Indigenous African vegetables can contribute to food security

Indigenous vegetables

Several reasons are advanced for the neglect of these commodities despite their higher nutrients content compared to the conventional. They are also known to be well adapted to the climatic and natural resource condition of the native environment. They play a leading role in the socio-cultural life of the people. Bringing these commodities to the fore through improved research and innovation attention is thought to be the way to ensure their contribution to food and nutritional security. This is most important in Africa where hunger and malnutrition has attained a threshold for great attention.

The South African government has embarked on various efforts to increase the ability of women and children living in rural areas to meet their minimum daily requirements for adequate nutrition. Health workers often advise people in rural areas to increase vegetable consumption, but many people cannot afford to buy commercial vegetables, or the inputs required to grow their own vegetables. Whereas the role of wild leafy vegetables in food security is recognised in other African countries, their use in South Africa has diminished and consumption is associated with poverty and low self-esteem among rural people. Despite the abundance of wild indigenous vegetables and their beneficial nutritional value, these vegetables are marginalized in current agricultural research, though few studies and publications are available on the agronomic optimization, and improvement for these crop species.

The South African government encourages the people to make extensive use of this natural resource to improve health and food security. To address this problem, the ARC established the Indigenous Food Crops Program to develop selected indigenous food species into commercial crops. The most important research and development areas currently requiring attention in the ARC is developing new cultivars, modern agronomic practices to enhance the production of these crops, developing improved propagation material, develop and optimize processing, and value adding research activities.

Underutilized African vegetable commodities refer collectively to all vegetable crops (leafy, fruit, root, and tuber) that form part of the traditional African diet. Indigenous vegetables include amaranth, cowpea, Bambara groundnut, okra, cleome, corchorus, nightshade, and amadumbe and others. Crops that are collected from the wild and as “weeds’ in-cultivated fields, grown on small-scale, less researched and underutilized, characterize the indigenous crop sector. Indigenous African vegetable species are highly nutritious and can contribute significantly to food, nutritional, health and income security. The research includes all aspects of the full indigenous African vegetable value chain and include activities on collection, conservation, pre breeding, cultivation practices, water use efficiency, commercialization, and development of enterprises.

The indigenous African vegetable crops often excel in terms of environmental adaptability (abiotic and biotic factors), have low input requirements, and fit to specific cropping systems, readily producing seed and convenient harvest and traditional post-harvest technologies. Many of them provide excellent sources of nutrients and vitamins to alleviate hidden hunger of micronutrient malnutrition. These crops also boost the body immune system towards fighting against the current pandemic, COVID-19.

The consideration of indigenous crops as healthy food provides additional advantage for mainstreaming them as economically and socially important commodities in the South Africa. Local and foreign marketing of these crops could assist in terms of linking small-scale farmers with traders and growing urban markets, which provides income generation opportunity at global level.The full article is for subscribed members only. To view the full article please subscribe. It’s FREE!Log In Register


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