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SME Guide

Yam Farming in Nigeria: A Profitable Agricultural Venture

Introduction to Yam Farming

Yams are an important staple crop in Nigeria, providing food and income for millions of smallholder farmers. With increasing demand and attractive prices, yam farming has become a lucrative business opportunity for many Nigerians.

An Overview of Yam Production in Nigeria

Nigeria is the largest producer of yams in the world, accounting for over 60% of the global production. According to FAOSTAT, Nigeria produced 62 million metric tonnes of yams from 10.4 million hectares of land in 2021. The average yield was about 6 tonnes per hectare.

The major yam-producing states are Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Kogi, Niger, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Delta, Edo, Anambra, Imo, Abia, and Cross River. These states have favourable climate and soil conditions for yam cultivation.

Some popular yam varieties grown in Nigeria include white yam, water yam, bitter yam, and yellow yam, among others. White yams take 8–10 months to mature and give high yields. Water yams mature faster within 6 months but give lower yields than white yams.

Yam Farming Systems

Yams can be cultivated under different production systems:

  • Monocropping: growing only yams on a piece of land
  • Intercropping: Growing yams along with other crops
  • Mixed cropping: a combination of monocropping and intercropping

Intercropping with crops like maize, cassava, legumes, etc. is commonly practiced to maximise land productivity. However, sole cropping gives higher yam yields.

Benefits of Yam Farming

Here are some of the benefits of yam farming as a business:

  • Huge local demand and export potential: As a staple food crop, yams have a huge domestic market. There is also rising export demand.
  • Higher yield per hectare: Yams give very high yields per hectare compared to other staples like cassava and sweet potato. Yields of 40–60 tonnes per hectare have been reported under good management practices.
  • Lower production costs: The production costs of yam are relatively low when compared to cereals. Only minimal use of fertilisers and pesticides is required.
  • Less labor-intensive:  Mechanisation can be easily done for land preparation, hilling, planting, harvesting, etc. compared to other root and tuber crops.
  • Allows intercropping: Yam farming provides additional income from intercrops before the yam canopy closes.
  • Renewable planting material: small whole tubers (seed yams) saved from previous harvests can be used as planting material for the next cycle.
  • Higher income per hectare: With higher yields and prices, the net income from yam is usually much higher than that of most other staple crops.
  • Improved varieties available: early-maturing and high-yielding varieties have been developed by research institutes.
  • Storage ability: Yams can be easily stored for 2–6 months, which helps stabilise supply and prices throughout the year.

Getting Started with Yam Farming

Yam farming requires some essential steps like land selection, acquiring planting materials, field preparations, etc. before you can undertake full-scale production.

Selecting a suitable land

The first step is identifying a suitable site with ideal soil and climatic conditions for yam farming.

Yams grow well in deep, fertile, well-drained sandy loam or silt loam soils. Clayey soils and waterlogged conditions should be avoided.

An annual rainfall of 1200–2500 mm is optimal with no drought spells. Low humidity conditions favour the proliferation of pests and diseases.

Select land in sub-humid agro-ecologies free from tree shades. In humid rainforest zones, deforested land should be preferred.

Choose land with accessible motorable roads, as transportation of yam tubers during harvest is easier.

Undertake soil testing to analyse pH, organic matter content, and macro- and micronutrients. Apply soil amendments based on the test results.

Acquire land through purchase, lease, or rent. Ensure documentation for security of tenure.

Acquiring Good-Quality Planting Materials

The starting material for any yam farm is good-quality whole tubers known as seed yams.

There are two major ways to acquire seed yams:

  1. Select from your own farm.
  • Set aside small-sized, healthy tubers from your harvest as planting material for next season.
  • Select seed yams from vigorous vines that bear oversized tubers.
  • Treatment with fungicides is required before storing the seeds.
  1. Purchase from reputed growers.
  • Buy early-maturing, improved disease-resistant varieties.
  • Ensure seed yams are purchased fresh during harvesting time.
  • Check for physical damage, pests, and diseases in the seed material.
  • Seek assistance from agriculture agencies for linking with certified seed yam producers.

