t is often said that one cannot do the same thing the same way and expect a different result. Thus, the initiative of the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) to train women seed yam farmers in its Yam Improvement for Income and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA-II) programme is a paradigm shift in line with the Federal Government’s commitment to increased food production.
Before now, efforts and policies aimed at changing the narrative of our development trajectory visa vis agriculture, had more often than not ended in lip service and haphazard impracticable approach. The benefit and multiplier effect of the training cannot be over stressed given its income generating capacity to the farmer; availability of high yielding, healthy seed yams to companies and commercial farmers and sustained food security for the country.
In line with its mandate in root and tuber crops research, the Institute gathered no fewer than 30 women from the five states of the South East zone of the country to train them on the modern techniques of seed yam multiplication.
The two-day training took them on traditional seed yam production, the minisett technique and the aeroponics system of seed yam production. At the end of the training the women were excited with the prospect of increased production and expansion of their efforts in seed yam production and multiplication.
The training was practical, as they were taken to the fields for demonstration and interaction, offering them opportunities to ask questions and get answers from the resource persons, who are professionals in the sector.
Nigeria is without doubt the world’s largest yam producer; that global leadership in yam production has to be sustained. However, the scarcity of healthy, disease-free and high yielding seed yams has been the greatest challenge to yam production. The development has also been the major concern and worry of government and research institutes. And the training of women seed yam farmers is one of the practical measures adopted by the NRCRI to tackle the problem.
It is common to see consumers of yam eat the whole yam including the head, which should have been reserved for planting.
The next planting season has always been a nightmare to ware yam farmers as they are forced to traverse the country, seed yam companies and local markets for healthy seed yams for cultivation.
The training would have, to a large extent, solved the problem, since from the next planting season the women would provide a pool of accessible seed yams for the farmers, in at least the yam cultivating belt of the five states of the south east zone.
The projects gender bias is heart-warming. Men had dominated the cultivation of the crop in the Eastern region of Nigeria even though women provide 90 percent of the labour. The initiative has broken the hitherto male dominance of yam cultivation. Now, women who actually do the farm work, are empowered and given their rightful place in yam cultivation with the attendant boost in income and food security.
Besides, the training is coming at a time when Nigeria needs to maintain its lead in global yam production and explore the great export potentials of the commodity.
In his keynote address, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Mohammed Sabo Nanono, said the investment in women was a deliberate and consistent development of human capital.
The minister noted that “development of the yam production system in Nigeria has been hampered by the inadequate availability of quality seed yam tubers of improved varieties. To address this gap, the second phase of the Yam Improvement for Income and Food Security (YIIFSWA-II) project intensified efforts for the establishment of the formal seed system for yam in Nigeria.”
Nanono said the ministry’s gender policy on agriculture was “aimed at drastically reducing the vulnerability of women to biases in agriculture, address the unequal gender power relation and bridge gender gap. I see all the women here as a chosen race who are in the process of fulfilling the UN, Federal Government and YIIFSWA goal.”
The minister, who said it was time to take into account the critical contribution and role of women in seed yam production, added that the inability to empower women in the past had limited agricultural production. He urged the participants to have profit and self-empowerment in mind.
Mrs Susan Ugorji, a yam farmer from Ndoji Abam in Arochukwu Local Government Area of Abia State, was among the participants. She confessed that the training has taken her beyond her limited traditional knowledge of yam production, an experience she promised to translate in concrete action as she returns home with increased seed yam production.
“The training has equipped me with new skills on yam cultivation. I have been a yam farmer but using traditional methods. I never knew some of the methods we were taught, especially the use of chemicals, the mass production of seed yam and the aeroponics system of seed yam multiplication.”
Mrs Alagba Nwamaka, from Ebonyi State, described the two day training as fantastic.
“It was an eye opener to the modern and scientific methods of seed yam multiplication. As I go back I will use the method to increase production.”
Also, Ode Ifeoma, another Ebonyi State participant, said the training had made her ready, waiting for the next stage of empowerment and implementation.
“In Ebonyi State we are familiar with yam cultivation and with the scientific training I will increase production. I’m happy with the training because it will improve my income and food security.”
Ijeoma Ezekiel Ariwodo, said it was a wonderful experience.
“I learnt a lot of things. Let me appreciate the organisers, they have done noble. They exposed us to a lot of ways we can multiply yam, apart from the use of ware yam in planting. I am going to put the outcome of the training into practice. I have told my husband to reserve a piece of land for me and he has accepted, so that I will go into seed yam multiplication and I believe it will improve my income.”
Mrs Maduka, said: “I benefited a lot and I am going back to implement it to improve my income.”
Mrs Ariwodo Joy, who is not new to the training in yam production, shared her experience with the new participants on how it has transformed her life and income.
“I thank God for the Research Institute Umudike and YIIFSWA-II, they have made me someone today. And it’s through the efforts of Nwada Agro-seeds and input company Ltd, that I am here. They have made me to come to a level and standard for me to know that it is good to be a commercial farmer, to help this nation be in a state of good health through food security. I am more transformed. I have learnt a lot which I will put into practice.
“The organisers did not waste this time to bring us to this training. I’m grateful to Dr Maroya and Dr Beatrice who taught me in March 2015 at Abuja. It has helped me so much. In 2000 I was trained on cowpea by Dr Amadioha, that was how I came to IITA.”
The Executive Director of the NRCRI, Professor Joseph Ukpabi, had while declaring the training open charged the trainees to take advantage of the programme to contribute to the food security and job creation efforts of the federal government.
He explained that YIIFSWA as a project of the Institute in collaboration with IITA was committed to the development of healthy, disease free and high yielding seed yams. He described the participants are partners in that regard.
Dr Nobert Maroya, IITA Country Director, allayed the fears of seed yam farmers regarding the market for their product. He said there was more than enough demand waiting to be met and urged the trainees to brace up to the challenge of becoming partners in seed yam multiplication project of YIIFSWA-II. Maroya explained that the export potential of yam is so large within Africa and West African sub region that yam farmers have bright prospects. He said it was a special privilege for them to be selected from a population of about 100million women to be the off takers of the project.
“This project has four objectives. One of the objectives is to empower the women so that they can take advantage as the men in seed yam production. And the training of today is really one of the activities leading to the empowerment of women. It’s the training organised by the National Roots Crops Research Institute for 30 women who are yam farmer to transform them into the formal seed yam entrepreneurs. They are already doing that, but with this training they will get the capacity, the strength, to continue doing the work they started but better now because they are using improved technique and really variety of yam,” he said.
Coordinator of the YIIFSWA project at the NRCRI, Dr Nnamdi Okechukwu Eke-Okoro, who also took the trainees on the aeroponics system of seed yam multiplication, said the project was the brainchild of the IITA, Ibadan, which had championed research on the improvement of crops with the aim of maximizing production, by giving us excellent, clean, high quality seed.
He said the: “NRCRI was the gateway to improved, high quality seed and multiplication of seed yam with known source.”
He told the participants that the aim of the training was “to empower you to have food and income. One of the aims of the YIIFSWA project is empowering women.”
Dr Joe Ikeogu and Dr Beatrice Aighewi were among the resource persons that took the trainees on different aspects of seed yam multiplication. With the experience acquired, farm land at their disposal in their various localities, all the women need now is timely release of grant and materials to meet the target of the next planting season.