Improving food security and conserving yam diversity

Jul 10, 2013
Harvesting cultivated winged yams in the Ikongo region of Madagascar. Credit: T. Randriamboavonjy

Through its yam research programme, RBG Kew is providing scientific data contributing to improving food security and conserving yam diversity in some of the lowest GDP per capita countries.

In the southern and western parts of Ethiopia, cultivated (Dioscorea rotundata, D. cayenensis) and forest (D. abyssinica, D. praehensilis) guinea yams are a staple source of dietary starch with the banana relative Ensete ventricosum. The diversity of these guinea yams was much less well understood than the same species in West Africa.

Kew scientists and researchers from Ethiopia and Norway have used to show that there is continuous variation and hence between wild and cultivated populations of guinea yams linked to the process of taking forest yams into cultivation, called 'ennoblement'. They are thus likely to form a single biological species with increased through their mode of cultivation. The greatest diversity was found in wild yams in the south west Sheko region, indicating their importance for conservation as sources of potentially useful genes for cultivated yam amelioration.

Wild and cultivated yams are also key carbohydrate sources in Madagascar. Working in the south-central Ikongo region, Kew researchers and NGO partners Feedback Madagascar used survey methods to investigate the preferences of for cultivated winged (D. alata) and wild species of yams.

Respondents preferred cultivated yams to the species of wild yam presented, in contrast to previous work in eastern Madagascar. The wealth of the respondent did not affect the strong preference for winged yam. Even so, villagers are still collecting seven times the number of tubers from the forest than they are cultivating.

The higher value put on cultivated yams suggests that there is substantial scope for increased local yam cultivation and increased exchange of cultivated tubers between the villages of the region to simultaneously increase and conserve wild yam species. To this end, Kew and Feedback Madagascar have supplied both 'seed' yams (tubers for growing) to villages in the Ikongo region and expertise both to grow yams and produce further seed yams for subsequent seasons.

Explore further: Keith Tomlins: Controlling waste in tuber crops for a better economy

More information: Abebe, W. et al. (2013). Genetic diversity and population structure of Guinea yams and their wild relatives in South and South West Ethiopia as revealed by microsatellite markers, Genetic Resources & Crop Evolution 60: 529-541.

Abebe, W. et al. (2013). Genetic diversity and species delimitation in the cultivated and wild Guinea yams (Dioscorea spp.) from Southwest Ethiopia as determined by AFLP (amplified fragment length polymorphism) markers, Genetic Resources & Crop Evolution 60: 1365-1375.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Global project underway to preserve yam biodiversity

Sep 16, 2010

Farmers and crop scientists worldwide are engaged in an ambitious new effort to add 3,000 yam samples to international genebanks with the aim of saving the diversity of a crop that is consumed by 60 million people on a daily ...

Study reveals genetic diversity of genes in peppers

Feb 15, 2013

From the small, spicy Thai chiles to the portly, mild bell pepper, researchers at the University of California, Davis, have developed a "family tree" of sorts for peppers and characterized the diversity of ...

Forest edge reveals habitat loss in Madagascar

Sep 05, 2012

(Phys.org)—The dry forests of Madagascar can use all the help they can get. New research suggests a promising tool for understanding and conserving these threatened environments.

Recommended for you

Chrono, the last piece of the circadian clock puzzle?

14 hours ago

All organisms, from mammals to fungi, have daily cycles controlled by a tightly regulated internal clock, called the circadian clock. The whole-body circadian clock, influenced by the exposure to light, dictates the wake-sleep ...

Drought hormones measured

14 hours ago

Floods and droughts are increasingly in the news, and climate experts say their frequency will only go up in the future. As such, it is crucial for scientists to learn more about how these extreme events affect plants in ...

Research traces the genetic print of the Asturian people

21 hours ago

The DNA of the people of Asturias still maintains the genetic prints of remote ages. A research conducted at the University of Oviedo proves that the old frontiers marked by the pre-Roman Astur settlements have left their ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

ESO image: A study in scarlet

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

First direct observations of excitons in motion achieved

A quasiparticle called an exciton—responsible for the transfer of energy within devices such as solar cells, LEDs, and semiconductor circuits—has been understood theoretically for decades. But exciton movement within ...

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Warm US West, cold East: A 4,000-year pattern

Last winter's curvy jet stream pattern brought mild temperatures to western North America and harsh cold to the East. A University of Utah-led study shows that pattern became more pronounced 4,000 years ago, ...