b"YAM PRODUCTION CHALLENGESYams have long been a staple for many West Africans, but as De Koeyer points out, yam producers there face someA Texas A & Munique challenges.researcher testing aLike potato, yam is a crop which uses tubers asground-penetrating radar seed for the following year, which requires the tubersdevice to measure yam tubers in soil prior to harvest to be stored between planting seasons. According toat the International Institute De Koeyer, storage issues such as disease are exasper- of Tropical Agriculture in ated in West Africa due to a lack of controlled storageIbadan, Nigeria in 2017. PHOTO: DAVID DE KOEYER.conditions, and there are few formal seed systems in place for planting clean material.De Koeyer says in many areas, farmers also have to contend with poor soil and the challenge posed by a climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. In addition, he adds, yam production is primarily done by manual labour, and crop inputs simply arent accessible for most farmers.De Koeyer also sees these challenges as opportunities, and believes measures such as increasing mechanization, developing better seed produc-tion and distribution systems, and providing producers with better varieties, are just some of the ways growing yams can be made more productive and profitable for West African farmers. Given the high population growth rates in West Africa, De Koeyer notes food production is becoming even more important. A major problem, though, is many young people there are turning away from farming, which is one of the reasons there isYam plants beingwidespread underemployment among youth. staked in research plots They see their parents having to work very hard andat the International earn very little as farmers, he says. They don't considerInstitute of Tropical agriculture as a business to get into or have their educa- Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria in 2017.tion go in that direction. PHOTO: DAVIDDe Koeyer says this is changing, thanks to improve- DE KOEYER.ments in agriculture and programs such as one offered by IITA thats aimed at developing youth agripreneurs. They take university graduates and then train them for a year or two, and their goal is to set up new businesses that are centered around agriculture, he says. De Koeyer sees plant breeding as another area with great potential for youth employment.I had a lot of very good experiences working with students, he says. They really want to learn the new science and learn how to do the best research and develop the best varieties they can.De Koeyer is still in contact with the friends and colleagues he met in Africa. I hope to at some point, maybe after I retire, to spend some more time in Africa.But overall, he believes many scientists could similarly benefit fromYams for sale at a international development work like the kind he experienced in Africa andseed yam market in would recommend it. De Koeyer adds his time spent in Africa gave him a newnorthern Oyo State, Nigeria in 2018. perspective on the importance of the research being done at AAFC. PHOTO: DAVID We have a world-class institution here (at AAFC), and the impact oftenDE KOEYER.can go beyond our national borders, he says. It's all about making connec-tions to collaborators in similar fields. It is very valuable. SUMMER 2020 SPUDSMART.COM 15"