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Harper researchers encourage developing new crops from traditional East African plants to improve food security in Kenya

Posted 5 October

“These plants are commonly grown and eaten in the East of Kenya, but in the productive land in the central region around Mount Kenya, are overlooked as nothing but weeds. They are a great source of nutrition that can be harvested and used to help reduce food shortages; they also taste good!”

Vegetables in the field with Mt Kenya in the background

Vegetables in the field with Mt Kenya in the background

In Kenya, over 10 million people suffer from chronic food insecurity and poor nutrition impacting personally and also on national GDP. Indigenous leafy vegetables, traditionally grown in the East of Kenya, could help reduce food and nutritional shortages if they were grown more widely and integrated into current production systems.

To help encourage take-up of this concept, two Harper Adams University researchers have led a workshop for UK and Kenyan early career researchers at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology (DeKUT) in Kenya.

Readers Dr Jim Monaghan and Dr Louise Manning’s workshop focussed on improving food security and more specifically unlocking the potential for indigenous leafy vegetables to supply an important source of nutrients and also improved income and livelihoods for local producers.

Indigenous leafy vegetables discussed include species such as African nightshade (Solanum scabrum), spiderplant (Cleome gynandra), amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) and Ethiopian kale (Brassica carinata).

Research shows that these plants are resilient to environmental stresses such as drought. They are good sources of nutrients and phytochemicals when cooked and can be processed into new products suited for the growing urban populations of the large cities in East Africa such as Nairobi and Kampala while also providing sustenance for rural populations during the dry season.

The workshop brought six experienced researchers together with 20 early career researchers from the UK and Kenya to consider the barriers and opportunities for producing, processing and marketing new foods from indigenous leafy vegetables.

The meeting was hosted by Dr Eddy Owaga (DeKUT) and led to the formation of the UK-Kenya African Indigenous Vegetables Research Network which will continue to develop links between researchers in both countries and will be coordinated by Dr Monaghan.

Dr Monaghan said: “These plants are commonly grown and eaten in the East of Kenya, but in the productive land in the central region around Mount Kenya, are overlooked as nothing but weeds.

“They are a great source of nutrition that can be harvested and used to help reduce food shortages; they also taste good!”

Dr Manning added: “The nutrition security challenge in East Africa is significant and researchers from multiple disciplines need to come together with their knowledge and skills to deliver innovative solutions. The workshop was only the first step now we need to build personal, research and business capacity to address the challenge at hand.”

This work was supported by a Researcher Links grant (2017-RLWK8-10368), under the Newton-Utafiti Fund partnership. The grant is funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Kenyan National Research Fund and delivered by the British Council.

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