Land Preparation

Proper land preparation is key to creating optimum soil conditions for yam cultivation. Here are some tips:

  • Clear existing vegetation, stumps, etc. if it’s a new yam farm.
  • Plough repeatedly to obtain a fine soil tilt. Break up large soil clods.
  • Incorporate organic manure during land preparation.
  • Raise beds and construct drainage channels for water removal.
  • Make mounds or heaps of loose soil for planting yams.

Spacing for seed yams:

  • Space mounds 1m x 1m distance on beds.
  • Arrange beds 1.5–2 m apart to allow mechanised operations.

Soil Fertility Management

Target a soil pH of 6–6.5 by applying lime or organic fertilisers.

Test the soil to determine fertiliser requirements.

Apply NPK fertiliser or organic manure to the soil before planting.

Sidedress growing plants with urea during the vegetative growth phase.

Optimum fertilisation produces oversized tubers and increases yields.

Yam Varieties

Many improved yam varieties with desired traits like high yielding ability, pest/disease resistance, etc. have been bred.

Early-maturing varieties

  1. TDr 95/01932
  • Released in 1995
  • Matures in 5–6 months
  • Yield potential: 30 t/ha
  • Resistant to anthracnose disease
  1. TDr 89/02475
  • Mature in 6 months
  • Yield potential: 43 t/ha
  • Tolerant to yam mosaic virus disease
  1. TDr 87/00571
  • Extremely early maturing (100–110 days)
  • Yield potential: 27 t/ha
  • High poundable tuber percentage

High-Yielding Varieties

  1. TDr 95/19177
  • Matures in 7-8 months
  • Yield potential: 52 t/ha
  • White tuber with excellent poundability
  1. TDr 00/00021
  • Yields over 47 t/ha
  • Massive tuber size with good qualities
  • Resistant to nematode damage
  1. TDr 95/18544
  • Yield potential: 49 t/ha
  • Tolerant to the yam mosaic virus
  • Cream-fleshed tubers with excellent culinary qualities

Pest- and disease-resistant varieties

  1. TDr 97/00917
  • Yield up to 38 t/ha.
  • Resistant to the Yam mosaic virus disease
  • Tolerant to anthracnose disease
  1. TDa 98/01176
  • Yields above 46 t/ha
  • Resistant to nematodes
  • Tolerant to foliar diseases
  1. TDr 95/19177
  • Tolerant to nematodes and foliage diseases
  • High yield: about 47 t/ha
  • Very responsive to fertiliser application

Consult agriculture agencies for further recommendations on suitable varieties in your zone.

Planting Yam

Yam planting is quite straightforward when using seed yams. Follow these key steps for planting:

  • Cut seed tubers into setts weighing 20–50 g and having at least 2 buds.
  • Treat cut surfaces with wood ash or a fungicide to prevent microbial infection.
  • The plant is set at a depth of 10–15 cm in the mound with buds facing up.
  • Space mounds 1m x 1m distance on beds with 2m gaps between beds
  • Arrange seeds vertically, horizontally, or obliquely in the soil.

Timing:

  • Planting is done at the onset of the rainy season for rainfed crops.
  • Irrigated crops can be planted at any time, avoiding severe heat periods.

Staking

Yam vines need staking support using stakes or trellises. Benefits include:

  • Promotes vertical vine growth
  • Prevents soil contact and tuber rot.
  • Facilitates farm operations like weeding, hilling, etc.
  • Increases tuber sizes and quality

Common staking materials: wood poles, bamboo, tree branches, etc. Arrange in rows before the vines start spreading.

Weed Control

Weeds severely reduce yam yields by 40% or more if uncontrolled.

Weed management options:

  • Use mulch materials like dry grass.
  • Manual weeding using a hoe or hand pulling
  • Mechanical weeding implements
  • Use pre-emergence herbicides.

Timely weeding is crucial during the first 3 months until the crop canopy develops.

Earthing Up/Hilling

  • Draw loose soil towards the crop base at tuber initiation.
  • Covers exposed tubers, preventing greening.

