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Yam farmer relying on 5-month shelf life to produce fresh

For Simon Ngure (pictured), cultivating aerial yams has become a business by accident.

He stumbled upon aerial yams while looking for a unique agricultural crop that could boost the income he used to get from coffee farming.

Ngure has planted aerial yams on 1/8-acre plot in Mathioya, Murang’a County.

In 2008 Ngure, planted an aerial yam he had been given by a friend and was surprised to find that after they grew and sprouted more plants.

“I let the plants grow and consumed them at home, like I would potatoes, and soon they became a staple food in my house. I decided to plant more yams which is sold to my neighbours,” he explained. To make more profit, he grew a higher yielding variety of yams that would produce larger tubers.

He initially had the purple variety which produced small yams and had to change to the golden yellow variety.

“I planted the golden variety and it was able to yield at least 2.25kgs per tuber which was very lucrative as I only needed a few to make enough money.”

To increase his knowledge and expand his market, Ngure started attending farmers’ field days and agricultural shows where he would exchange ideas with other farmers and also sell his produce.

“I never missed a field day or regional Agricultural show and it expanded my market base and unfortunately with the coronavirus pandemic, I am unable to attend any agricultural forum,” he says.

The yams are high-yielding and Ngure explains that each plant can produce at least 20kgs of yams each season.

He sells his aerial yams at Sh100 to Sh300 per piece depending on the size.

His farm is located in a tea-growing zone and the cool environment makes the yams mature in six months.

“11 months after the planting, the entire plant dries up and enters into dormancy stage of three months when it re shoots from the original plant, with no need to uproot it,” Ngure says.

They should be planted 4 metres deep and 5 metres apart and should not be inter-cropped with plants that have tall stalks such as maize since the vines of the yams will creep onto the maize.

To keep the moles at bay, Ngure has planted the yams in plastic containers that have holes in them which are then buried in the ground.

The crops also require water three times a week and can grow in dry and cold climates and still offer yields.

Ngure also applies charcoal dust on the soil where the young crops are growing to keep pests such as aphids away.

However, he is still trying to recover from devastation caused by locusts that invaded farms earlier this year.

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