamaad Ibrahim Salisu, the General Secretary of Yam Dealers’ Association of Nigeria,  said the government should collaborate with relevant stakeholders to resuscitate yam export to boost wealth creation and food security.

“Whatever you do, if the government is not involved, it won’t sound be sustainable. We need the government to help us the dealers because we deal with both the marketers and farmers, so that we can export more than we are doing right now, yam is a major crop that can boost the economy. So we need the government to help so that it can grow, help the farmers and small scale businesses,” Salisu added.

He noted that the government can help to expand the crop’s production by providing fertilizers and loans to farmers, and also providing security.

Read: Mozambique: The goldmine in cashew nuts farming

Albert is a Chemical Technologist and Author. He is passionate about mining, stock market investing, Fintech and Edutech.

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