By RALPH LAUREN ABAINZA
Purple yam, locally known as ube, is a staple crop in the Philippines. From halo-halo to ube jam, the tuberous root vegetable is one of the most popular ingredients in Filipino desserts and pastries. This purple variety of yam is considered one of the most sought after crops in the country due to its high demand in food processing. However, the local industry faces some challenges that prevent it from unleashing its full potential.
During the two-day Usapang Agribiz: Purple Yam Forum spearheaded by the Department of Agriculture-Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Service (DA-AMAS) last October 18-19, 2022, experts shared the challenges and opportunities in local purple yam production.
Dr. Anabella Tulin, a professor at Visayas State University (VSU) and a member of the Philippine Root Crop Research and Training Center (PhilRootcrops), described the purple yam as one of the 150 popular species of the genus Dioscorea cultivated for food. Despite it being an in-demand agricultural commodity, the local industry still cannot take advantage of it because of several limitations, such as the single-harvest period per year, uneven quality of produced crops, and lack of farmer-to-market opportunities.
There are already government-led programs to help the local farmers improve the quality of their crops. Dr. Tulin shared that there are available biofortification methods, which are techniques of adding nutritional quality to food crops to increase the economic viability of the locally-grown purple yams. Her team is also currently evaluating the effectiveness of cultivated beneficial microorganisms to improve the productivity and health of local purple yams.
For those who would like to start farming purple yam, Gia Butones, an agriculturist from the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), shared that the BPI is already producing yam through tissue culture technology. This method involves taking nodes from healthy purple yams and cultivating them in specially formulated fluids inside a laboratory. The BPI currently generates about 500-800 yam seedlings which can be distributed for free to the public. This innovation helps in maintaining the availability of quality planting materials year-round, instead of waiting for the harvest period once a year.
In another presentation, Meliza Abeleda, Assistant Director of the Socio-Economics Research Division of the Department of Science and Technology Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST PCAARRD), shared that the DOST PCAARRD currently has the National Agri-Aqua Technology Business Incubation Program to establish and develop viable agribusinesses through technology incubation and acceleration.
She shared that this readily-available opportunity is already gaining ground in other agricultural sectors, and purple yam farmers should take advantage of it to effectively commercialize their products through technology. She also cited a model project that they funded in Benguet that is using aeroponics for quality purple yam material production.
The webinar showcased that despite the challenges the local purple yam industry is facing, there are a lot of opportunities for growth with the help of government and private institutions.
For more information, you can watch the forum Day 1 and Day 2 through the Facebook page of DA-AMAS: