Consumers and producers of African indigenous vegetables in Kenya and beyond can access quality seeds of the vegetables from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) which is selling up to nine varieties since their release by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) in 2016.
Some of the licenced vegetables include Night shade (Managu), Vine spinach (Nderma), Jute mallow (mrenda), and Spider plant (Sagaa).
According to Prof. Mary Abukutsa of JKUAT who has been licenced to commercialize the vegetable varieties, despite increasing demand for the commodities, production used to be hampered by lack of quality seeds.
She says the varieties are loved by many consumers because they contain high levels of antioxidants; substances that reduces risk of heart diseases, Alzheimer’s, and certain types of cancer.
‘’Besides early maturity and resistance to drought and diseases, the vegetables are also highly nutritious. The quantities of valuable macronutrients such as iron, calcium, vitamins in the vegetables are higher compared to some of exotic vegetables,’’ said Abukutsa.
While consumption of the local vegetables have suffered as result of concerted efforts to promote exotic brands like cabbages and Sukuma wiki, the horticulture professor says that a number of Kenyans are turning to indigenous vegetables as a way of warding off lifestyle diseases.
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Photo caption: Prof. Abukutsa tends to Spider Palant at a demonstration farm at JKUAT.
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Lydia Bwisa is one farmer who has enjoyed growing the seeds since she got the chance to buy them in the year they were released. She only bought them to produce for her family consumption but they have turned her into an agribusiness player noting that she can barely satisfy the market.
‘’I first bought the seeds for personal consumption. Then the crops grew too and fast with little difficulties. It then I turned into commercial production. Now, I can’t meet the demand,’’ she quips.
Lydia says the seeds germinate well and uniformly. The high productivity and increasing demand for the local vegetables have enabled her to beat the competition from the conventional vegetables.
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Abukutsa’s research and advocacy spanning decades, has seen a number of African leafy vegetables gain entry into supermarkets and open markets in Kenya.
The commodities have for a long time been treated as weeds by many Kenyans; something that the researcher attributes to colonialism that placed premium on exotic species at the expense of Africa’s treasure flora treasure trove.
While the seeds are available at JKUAT, Prof. Abukutsa says the KEPHIS nod will make it possible for her to work with seed companies to commercialize the commodities for mass access and adoption.
JKUAT Horticulture Department can be reached on Email: firstname.lastname@example.org/ Tel: +254-06752711/Fax: +254 067 52446