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Experts call for combined efforts to mobilise production, commercialisation and uptake of African indigenous vegetables

Some of the AIVs on display at the JKUAT stand

A display of some of the African indigenous vegetables during stakeholders conference at Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). Photo courtesy.

Kenyan professionals in the agriculture sector have called for rigorous efforts from stakeholders in sensitisation of communities about Africa Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs) and their commercialization for income generation and high nutritional benefits in the continent.

 This was reported during a two-day (July, 18-19) conference dubbed: ‘African Indigenous Vegetables: from Income Generation to Health and Nutrition’ at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).

The conference was centered on sharing experiences, scientific studies and lessons over a five-year period where AIVs were linked to nutrition and in support of small holder farmers as well as emerging entrepreneurs.

According to the Director, Crops Systems at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), Prof. Lusike Wasilwa, there is a huge need for bio diversity in Kenya, in terms of food variety with “2.5% of its citizens grappling with chronic food insecurity and poor nutrition which could be improved through the introduction of AIVs as available alternative.”

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While underscoring the need for strong partnerships that will be critical in alleviating malnutrition, Prof. Wasilwa said, “the government’s policy of provision of sufficient quantity and quality supplements that satisfy its citizens’ nutritional and optimal health” was a key driver propelling KALRO to search for suitable partners with the aim of increasing bio diversity in the country, hence increased utilization of AIVs.

Prof. Wasilwa said the success of AIVs was hinged on the promotion of knowledge that is easily accessible and available at the consumers’ convenience, and singled the KALRO App as an important tool in the dissemination of quality and up to date information on AIVs’ high nutritional benefits.

Speaking on “Research and Promotion of AIVs for Nutrition Security, Health and Sustainable Development,” Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research, Production and Extension at JKUAT, Prof Mary Abukutsa, said drumming up support for AIVs through “advocacy and promotion, oral media (poems, songs), exhibitions and media would be crucial in increasing the demand for the AIVs,” while educating the masses about the available options.

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Commercialization remains a major obstacle to the farmers’ quest to maximize on value from their input. However, Prof. Abukutsa said, once armed with relevant information, the farmers would also get to know the various ways they can value add their products through processes like drying, thus making tangible steps towards poverty reduction.

“Farmers should also get involved through groups which provide produce in bulk, thus increasing their bargaining power, invaluable in getting the best price for their input,” Prof. Abukutsa advised.

She also highlighted the need to ensure availability of seeds to the farmer, while linking farmers to the markets.

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Noting that one billion people in the world are malnourished, Prof. Abukutsa called for a change in people’s mindset towards AIVs, improvement of policies, prudent control measures to cut down on high post-harvest losses as essential avenues in increasing the available vegetable alternatives that could ensure accessibility of adequate high nutritional supplements crucial in addressing double malnutrition.

Over 12 institutions involved in agricultural based research on AIVs participated in the conference that was organized by Rutgers University and supported by United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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