A Beginner’s Guide to Yam Farming

If you are looking to start a yam plantation, then this write-up will shed more light on the process of setting up your farm. It will also tell you important factors to be considered while setting up your farm to achieve the best result.

Yam is considered one of the most important staple foods and root crops in many parts of Africa, the South Pacific, and Southeast Asia. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Nigeria produces 70% of the world yam output. It is also an indication that the largest proportion of yams are produced from West Africa. 

Yam farming business is a profitable venture which makes lots of people engage in it. You can get 50,000 tubers of yam from a farmland size of 500 meters which will produce a huge amount of returns of ₦20 million ($50,000) when sold at ₦400 or $1 per yam. Aside from the financial benefit, annually, people of the region carry out rituals and festivals to celebrate the arrival of the new yam. 

This is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to venture into yam farming to learn more about it. 

Another advantage of yam farming is the possibility of selling overseas to the United Kingdom, United States of America, Japan, Germany, and many other countries in Europe and around the world. This provides a ready market for yam production if ventured into.

While trying to go into yam farming, it is important to know the yam varieties available. 

Major Yam Species

There are different yam species. They have various colors which vary from yellow to white, purple, or pink. Taste is also a factor that is different based on the variety. Some are sweet, bitter while some are tasteless. The most widely consumed species in both tropical and subtropical parts of the world are the Indian yam (Dioscorea trifida) and winged or water yam (Dioscorea alata). The main species grown in West Africa are the guinea yam (Dioscorea rotundata) and yellow guinea yam (Dioscorea cayenensis). Lesser yams (Dioscorea esculenta) are mainly grown in Southern Vietnam, the Subcontinent of India, and the South Pacific Islands. In East Africa, the Chinese yam (Dioscorea polystachya) is widely grown and consumed and is also known as the cinnamon vine.

How Do You Start Yam Farming?

First is the land preparation

Land Preparation

Before planting a crop, land preparation is very important. This includes the removal of trees and clearing of unwanted vegetation for planting. The weeds removed will dry up eventually on the soil and subsequently serve as an organic manure for the soil. Usually, land preparation is advised to be done not too long into the rainy season. In Nigeria, some farmers plant in the dry season, between January and February. Such time is risky because the sun is at its peak and may dry out the yam sets due to high temperatures. Some people plant it immediately after the rain is stable which a good time to plant. The best time to plant yam is at the beginning of the rainy season.

Next is the preparation of ridges or heaps. 

Preparation of Ridges or Heaps

The best soil to plant yam is a loose, textured, and deep loamy soil rich in organic matter. Yams should be planted in a well-drained land and grows well in an upland field. The heaps should be made to be one meter apart and one meter high. It is a good spacing basically for yam plantation. While preparing the ridges, take note of the landscape if there are contours so you can create the ridges to prevent erosion.

Preparation of Yam Setts

Yam setts are small pieces of yam tuber. Setts are the yam seeds to be planted. Just like tail sett, middle sett, and heat sett that develops to yam tuber. It is important to prepare your yam setts properly. Pre-sprouting is advised to reduce weed impact on the growth of yam setts. Consider the size of each sett and treat them with ash or fungicide.

Planting of Yams

The main time for planting yam is usually between March and April which also depends on when the dormancy of the tuber is broken as specified by tuber sprouting in storage and towards the start of rain in a particular area. This is an indication that you should start the pre-sprouting process at least three weeks before the planting time.

Like I discussed earlier, there should be a distance of 1 meter between ridges. Also, you should plant the yams at the same distance apart and 10cm in depth. When planting in the dry season, the setts should be planted at 15cm depth if you are not mulching the field. You need around 20,000 to 27000 setts to plant on a hectare of farmland.

Ensure the setts are planted in a way to allow the sprouts to go up. To do this ensure the cut sett surface faces the ground.

Mulching Ridges

Mulching helps reduces soil temperature and prevent the impact of the sun on the soil. It suppresses weed growth and conserves soil moisture. Materials like rice straw, coconut fronds, and corn stalk among related items are used for mulching. Mulching also benefits the soil as it adds some nutrients to it while it decays.

Controlling Weeds

Weeding is needed at different rates and times depending on the use of mulch, use of pre-sprouted setts, and weed growth rate. When non-sprouted setts are used and it is not mulched, a maximum of three weeding times is required, till the yam canopy covers the row spacing which helps to suppress weed growth. But if pre-sprouted setts are used and it is mulched, only two weeding are required.

Weeding can be done using hand tools. There are other means of weeding like animal-powered tools but they are not recommended. They may damage yam vines.

Replanting (Replacement of Dead Yams)

Yam mortality does occur, and it is expected specifically when the non-sprouted setts of guinea yam are planted. Replanting takes place around 2 months after the planting date. You have to check hills that do not have sprouts to see if they are rotten then remove and replace them with new ones. If there are unsprouted setts, they should not be removed as they may grow later.

Staking Yam Vines

Every yam plant is staked with a stake length of 5-10 meters. The plants should be staked before vines start to crawl on the ground. Bamboo poles are the best staking material. Any other material that can support vines for seven months or more can be used as a stake.

Training Vines

Vine training simply means training them to climb their stakes instead of crawling on the ground. Vines are trained when they start to crawl on the ground and cross their rows. Training is done when weeding is about to be done.

Application of Fertilizer

The amount of fertilizer to be used depends on the size of the land. One hectare of water yam plantation requires around 128kg of nitrogen, 162kg of potassium, and 17kg of phosphorous. There are no details about the requirement of a white yam farm. However, its requirement should not be different from that of water yam.

The amount of fertilizer your farmland needs can be determined by soil analysis.


The harvest time usually begins from late November till February of the next year. Yams are harvested when their foliage starts to dry up or turn yellow. Harvesting takes place in different sets. The yams to be consumed and sent to the market are sometimes harvested early, even before the yellowing of the foliage. The ones meant to be used for setts in the next planting season are harvested in the latter part of the harvesting period.

For harvesting, hand tools like hoes are used to loosen the soil around the tuber to remove them. The depth of tuber in soil determines the tools to be used in harvesting. While harvesting the tubers, it is important to be careful to prevent injury on the yams as that may reduce the market value.

After harvesting, the tubers should be cleaned and placed in baskets or wooden containers. After harvesting you can take your produce to the market for sales.

Marketing Your Yam Produce

Sales is definitely necessary after harvesting your crops. Nobody want to venture into a business without making a reasonable profit.

To sell your produce, first, you have to locate your prospective market. You have the potential of selling at reasonable prices at populated cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Onitsha, etc. Some of these areas rarely produce yam in adequate or marketable quantities. Get some of your samples to your expected market. After making some enquiries on market competition you can decide to sell to retailers or direct consumers while considering the quality of your produce, your expenses and profit margin. Then you can decide what price is best for you.

As of 2018, a yam farmer in a village in Nassarawa state sold ₦2,500 tubers of yam at ₦280 each. As of the same period, four tubers of yam along Nassarawa highway, costs ₦1,200 to ₦2,000 or more which means it cost ₦300 to ₦400 each. Also, in a market in Abuja, the cost of four tubers was between ₦1,300 and ₦1,700 depending on the tuber sizes.

The market you decide to sell to can also determine your profit margin while considering other logistics expenses.

Yam farming is a lucrative business that can provide lots of return on Investment. The market is always available and this is an advantage of engaging in the business is.

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