There are 39 different species of wild yam in Madagascar; the island holds the highest endemism of the genus Dioscorea in the planet. More than 30 of these species have edible tubers and at least 10 are threatened with extinction due to their overexploitation and deforestation. 3 out of the 10 most endangered species grow in the rainforests located in the Ambositra-Vondrozo corridor (COFAV), particularly in the area between the national parks of Ranomafana and Andringitra, which is the area the project focuses on.
The yam has significant nutritional value; it contains lots of vitamins and minerals. Yams also have the advantage of growing throughout the year. This root can therefore be used to reduce rates of malnutrition amongst the Malagasy population, if used as a supplement to seasonal rice crops and unreliable harvests. However, yam cultivation in Madagascar is a very recent practice, especially in our target areas where wild yam species are increasingly rare and traditionally rarely eaten.
Ny Tanintsika has been involved in the conservation of Malagasy yams and the wider fight against food insecurity through the popularisation of the yam’s improved cultivation for almost 10 years. In collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens- Kew (RBG-Kew) and Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre (KMCC), a pilot study of conservation and nutrition research on 1,000 households was conducted in 30 villages in COFAV between June 2007 and March 2008. Through this study, conducted by 20 community forest management associations (COBA), Ny Tanintsika found that there existed a true interest among villagers for yam cultivation, who were ready to develop preservation and processing techniques. A pilot project promoting the cultivation of yams (Dioscorea alata) took place in 2008-2009 with 4 COBA. The success of this project inspired the expansion of the initiative between 2010 and 2013 to 21 COBA, in conjunction with Feedback Madagascar and the Innocent Foundation. To capitalise these assets and to further promote the conservation of this endemic species, a new three-year project, ‘AROOVI’, was launched in 2015 with RBG-Kew and KMCC (funded by the Darwin Initiative/DEFRA).
Protecting nature alongside communities
With the AROOVI project, Ny Tanintsika aims to protect endangered yam species by promoting the sustainable management of these tubers in the forest and through the development of sustainable yam cultivation to improve food security for the local population.
21 neighbouring communities from the newly protected area COFAV (Ambositra-Vondrozo Forest Corridor), located in the rural towns of Vinanitelo, Miarinarivo and Ambohimahamasina, have been targeted in the first year of the AROOVI project. The project will be extended to the town of Tolongoina in 2016.
Forest and yam conservation
In order to meet their basic needs, the local people, particularly those most marginalsed, look for wild yams in the forest. Overexploitation in this manner has led to a sharp reduction in certain species of yam, especially due to the traditional practice of replanting the tuber head in order for the yam plant to regrow the following season now being carried out with less caution.
The AROOVI project contributes to the conservation of biodiversity through the collection of endemic yams, and by identifying different species and multiplying them both in-situ and ex-situ.
Each community participates in the protection and conservation of the forest and its yams. Everyone contributes to the cultivation of yam species in the community nursery and their planting in open fields. As well as local endemic species, 3 other yam species are developed: the Dioscorea Alata, the Dioscorea Florido and the Dioscorea Seriflora.
The fight against malnutrition
One of the many advantages of the yam is its nutritional value. Cultivating yams can help reduce malnutrition amongst the local population by providing vital nutritional support during bouts of famine.
Nonetheless, successfully introducing the yam as an everyday food for the local people is a challenging task. For this reason, Ny Tanintsika encourages women in communities to come together to discuss culinary skills involving the yam. Cooking demonstrations inspire other women to try it out, encouraging culinary innovation and as a result improving living conditions through improved diets