Balugu Climbing Yam

Uganda

Vegetables and vegetable preserves

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Balugu Climbing Yam

The climbing yam, known locally as balugu, has been cultivated in Uganda for generations. Over time, Ugandan farmers have selected many different ecotypes; the best known are Kyetutumula and Luyiki. A wild climbing yam, known as kaama, also grows in the forest.
The yams are planted inside rectangular holes. Seed yams (as with potatoes, these are some of the tubers harvested during the previous season) are placed on top of soft soil and covered with a layer of dry grass, which protects them without preventing the shoots from growing. When the plant starts to sprout, the shoots are directed towards the trunk of the nearest tree, generally a Ficus natelensis, or omutuba in Luganda. They climb up the tree, reaching its crown before coming down again.
The vines of the climbing yam are in fact dozens of meters long, and the plant has spiny branches at the base. The spines collect water so the plant can survive dry periods. The climbing yam is grown together with various vegetables, like cabbage, pumpkin and beans (including the tiny local ntinamuti or nkolimbo), matoke (the typical cooking banana, a staple food in Uganda) and other banana varieties.
The yam becomes productive after nine months and its root, which can weigh as much as 80 to 100 kilos, is ready for harvest when the plant has dried out and lost all of its leaves. In order to extract it, the farmer digs down three meters deep, hoeing the soil around and underneath the root so that it can be pulled out without damaging it.
Over time, balugu cultivation has been gradually abandoned in favor of more productive crops like matoke, manioc, sweet potatoes and corn. However, balugu is still the main ingredient in many traditional Ugandan recipes: It can be sliced and served with banana leaves, eaten fresh or fried in rounds, boiled together with vegetables or ground into flour and porridge. Rich in vitamins, potassium, fiber and manganese, it is also used to cure skin rashes.
One reason for its importance is the fact it can be stored for four or five months, making it an important food resource during periods of drought.

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The climbing yam has been rediscovered and promoted by Hassan Kyeswa, a farmer who learned the cultivation technique from a village elder and then passed it on to many young farmers from the local community, members of the Bukunja Youth Farmers Association (BYFA).
The Presidium was started in 2016 to support the work these young people are doing to safeguard local biodiversity. There are 50 producers (10 women and 40 men), and more than half are under 35. They work together during all the production phases. They grow balugu alongside other crops (various vegetables, coffee, bananas, matoke, etc.) and also raise livestock (local breeds of chickens, pigs).
The Presidium helps the producers to promote and market their products lo- cally, at the Mukono-Wakiso Earth Market and through the Slow Food network in Uganda.

Production area
Lubongo village, Buikwe district, Bukunja region, Ngogewe county

Presidium supported by
Intesa Sanpaolo Fund for charitable, social and cultural donations
10 women and 40 men, joined in the Bukunja Youth Farmers Association
Presidium coordinator
Umar Kityo
Tel. +256 704600809, +256 779131224
kityoumar@gmail.com

Slow Food Presidium coordinator
Edie Mukiibi
tel. +256701646821
e.mukiibi@slowfood.it
The climbing yam has been rediscovered and promoted by Hassan Kyeswa, a farmer who learned the cultivation technique from a village elder and then passed it on to many young farmers from the local community, members of the Bukunja Youth Farmers Association (BYFA).
The Presidium was started in 2016 to support the work these young people are doing to safeguard local biodiversity. There are 50 producers (10 women and 40 men), and more than half are under 35. They work together during all the production phases. They grow balugu alongside other crops (various vegetables, coffee, bananas, matoke, etc.) and also raise livestock (local breeds of chickens, pigs).
The Presidium helps the producers to promote and market their products lo- cally, at the Mukono-Wakiso Earth Market and through the Slow Food network in Uganda.

Production area
Lubongo village, Buikwe district, Bukunja region, Ngogewe county

Presidium supported by
Intesa Sanpaolo Fund for charitable, social and cultural donations
10 women and 40 men, joined in the Bukunja Youth Farmers Association
Presidium coordinator
Umar Kityo
Tel. +256 704600809, +256 779131224
kityoumar@gmail.com

Slow Food Presidium coordinator
Edie Mukiibi
tel. +256701646821
e.mukiibi@slowfood.it