Do earthing up periodically, aligning with tuber enlargement.

Water Management

Yams require adequate moisture with no waterlogging.

  • Rainfed crops grown during the wet season
  • Dry-season crops require irrigation to avoid moisture stress.

Provide irrigation through a furrow, sprinkler, or drip method, depending on the available source.

Pest and disease control

Some major yam pests and diseases include:

Insect Pests

Yam beetles: flea beetles, tuber beetles

Termites

Nematodes

Mealybugs

Diseases

Anthracnose

Yam mosaic virus

Tuber rots

Leaf spots

Pest control methods:

  • Crop rotation
  • Field sanitation
  • Set up pheromone traps for beetles.
  • Use pest-resistant varieties.
  • Apply neem oil spray.
  • Use appropriate insecticides if the infestation is high.

Disease management:

  • Use disease-free, quality planting material.
  • Rotate yam with non-hosts, like cereals.
  • Hill soil properly to prevent tuber rots
  • Follow spacing guidelines to improve ventilation.
  • Apply fungicidal sprays.
  • Rapidly harvest and cure the tubers of infected plants first.

Harvesting and Post-Harvest Practices

Crops are ready for harvest typically in 7-8 months, when the majority of vines start yellowing and drying up.

Harvesting operations:

  • Assess maturity through sample digouts from 2–3 mounds.
  • Lift tubers carefully without damaging them using a hoe or fork.
  • Leave tubers briefly on the soil surface for aeration.

On large farms, use mechanical harvesters for uprooting tubers.

Curing and Storage:

  • Cure lifted tubers for 10–14 days, protected from sun and rain.
  • Curing involves arranging tubers covered by hay or plant materials.
  • Good ventilation prevents moisture buildup during curing.
  • Use wooden boxes, underground pits, etc. for storing cured tubers.
  • Sort and pack quality tubers in jute bags for market sales.

Economic Analysis

Here is an overview of the costs, returns, and profits from one-acre yam production:

  1. Establishment Cost
Items Cost (NGN)
Land clearing 18,000
Raised beds and drainage 26,000
Fencing 32,000
Tube well 65,000
Storage structure 250,000
Total 391,000
  1. Operational Costs/Annum
Items Cost (NGN)
Planting material 35,000
Land preparation 18,500
Staking work 40,000
Fertilisers 31,200
Labour for crop culture 110,000
Pest/disease control 13,500
Irrigation 26,400
Harvesting and post-harvest 88,600
Miscellaneous 10,000
Total 373,200
  1. Expected Returns/Annum
Items Qty Price Value (NGN)
Yam tubers 30,000 kg 100/kg 3,000,000
Planting material was produced. 2000 kg 200/kg 400,000
Gross Returns     3,400,000

*Assuming 40,000 kg yields and 5% used as seeds

  1. Profit Estimate
Gross Returns 3,400,000
Operational Costs 373,200
Net Profit 3,026,800

Therefore, net profit works out to 3.03 million per acre per year.

Tips for Profitable Yam Production

Here are some tips for ensuring profitability in yam farming:

  • Obtain suitable land on lease in the Yam Belt region.
  • Establish an irrigation source to allow year-round production.
  • Utilise early-maturing and high-yielding varieties.
  • Use pathogen-free seed yam from certified dealers.
  • Practice objective soil testing for fertilisation.
  • Invest in good staking material for vine support.
  • Mechanise land preparation, planting, and harvest operations.
  • Learn low-cost plant protection methods.
  • Maintain stored yams properly, avoiding rot.
  • Target production according to market demand.

Conclusion

Yam farming provides excellent prospects for commercial success due to rising market demand, high yield potential, and modest production costs. With the application of good agronomic practices and sound business acumen, yam cultivation promises to be a highly profitable agribusiness investment.

The information presented covers all key aspects of yam farming, from production practices to economics. You can readily use it as a blueprint to plan your own yam farming venture. With some customisation based on location-specific factors, sustained profits can be realised from yam farming in Nigeria.

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