Farming corporation to increase kuga-imo yam production

Farming corporation to increase <em>kuga-imo</em> yam production

Kazuo Asato, director of the Ryukyu Eco Project, explains the plan to increase production of kuga-imo in Nakijin.

March 28, 2013 Maki Nagamine of Ryukyu Shimpo

The Ryukyu Eco Project, a farming corporation in Nago, is increasing its production of the lesser yam, which is called kuga-imo in the Okinawan dialect. The yam is rich in nutrition, but because of the difficulty in harvesting and distributing it its annual production volume in the prefecture is less than ten tons. This tropical plant has been eaten for more than a thousand years only in Okinawa. In its first year of production, the farming corporation will produce more than 10 tons in about 10000 square meters of the agricultural land that they own in Nakijin. The corporation is marketing the kuga-imo as a brand product, making processed goods with the yam. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is promoting the sixth industry approach in which people engaged in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries take part in processing goods and distribution.

Kuga means egg in the Okinawan dialect. The lesser yam was named as such from the fact that it is similar to an egg in shape. Some research results suggest that kuga-imo contains about 200 times the amount of diosgenin than other varieties of yams, which helps recovery from fatigue and mitigates the debilitating effects of the summer heat. However, there are few growers of the lesser yam, because it has small thorn vine roots, which makes it hard to harvest. What is worse is that is difficult to distribute, because it spoils easily if it is scratched. From last December, the company has purchased about 300 kilograms of seed tubers from individual farmers and greengrocers in Okinawa. They will plant the seeds in early April and will harvest the crop from December to next February. They plan to use about one ton of the first-year production as seed tubers for the following fiscal year to expand the production volume each year.

The Ryukyu Eco Project is currently arranging the supply system for its products. At the same time, it is working on creating sweets in collaboration with the Ryukyu Dolce Terrace, a Tomigusuku based shop that manufactures and sells confectionery utilizing Okinawan materials and ingredients. It plans to build a processing facility in Nakijin, with a retail store to promote to sell the products.

Kazuo Asato, director of the farming corporation, said, “We want to compete as products grown only in Okinawa, looking for a way to differentiate ourselves from other prefectures. We have to revive our traditional farm products to become a kuga-imo-producing region. We intend to sell our products outside the prefecture and to foreign countries.”

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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