Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Grown Locally In Africa

Food & Agriculture

At The Market: Nature’s Rachel Cernansky writes; “Women in a Nairobi market sell African nightshade and other indigenous vegetables. Such plants have higher levels of many nutrients than are found in exotic crops such as kale and collard greens, which were brought to Africa by colonial powers and gained popularity because they were associated with high status.”
Photo Credit: Pete Muller/Prime for Nature
Source: Nature

An article, by Rachel Cernansky, in the science journal Nature looks at the increasing popularity and health and environmental benefits of vegetables grown locally in many places in Africa. This was not always the way that Africa’s indigenous vegetables were viewed by its inhabitants; now they are in demand.

Cernansky writes about Kenya in “The rise of Africa’s super vegetables” (June 9, 2015):
One lunchtime in early March, tables at Nairobi's K’Osewe restaurant are packed. The waiting staff run back and forth from the kitchen, bringing out steaming plates of deep-green African nightshade, vibrant amaranth stew and the sautéed leaves of cowpeas. The restaurant is known as the best place to come for a helping of Kenya’s traditional leafy green vegetables, which are increasingly showing up on menus across the city.
Just a few years ago, many of those plates would have been filled with staples such as collard greens or kale — which were introduced to Africa from Europe a little over a century ago. In Nairobi, indigenous vegetables were once sold almost exclusively at hard-to-find specialized markets; and although these plants have been favoured by some rural populations in Africa, they were largely ignored by seed companies and researchers, so they lagged behind commercial crops in terms of productivity and sometimes quality.
Now, indigenous vegetables are in vogue. They fill shelves at large supermarkets even in Nairobi, and seed companies are breeding more of the traditional varieties every year. Kenyan farmers increased the area planted with such greens by 25% between 2011 and 2013. As people throughout East Africa have recognized the vegetables’ benefits, demand for the crops has boomed.
This is welcome news for agricultural researchers and nutritional experts, who argue that indigenous vegetables have a host of desirable traits: many of them are richer in protein, vitamins, iron and other nutrients than popular non-native crops such as kale, and they are better able to endure droughts and pests. This makes the traditional varieties a potent weapon against dietary deficiencies. “In Africa, malnutrition is such a problem. We want to see indigenous vegetables play a role,” says Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, a horticultural researcher at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Juja, Kenya, who is a major proponent of the crops.
Scientists in Africa and elsewhere are now ramping up studies of indigenous vegetables to tap their health benefits and improve them through breeding experiments. The hope is that such efforts can make traditional varieties even more popular with farmers and consumers. But that carries its own risk: as indigenous vegetables become more widespread, researchers seeking faster-growing crops may inadvertently breed out disease resistance or some of the other beneficial traits that made these plants so desirable in the first place.
True; and this highlights one of the paradoxes of the modern age: to produce something good in greater quantities, through the use of modern technologies, can often lead to it possessing less-than-desirable nutritional qualities or traits. Even so, this is a good story coming out of Africa, a region where good stories have not been plentiful. (This does not suggest that many more good stories do not exist.)

Locally grown vegetables are beneficial on so many levels, including environmental and cultural, if not being more healthy and nutritious. There is a feeling of goodness from knowing that you acquired your vegetables from a food stand in your local area. Buy locally is more than an environmental motto, it is a good way of building and sustaining relationships with your local neighborhood.

For more, go to [Nature]