In a paper presented on underutilised vegetables project in Nigeria during the Research to Feed Africa Symposium in Naivasha, Kenya, last month (23-27 June), the researchers note that research systems have failed to prioritise indigenous vegetable species despite their immense potential.
The researchers say they selected six underused indigenous vegetables— African nightshade, eggplant, scarlet eggplant, local celery, fluted pumpkin and local amaranth — based on their food values, consumer acceptability, marketing potential and amenability to agronomic practices.
“Women farmers can now take independent decisions on choice and size of land for cultivation; sources of credit; buying, quantity and application of fertilisers; when to irrigate; when to harvest and how much to sell the vegetables.”
Odunayo Clement Adebooye, Osun State University, Nigeria.
According to Odunayo Clement Adebooye, the project’s principal investigator and the director of research and linkages at Osun State University, Nigeria, the project which started in March 2011 and is to end in August this year involved 1,200 farmers in 22 cooperative groups in four southwestern states in Nigeria.
The farmers, 51 per cent of whom were women, were trained in how to grow and maintain the vegetables, including gender issues and savings education, says Adebooye.
Adebooye tells SciDev.Net that a radio programme on the project —‘Ramo Elefo’ (Ramo, the vegetable seller) — have reached four million listeners, thus creating awareness on production, utilisation and nutritional benefits of underutilised indigenous vegetables.
Adebooye notes that the awareness and gender training have empowered women’s access to resources: “Women farmers can now take independent decisions on choice and size of land for cultivation; sources of credit; buying, quantity and application of fertilisers; when to irrigate; when to harvest and how much to sell the vegetables”.
Farmers’ adoption of technologies such as seed bed preparation, seed treatment, botanical pest control and staking has led to improved productivity and economic returns, he adds. For example, farmers now realise maximum leaf yields of the vegetables unlike before the project when they had 50 per cent or less.
Each rural woman farmer on average earned US$1,994 a year, but with the improved yields, the income has increased to US$3,376 from the sale of indigenous vegetables, Adebooye explains.
The project was funded by the Canadian International Development Research Centre to enhance rural food security in Nigeria, according to the researchers.
Mary Oyiela Abukutsa-Onyango, the head of department of horticulture at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, agrees with the findings and says people often consider indigenous vegetables to be of limited importance mainly because they are not aware of their nutritive value.
“This is a clear misconception because the human body needs major minerals such as iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium as well as trace elements and vitamins essential for the health of the people, especially vitamins such as ascorbic acid, which the indigenous vegetables provide,” Abukutsa-Onyango asserts.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.