Improving nutrition with African indigenous vegetables

Improving Nutrition and Income of Smallholder Farmers in Eastern Africa Using a Market Driven Approach to Enhance Value Chain Production of African Indigenous Vegetables

This ground-breaking project has been ongoing in Zambia (as well as Kenya) for several years and has seen the domestication and propagation for nutrition and profit of naturally occurring African indigenous vegetables. The project has utilised these vegetables as economic vehicle to improve the lives of rural people, particularly women in the region and it has helped countless farmers to improve the health and nutrition of themselves and their families. Professor Jim Simons, Distinguished Professor of Plant Biology at the Rutgers Sensory Sciences and Innovation Centre, Rutgers University, New Jersey and AgriSmart Zambia board member is at the helm of this project and works closely in co-operation with AgriSmart Zambia in the implementation of the project. The funders of this project are USAID and the funding is diverted from UC Davis to Rutgers University to implement by AgriSmart Zambia.

Indigenous vegetables have always grown wild and are foraged when they are in season and consequently they appear and disappear on local markets according to the seasons. Professor Simons explains that the project was initiated as a result of work pioneered by Steve Weller of Purdue University, who had started working with indigenous traditional vegetables in Western Kenya. After some market research was undertaken amongst communities in the region it became clear that these vegetables were very popular and that there would be good market demand for them year-round if they were available. It was also shown that the most popular of these are Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum) known locally as Managu, Spider Plant (Gynandropis gynandra) known locally as Saga, Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) known locally as Bondwe or Dodo and Cowpea Leaves (Vigna unguiculata) known locally as Kunde and consequently these were the three vegetables that the project focussed on initially, although vegetables vary within countries based upon market demand and nutritional benefits.

Once considered famine foods or weeds by some, these vegetables were mostly foraged and available in the market during the rainy season. Farmers who enjoyed eating now realized that with proper technologies they can grow these African indigenous vegetable crops on a 12-month basis.

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