Native to Central and South America, and related to soybean, yam beans are also grown in Asia and parts of Africa, and among all the storage root forming legumes, show by far the widest adaptation and highest yield potential. The plant produces large storage roots, like cassava or sweetpotato, which are consumed raw, cooked or processed. However despite their high oil and protein content, the seeds are inedible due to the presence of toxic rotenone, and this may provide the clue as to why ahipa never became a major food crop.
In many West African countries, gari, a food product made from cassava is eaten by millions of people every day. A young African scientist working with the University of Göttingen in Germany first put the spotlight on ahipa, proving that ahipa roots can also be processed into gari. Compared to cassava gari the ahipa root gari has a lot more protein and micronutrient density and therefore the crop demonstrates great potential for the marginal, drought-prone farming systems of Sub-Saharan Africa where malnutrition is a major concern.
The Center’s project, in collaboration with agricultural research institutes in Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Benin, DR Congo and the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) in Belgium, focuses work on three continents to improve the availability of yam bean collections and breeding lines, with scientists identifying high yielding varieties that are adapted to agro-forestry based and maize mixed farming systems. At the same time research is directed at detecting rotenone free genotypes of the crop in order to make yam seed usable for human consumption. Improved commercial ahipa root products are being developed, along with the marketing strategies needed to fully exploit the crop’s full potential, and crucial impact assessment studies undertaken to identify where resources can most effectively be utilized. “We want to investigate the market opportunities for ahipa,” says Grüneberg “so that at the end of the project we can give a clear go ahead for the dissemination and development of the crop.”
For more information on the Ahipa Project,
Head, Communications and Public Awareness Department
International Potato Center (CIP)
Tel + 51 1 317 5334