“Wild Leafy Vegetables providing improved nutritional health”
In sub Saharan Africa, agricultural output has been trailing population growth for the last three decades. Whilst the region has 10% of the world’s population, it is also home to close to two-thirds of all people living with HIV and some 90% of all new cases of malaria. The ability to fight off such opportunistic diseases has been reduced due to a severe micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) deficiency, so critical to a healthy immune system.
Vegetable and fruit consumption per capita in sub Saharan Africa is one of the lowest in the world and is further declining – with only 29 kg as opposed to a world average of 75kg consumed per person per year. Some two thirds of the population has a mineral and vitamin deficiency especially in iron, zinc, selenium and Vitamin A. An estimated 42.2% of children are at risk of Vitamin A deficiency.
A predominant reliance on introduced exotic species such as maize, cabbage and kale – that provide negligible vitamins, nutrients and protein – is the root cause. Whilst Kenya has a remarkable diversity of indigenous foods that are naturally vitamin and mineral rich, they have been forsaken for these introduced exotic species.
Most African leafy vegetables are just common weeds of cultivation that occur during rainy seasons and shortly after, most of them can be easily found growing in degraded land and built-up areas, along rivers, roadsides and forest edges. African leafy vegetables have evolved over the years to deal with relatively harsh tropical and subtropical weather conditions, pests and diseases. These adaptations make them unique and therefore easier to propagate and manage.
Wild Living Resources is focusing on ten different variety of leafy vegetable to provide an example of which species are relatively easy to grow and/or wild harvest, and that are suited to low rainfall and marginal lands. We then train and build the capacity of communities in wild harvesting, propagation and processing so that greater food and livelihood security can be achieved.
Wild Living Resources purchases these highly nutritious leafy vegetables from trained outgrower farmer groups, solar dries, processes and packs for sale into schools feeding and famine relief programmes. They are the perfect addition to a child’s daily diet of ugali or uji mix and can assist in increasing the nutritional content of a meal.
Through buying leafy vegetables from its partner farmers Wild Living Resources is providing an alternative livelihood for the most rural communities of the coastal region. Furthermore, conservation of the land is being achieved in sustainably harvesting these wild leaves, giving them a value and so preventing further slash and burn clearing and subsequent poor soil conditions which is increasingly leading to further deterioration of the farming productivity of the land.