“I was fascinated to learn about Ahipa which combined the advantages of both legumes and roots in one crop,” recalls Gruneberg.
“I was surprised that it was so largely neglected,” he added.
In 1993, when he had the opportunity to go on an Ahipa seed collection trip to Bolivia, Gruneberg’s original insight about the value of Ahipa was reaffirmed. He was taken by how broad a gene pool this Andean yam bean had – exciting stuff for a breeder.
“I saw that Ahipa had huge potential for benefitting agriculture in developing countries because of its large gene-pool which offers high adaptability, yield and nutrition,” notes Gruneberg. So in 2008, when a Call for Proposal from the Belgium Development Cooperation landed on his lap specifically looking for neglected crops– he knew he had “the” neglected crop. CIP’s Ahipa proposal was selected among 21 and is now a four-year CIP project being carried out in Sub-Saharan Africa with local partners.
Ahipa is well positioned to complement cassava and sweetpotato, and increase biodiversity in the fields as the world faces rising populations and climate change. The most common ahipa is large, crunchy, juicy and usually eaten raw. It is a good source of protein, potassium, and vitamins C and K. A less common variety — of high dry matter — is better suited for cooking and processing, and
CIP breeders are currently working on developing this “new” ahipa. In fact, work on this “high dry matter” variety will now be fast-tracked since the Peruvian government recently granted CIP permission to use and distribute genetic material that originates from Peru’s Amazon lowlands. This presents a bigger panorama of breeding possibilities to further develop hardy, adaptable ahipas.
“Logically, this crop should be much more important than it is,” says Wolfgang. “It offers high yields in a short period of time and it’s superior to cassava in nutrition. However, the introduction of a new crop is no easy undertaking in agriculture – so we must wait until ahipa gains ground – literally – before we can claim it a success.”
The ahipa team works in a farmer participatory approach. So far, field-test farmers have expressed approval for ahipa. In Asia, ahipa is already widely cultivated since being introduced several hundred years ago from the Americas. What’s more, ahipa is a leguminous nitrogen fixing plant, meaning it can be grown without nitrogen fertilizer, making it highly suited to the needs of small farmers as an integral part of a sustainable land-use system.
The Ahipa project currently works across three continents, with an emphasis on West and Central Africa to:
• Improve availability of ahipa collections and breeding lines,
• Identify high yielding varieties that adapt to agro-forestry based farming systems,
• Detect genotypes with edible roots and seeds,
• Develop ahipa’s potential for processing and commercialization.
CIP is collaborating on the project with agricultural research institutes in Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Benin, Ghana, DR Congo, and the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. They are combining research from Africa, Europe, and Latin America to increase the availability of yam bean collections and breeding lines, identify high-yielding varieties adapted to agro-forestry-based or maize-mixed farming systems, and develop its commercial potential. Impact assessment studies have been integrated, as well, to identify where resources can be used most effectively to maximize benefits and adoption.