The Climbing Yam

On Saturday, March 19, the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity launched the new Climbing Yam Presidium in the village of Lubongo, in Uganda’s Bukunja region. The climbing yam, known as balugu, has long vines, dozens of meters long, and spiny branches which collect water and allow the plant to survive dry periods. Over time, balugu cultivation was gradually abandoned in favor of more productive plants like matoke (cooking bananas), manioc, sweet potatoes and corn. But balugu—rich in vitamins, potassium, fiber and manganese—is still the main ingredient in many traditional recipes. 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.

Edie Mukiibi, the vice-president of Slow Food and the Slow Food Executive Committee’s Africa representative, said: “It’s important to support producers’ efforts to preserve the traditional varieties of climbing yams, especially in Bukunja where yams traditionally play a very important food security and sovereignty role.”

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) and the Slow Food Youth Network (SFYN) Uganda.

The Presidium involves 50 producers—with more than half under 35—and was started to support the work of these young people to safeguard local biodiversity. The aim is to promote and market their products locally, at the Mukono-Wakiso Earth Market and through the Slow Food network in Uganda.

The Presidium producers grow balugu alongside other crops (various vegetables, coffee, bananas, matoke, etc.) and also raise livestock (local breeds of chickens, pigs), with a constant focus on protecting the landscape and the environment.

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