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Integration of horticultural practices in the production of yam bean as an economic food alternative

Por: Marco Antonio Molina Castro, MATS-ZAMORANO. Hugo Ramirez, Ph.D;  Profesor asociado de Horticultura, Jefe técnico de olericultura intensiva-extensiva de Zamorano.  Marten Sørensen, PhD; Profesor asociado del Departamento de Ciencias Vegetales y Ambientales en la Universidad de Copenhague.

Food Insecurity (FI) is defined as the condition that results from an uncertainty about access or a limited access to nutritionally adequate and socially acceptable foods (Anderson et al., 1990). Under this definition, levels of food insecurity worldwide have increased over the years, resulting in a negative impact that has  more than 820 million people still suffering from hunger today (FAO 2019). In the current context of Central American countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua, there is a high percentage of extreme poverty, mainly in the rural sector, which results in  limitations to satisfying the basic food needs of these people, increasing the severity of FI in these sectors. This is reflected in 20% chronic malnutrition for both countries, as a result of the low quality of life of the people (CEPAL 2002; FAO 2013).

Mankind has made use of more than a thousand species of plants for a multitude of purposes. However, only about 100 of these species have been used and developed as important crops for human nutrition (Hill et al., 1998). In tropical countries, crops that have high levels of carbohydrates but lack other important nutritional qualities including protein are produced for human consumption. These crops include- for example – potatoes, cassava and sweet potatoes (Padonou et al., 2013). In this way, many plant species that are suitable for food around the world are neglected and underutilized. One of the plants that has been underutilized is the yam bean [Pachyrhizus erosus L. (Urb.1905)]. Yam bean is a legume grown in Mexico and Central America.  Evidence that the yam bean originated here is supported by archaeological evidence that yam bean was cultivated by civilizations such as the Aztecs and the Mayans centuries ago (Sorensen 1994).

Despite the fact that this crop has its origins in Central America, little is known about it in the region and its producers do not manage the crop in a way that allows it to achieve its production potential. The high protein and carbohydrate values ​​of this crop make it possible to position it as a new nutritional alternative for human consumption (Sorensen 1996). Similarly, the yam bean offers an opportunity to enhance the economic development of its producers as an alternative income, in addition to innovating in the development of products derived from yam bean. The production of flour, cosmetics and natural insecticides based on the cultivation of yam bean are among the main alternatives that have provided economic income around the world (Duke 1981; Ratu 2020; Rizky et al., 2013; Buckman 2017).

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Research to develop cultivation of yam bean in Central America.

The production potential and quality of the yam bean crop can vary according to how it is managed agronomically. As such, the need to soundly produce this crop is essential in order for it to be considered as an alternative that is accepted by future producers. The lack of recent information and material around producing this crop necessitates conducting research on its production, horticultural management, diversity of uses (industrial, commercial, other uses), market and export (Domínguez and Jacobo 2008). As a result of this need, through Zamorano´s Sustainable Tropical Agriculture Master Program (MATS), research is being carried out to develop the cultivation of the yam bean as an economic, socially-acceptable, functional food alternative by introducing commercial and horticultural cultivators together with leading producers in Honduras. The research will be exploratory in scope, taking into consideration aspects such as the minimal outdated information available regarding cultivation in Central American countries. An experimental plot has been established as a preliminary test at Zamorano University.

The treatments that are evaluated consist of cultivating with vegetative pruning and pinching; cultivating with flower pruning; cultivating with pinching pruning + flower pruning; and cultivating without pruning. The pinching type prunings that are carried out consist of cutting the apical area of ​​the yam bean plant on a precise date. In the same way, floral pruning consists of removing the flowers of the plant in different stages of the crop to evaluate differences in productivity. These treatments were established with the objective of evaluating flowering stages and the effect of pruning on the crop.

The preliminary trial has allowed us to learn about the cultivation and its development for this area, providing a guideline to follow when establishing and managing the main yam bean trial. Two trials are currently being evaluated in the field. One corresponding to different planting densities in yam bean, and the second corresponding to pruning frequency. In both trials the introduction of good horticultural practices for the production of yam bean is carried out (cultivators, high densities, transplant, vegetative and reproductive pruning, tutored, organic and mineral ferti-irrigation, and others).The field experiment phase also involves aspects related to market research, culinary research, acceptance by producers and everything that allows collecting the greatest amount of information in relation to social, economic and environmental issues for the introduction of yam bean as a horticultural crop.

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The results expected from this research will provide the opportunity to establish a benchmark with recent and specific findings in Honduras and Nicaragua, and will be of great use to future researchers of this crop. Although its cultivation comes from the Central American region, the lack of information and availability of material for its production has generated a deficit in the amount of research, limiting the number of recent and region-specific studies. However, there have been two major projects for this crop dating back more than 25 years. In 1985 the European scientific community “science and technology for developed countries” (STD) founded the project called “The Yam Bean Project” with the aim of examining the potential of this crop in agriculture. For its part, CATIE’s yam bean project in Costa Rica is one of those that generated most of the research related to the cultivation of this crop available today.

The research led by Zamorano through MATS will open the door for the development of new research that will promote and boost the production and consumption of yam bean in Honduras and Nicaragua. Currently, Mexico is the leading country in the production of yam bean, and the consumption of this crop is highly accepted by the country’s inhabitants. This can be replicated in Central American countries through positive results and appropriate promotional strategies. The multiplication of seeds derived from this research will guarantee its availability for producers interested in growing yam bean. The production of the crop in large quantities will offer a nutritional food alternative and a new source of income, because the cost-benefit ratio makes it a very profitable product.

he yam bean and have it classified as a vegetable. The goal will be to demonstrate that, by applying good horticultural practices throughout the process, including pruning, tutoring, hilling, ferti-irrigation among others, the potential of the crop in terms of yield and quality can be maximized.


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