Tim McDonnell

Multimedia environmental journalist

Scientists Try To Break Nigeria's Cycle Of Replanting Bad Yams

A vital crop faces a crisis from an unlikely enemy: Its own genes. 

Ladi Adaikwu, right, and her business partner, Musa Ogbeba, run one of the few high-quality seed yam shops in central Nigeria. (Tim McDonnell)

Ladi Adaikwu, right, and her business partner, Musa Ogbeba, run one of the few high-quality seed yam shops in central Nigeria. (Tim McDonnell)

Ladi Adaikwu's top-shelf merchandise is hidden in a mud-brick shed in a warren of narrow alleyways in Angwan-Dodo, a farming village close to Nigeria's capital city Abuja. The steel door is secured with a heavy padlock, and when she opens it, a shaft of light cuts through the damp darkness to reveal what looks like a knee-high pile of narrow, dirt-encrusted footballs.

But don't be fooled by their humble appearance: These are high-quality yams, and around here they're as good as gold.

Adaikwu stoops to pick one up, and holds it under the light. "This one is just like a healthy child," she says. "If you plant it, it will grow directly."

Although this West African country is the world's biggest producer and consumer of yams, the ones inside Adaikwu's shed are special. They are "seed yams," meant to be planted, not eaten. Not only that, they're guaranteed to be disease-free, a trait that's increasingly hard to find here. While a typical seed yam might sell for the equivalent of 25 cents, these can go for nearly $10.

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