The simple way to fight malnutrition is by taking nutrient supplements - generally in the form of pills. The problem is that most of the malnourished
people are also poor. They can not afford to buy these supplements. African vegetables that are commonly eaten by rural people are highly nutritious,
rich in proteins, vitamins, minerals and energy. Eating these vegetables can supply the needed vitamins, proteins and minerals in their diet.
In addition to their nutritional importance, African vegetables have the potential to improve human health through their medicinal properties.
African vegetables are mostly broadleaf plants that grow in the wild, in crop fields, on wastelands, along the roads and many other places. Women are
the ones responsible for collecting and cooking them. However, today's working women no longer have the time to go into the wild and collect these
vegetables. Therefore, growing these vegetables in home gardens or buying them from the local market would save time and also ensure nutritious meals
for the families.
Unlike most common vegetables such as spinach or lettuce, native vegetables require less input such as fertilizers and pesticides. This makes them
healthier to eat and cheaper to produce. Poor farmers and women in rural areas can easily grow these vegetables. These vegetables could also be
suited for the growing organic vegetable market - both national and international. The Europeans and Americans are very much into organic
produce and African poor farmers can tap into this growing market.
A question that one may then ask is why are farmers not growing these vegetables in large quantities? In rural areas, there is a general
perception that African vegetables are for the poor and you may be looked down upon if you eat them. People rather buy and eat cabbage, which is less
nutritious than consume pigweed or black jack. Adoption of Western culture has a lot to do with this negative perception.
Research is underway at the Agricultural Research Council in South Africa to develop production practices for African vegetables. Though still in its
early stages, research is being conducted the amadumbi and cowpeas, amongst others, certain to result in some strong motivation for consuming
traditional African vegetables.
Dr Konani Liphadzi, ARC-Roodeplaat, Private Bag x293, Pretoria, South Africa, 0001
(Source: Dr Konani Liphadzi, Science in Africa - March 2006, homepage at http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/index.htm)