16 Sep 2010:
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.
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