Marketing & Business Profile : Yams (Dioscorea sp.)

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Yam, any of the several plant species of the genus Dioscorea (family Dioscoreae) is native to the warmer regions of both hemispheres. This thick, tropical vine tuber is popular in Africa, the West Indies, and parts of Asia, South and Central America . There are over 150 species of yams grown throughout the world.

In 2000, global yam production was approximately 37.5 million tons of which 96% was grown in Africa. Nigeria alone accounts for 70% of the world's production.

Yams can be very diversified in its uses, however it is mostly consumed in the cooked state. In West Africa it is often pounded into a thick paste after boiling and is eaten with soup.

Why invest in YAM?

  • Ready market
  • High demand on the local and export markets
  • Marketing and production information are readily available

Production issues

Yams are grown almost in every parish but the parishes that are responsible for over 70% of national production is Trelawny, Manchester, St. Ann and Clarendon. Yams can be grown in almost any soil type but does best on soils that are loamy to moderately clayey. Yams are mainly grown in the traditional method using hills and sticks but Mini-sett technology was introduced which use smaller heads grown on mounds and a trellis system.

The investment

The initial investment can be high and is dependent on the time of year that the procurement of planting material is done. Planting material are generally sold at the same price as the tuber for consumption and so, during the period when yam prices are highest, the price for the planting material is also at its highest.

The most economical acreage for investment by small farmers is one (1) hectare at a cost of approximately $636,000 for a new entrant farmer producing yams by the traditional method. The average yield is approximately 17,000 kg / hectare with an average cost of production of $38.00 / kg

Market Potential

The demand by both the export and local markets is excellent, however what is not known is the true size of this combined market.

Local Market

The preferred yam for this market is the Yellow yam followed by Sweet and Negro. Renta, St. Vincent , Yampie and Tau yam are some of the other varieties that are in demand by the local market though not in large quantities. Information from the Data Bank & Evaluation Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and STATIN suggests that approximately 90% of the yam produced are consumed by the local market.

Export Market

The variety of yams being exported in large quantities are Yellow, Negro and Sweet yam. The major export markets in order of size are USA , UK , and Canada . According to some exporters, there is great potential for growth in this market, but the major limiting factors are the high uncompetitive prices and the fluctuation in supply.

Table 1. Export data for Yam (2000 - 2004)*







Volume (kg)






Value ($)






Source - Jamaica Exporters Association

Market Prices

The price paid by the export and local markets over the past few years are somewhat similar. However, prices affected by the demand and supply situation. The best price is paid during the period from July - September when the supply is lowest. The average farm gate price for the last five (5) years is $66.00 / kg.

Market Requirements

This is dependent on the market into which the yams are going. For the export market, the tubers should be free from cracks and bruises, without many toes, mature, free from any pests and chemical residue.

Size of tubers varies with the market as larger tubers are preferred by the UK market and smaller ones by the US market.

The size designated by weight varies between 0.5 - 3.0 kg. These yams are packaged in coir dust in 13.6 - 20 kg carton boxes.

If travelling by sea freight, the shipment is refrigerated at a temperature of 12 - 13 degrees C as lower temperatures result in chilling injury and higher temperatures cause sprouting.

For further information, contact the nearest RADA office or the Marketing officers at: