Weed Plants back on Dinner Plates
The indigenous leafy vegetables once
considered weeds have made it to the center-of-the-plate at dinner tables
because more and more people have become aware of their medicinal value and
high nutritional content. For example, Amaranthus has 13 times more iron and 57
times more Vitamin A than cabbages.
In Kenya we have more than 210 species of indigenous vegetables but only 4 or five are available in the market. Traditionally these African Indigenous vegetables grew in the wild and rural communities often retreated in the bush and emerge with a bunch especially when someone was sick. For instance spider plant has been reported to relieve constipation and help during childbirth while African nightshade is said to cure stomachache.
Change of dietary habits among the urban population has seen increased demand for indigenous vegetables such as black night shade (manage), Amaranthus (terere), spider plant (sargeti), Cowpea leaves (kunde), Jute (mrenda), pumpkin leaves, crotolaria (mitoo) among others.
These African leafy vegetables are becoming a preferred choice and their prices in the markets are going up compared to their exotic counterparts. A bunch of terere in the supermarket is going for Kes27 compared to kales at Kes20.
Research has shown that African Leafy vegetables have high nutritive value and consumers go for their taste as well. These leafy vegetables satisfy the ‘hidden hunger’, which is the certain essential trace minerals the human body require These are vitamins such as b-carotene and ascorbic acid. These ‘weeds’ are high in Calcium, Iron and Phosphorus. On average 100g of fresh vegetables contain levels of Calcium, Iron and Vitamins that would provide 100% of the daily requirements and 40% for the proteins.
Farmers interested in satisfying the growing urban population’s demand for African leafy vegetables must take collective action by pulling together their resources to satisfy the consumer taste and preferences.
Farmers can achieve this by forming groups that focus on the production of these valuable vegetables. Together they can bear the production and transportation cost as well market together allowing them to sell directly to retailer at higher prices.
Buyers are looking for well packaged bunches harvested before flowering or seeding, fresh, clean, neat, not attacked by pests, 12-18 inches long and of standard quantity (mostly 600g).
Indigenous vegetables are well adapted to harsh climatic conditions and diseases compared to their exotic counterparts.
The advantage of growing these vegetables is that they have a short growth period with most of them ready for harvest in 3-4 weeks. They also respond very well to organic fertilizers.
A major hindrance to sustainable production of indigenous vegetables has been the availability of quality seed. However, this is no longer a challenge as seeds are now commercially available in Agrovets around the country.