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Scientists Collect Yam Samples to Preserve Critical African Crop

Crop scientists are attempting to collect and catalog more than 3,000 yam samples for international gene banks to preserve the biodiversity of a food crop that is consumed daily by more than 60 million people in Africa alone. Yam varieties collected in West and Central Africa will be sent to the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria, where the samples will be frozen in liquid nitrogen for long-term storage. While many crops can be conserved by drying the seeds, yams must be conserved as vegetative material in tissue culture. A large percentage of important yam varieties are currently preserved only in fields, where they are threatened by disease, pests, natural disaster, and civil conflicts. The nations in Africa’s so-called “yam belt” — including Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo — produce more than 90 percent of the world’s yams. “This opportunity to protect an incredibly wide variety of yams allows us to feel more reassured that the unique diversity of yam will be safely secured and available to future generations,” said Alexandre Dansi, a researcher at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin who has helped catalog about 250 discrete types of yams and more than 1,000 yam varieties.

Women selling yam tubers with banana in the background in a local market in Nigeria. (via IITA)

This post originally appeared on e360 digest.

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For North American readers you might have pointed out that in Africa a "yam" (Dioscorea ) is something completely different from what we call a "yam" here (the "sweet potato" Ipomoea, which of course isn't a potato, either). The picture could have made this clear, but what U.S. consumer of sweet potatoes has ever seen them outside of a can?

Posted by: Doc on 20 Sep 10

A very good idea. We shall monitor developments on this as they unfold.

Posted by: Dr. Uzodinma Adirieje on 6 Oct 10

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