Dr Daniel Adewale, 47, is the world’s African yam bean expert. As he eats his lunch at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), which is hosting the African Plant Breeding Academy, he remembers his mother. “The ones my mother cooked used to take four hours. Burning kerosene for that long is too much for a farmer.”
The hard seed coat is one characteristic that he wants to breed out. The other is the anti-nutritional factors (ANF) in the grains. The ANF, such as flavonoids and phytates, reduce the beans’ digestibility, swelling bellies and causing flatulence, especially when they are not well cooked. “To break the hardness of the coat and reduce the ANFs will make African yam beans more acceptable,” he explains.
African yam bean (Sphenostylis stenocarpa) is a legume that is indigenous to Africa and widely eaten. It is an “orphan crop”, highly nutritious and culturally resonant, but undervalued by policy makers. Little data information exists on how many people consume it. Like many neglected plant species, the African yam bean has also been little researched, except, of course, by Dr. Adewale.