Consumers and producers of African indigenous vegetables, commonly known as mboga za kienyeji, have a reason to smile following release of nine varieties by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) in July 2016. It is the first time the agricultural inputs and produce quality regulator is releasing pure seeds of indigenous vegetables to the Kenyan market.
The licenced vegetables are Night shade (Managu), Vine spinach (Nderma), Jute mallow (mrenda), and Spider plant (Sagaa).
Speaking on the release, Prof. Mary Abukutsa who has been licenced to commercialize the vegetable varieties said it was a huge milestone in the efforts to foster production and consumption of the indigenous crops.
Despite increasing demand for the commodities, Prof. Abukutsa said production has been hampered by lack of quality seeds.
Abukutsa who is a professor of horticulture at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology said the new varieties 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,’’ Abukutsa said.
While consumption of the local vegetables have suffered as result of concerted efforts to promote exotic brands like cabbages and Sukuma wiki, Prof. Abukutsa says that a number of Kenyans are turning to indigenous vegetables as a way of warding off lifestyle diseases.
Lydia Bwisa who turned to agribusiness when chanced upon the seeds said 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.
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.