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Solving Kenya’s Food Crisis, One Indigenous Crop at a Time

By Jeanne Roberts

Sep 2, 2009

But Abukutsa-Onyango is not promoting indigenous crops at the expense of all crops. Instead, she sees a future food landscape where Kenya’s cool, moist highlands continue to produce Westernized crops for export (and to supplement Kenyan diets), while the lowlands produce better yields of indigenous bambara nuts, for example, or amaranth, spider plant and pigeon pea, without irrigation and in spite of less fertile soils.

“For example, grain amaranth has high protein content, in the range of 10-15 percent, so it is definitely more nutritious than traditional maize. My recommendation here would be to grow the hardy sorghums and millets in combination with other short-lived grains like amaranths and traditional maize.”

It’s a scenario that would benefit both Kenyan prosperity and the health of Kenya’s inhabitants, since the indigenous crops have been shown to contain more than 100 percent of the recommended daily allowances of vitamins and micro-nutrients. This leads to greater dietary and nutritional diversity, which is especially important to growing children and pregnant women.

Many African indigenous vegetables also have medicinal properties. Spider plant is known to help constipation, as well as facilitating birth. Nightshades have been used for centuries to cure stomachache, and Colocasia esculenta, or Elephant Ear (also known as taro root), has been used to treat rapid heartbeat.

There are undoubtedly many more, but their medicinal use has been largely forgotten as Westernized medicine replaced native lore.

Perhaps an added benefit of indigenous cropping would be the rediscovery of natural medicines. Even if this fails to happen, though, Abukutsa-Onyango’s work represents not only a uniquely valuable African (and Kenyan) perspective, but also a global trend toward “homegrown” food and an increasing realization that traditional growing methods – like the Native American (of corn, beans and squash) – are not only more sustainable, but essential to food security in a warming world.

Her final words of wisdom represent an arrow in time, pointing to a future in harmony with the cycles of Nature rather than an attempt to control it. In fact, her prescription may be the only viable solution:

“I believe we cannot talk about meeting millennium development goals pertaining to food and nutrition security and poverty and health issues without the complementary use of African indigenous foods like indigenous vegetables.”


See also:

Africa's Agriculture Vulnerable to Breakdown Under Climate Change

Scientists Search for Carbon Solutions in Amazonia's 'Black Earth'

As Global Warming Makes Crops Impossible, a Shift to Camels

Land Use Offers Valuable Solutions for Protecting the Climate

Biofuels Watch: African Land-Grab Deals Questioned

(Photos: NAFIS, IRIN)


I am an apiculture farmer in

I am an apiculture farmer in Machakos. i find this very educative and think it is an important health and economic geared venture.  i find it veery important to plant these veges for my bees since they seem to offer the bees best food for the fact that they flower all the time unlike the common food from the acacia trees which flower seasonally. I think there is a strong connection between the indegenous veges and the honey bees. I wish to welcome any willing persons and party to an apiary am setting at K.K Ranch which is adjacent to Makutano junction ( Mombasa - Machakos junction).

MAJORITY of the people living in this area don't know the vale of these veges. i would be glad to know both the botanical against the local names.

Since i want to produce organic honey i find it neccessary to go for these cropes since they are highly resistant to pests and diseases and require no fertilizers. Madam Marey has done me proud!




Indigenous vegatables

Thank you Proffesor because the topic is very encouraging to most of us who have that interest in indigenous vegetables. Being a resident of Juja, from from the experience I have, the climate is very poor, just to mention like for the last four years we have been having very low rainfalls that could not have sustained cultivation of crops such as maize or even beans I have been trying cowpeas vigna unguiculatta) and it has been responding very well. Amaranthus also has been doing very well. I have also noted that the cowpea plant can be harvested several time before its final senesence. Bravo Prof as we look forward for more encouragement and we do promise to desiminate this information to the local communities

Thanks to Prof. Abukutsa Mary

Gratitude to Prof. Abukutsa for her efforts in research on African Leafy Vegetables (ALVs). Really, the African environment has probably been the least explored in terms of available untapped resources. If not for Prof's efforts which have imparted a lot to the institutions, organizations and communities, the ALVs will be extinct and the result will be loss of this biodiversity and under utilization of these readily available resources. Then poverty and malnutrition problems.

Her efforts to identify the obstacles and then create methods of overcoming them has been evidenced by seed production, support systems for ALVs and collection, evaluation and multiplication of germplasm in Kenya.

We should therefore join hands with her to support and encourage the suffering humanity to explore the precious assets of ALVs and increase their rational exploitation in traditional medicine.
Thanks Prof. and be blessed.

Thanks Kenneth Odero. Your

Thanks Kenneth Odero. Your comments are very encouraging, but all of us have to join hands and solve Africa problems using home grown solutions using the competetive advantage the African continent has.Each one of us to play our apart in our own ways
Thanks again United we stand and divided we fall

Excellent piece on adaptaton

Professor Mary Abukutsa-Onyango's work on indigenous vegetables is commendable and very relevant to the climate risk Kenyans and other Africans face. At Climate XL we believe that indigenous people have continually taught the world small but powerful lessons; how to live in harmony with nature.

What they mimicked from nature (i.e., biomimicry, now considered cutting-edge area of science), they have given back to nature. But alas, visitors from far and beyond came and, in ignorance (but most of the time sheer arrogance) rebuked the indigenous people for not being 'scientific-minded', unsophisticted, or even unambitious and lazy!

The truth is that indigenous people invented science, biodiversity, sustainable management of resources, and all other good things we all want to be associated with today. The evidence is their historically minimal greenhouse gas emissions! The rest of us only systematized (or grave structure) to the science practiced by indigenous people for years. In return, we rewarded then with biopiracy.

It is therefore very refreshing to see humble scientists like Abukutsa-Onyango recognizing the importance of indigenous plants. And for doing the right thing, kudos Mary!

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