Climbing yams have been cultivated in Uganda for generations. Over time, Ugandan farmers in the Bukunja region have selected many different varieties. The best known are the so-called balugu yams. “Balugu” refers to a number of varieties among which are kyetutumula, luyiki, nandigoya, and kisebe. Ndaggu is another species of yam, and kaama is a wild variety that grows in the forest.
The yams are planted inside rectangular holes. Seed yams (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 plants start to sprout, the shoots are directed toward the trunk of the nearest tree, generally a Ficus natelensis, known as omutuba in Luganda. They yam vines climb up the tree, reaching its crown before coming down again.
The vines of climbing yams are in fact dozens of meters long, and the plants have spiny branches at the base. The spines collect water so the plants can survive dry periods. Climbing yams are grown together with various vegetables such as cabbage, pumpkin, beans (including the tiny local varieties ntinamuti and nkolimbo), matooke (the typical cooking banana, a staple food in Uganda), and other banana varieties.
Climbing yams become productive after nine months and the tubers vary greatly in size, from less than 5 kilograms up to 80-100 kg for the kyetutumula variety. The yams are ready for harvest when the plants have dried out and lost all of their leaves. In order to extract the yams, the farmer digs down three meters deep, hoeing the soil around and underneath the tubers so that they can be pulled out without being damaged.
Over time, climbing yams have gradually been abandoned in favor of more productive crops like matooke, manioc, sweet potato, and corn. However, they are still the main ingredient in many traditional Ugandan recipes: Yams can be sliced and served with banana leaves, eaten fresh or fried in rounds, boiled together with vegetables, or ground into flour for baking cakes and making porridge. Rich in vitamins, potassium, fiber, and manganese, they are also used to cure skin rashes.
One of the most important characteristics of climbing yams is that they can be stored for 4 to 5 months, making them a valuable food resource especially during periods of drought.
The Presidium started in 2016 to support the work these young people are doing to safeguard local biodiversity. There are 40 producers (10 women and 30 men), more than half of whom are under 35. They work together during all phases of production and grow different varieties of climbing yams alongside other crops (various vegetables, coffee, bananas, matooke, etc.). They also raise local chicken breeds and pigs.
The Presidium helps producers to promote and market their products locally, at the Mukono-Wakiso Earth Market and through the Slow Food network in Uganda.
Lubongo village, Ngogwe municipality, Bukunja region, Buikwe District
Presidium supported by
Intesa Sanpaolo Fund for charitable, social and cultural donations
Tel. +256 704600809, +256 779131224
Tel. +256 703962923
Slow Food coordinator
Tel. +256 777 535575
Slow Food Uganda office
Josephine House, Plot 218, Kayunga Road, Mukono – P.O.Box 259, Mukono
Tel. +256 200906662, +256 392178204