No longer a weed

A Kenyan horticultural scientist hopes that a group of leafy green plants, previously dismissed by some as weeds, may have a significant impact on reducing malnutrition and poverty levels in Kenya.

Mary Abukutsa-Onyango has identified six local greens - described as African indigenous vegetables - that are very high in nutrients and easy to grow in local conditions.

Her laboratory tests show the vegetables are nutritionally as good, if not better, than the “exotic” greens such as spinach and cabbage, which were introduced to Africa from abroad and have become widely accepted as staples.

spiderplant in bloom. The plant is selling in Nairobi supermarkets and
restaurants after years of being spurned by the well-fed as food only
for the poor
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Her current research programme at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, outside Nairobi, focuses on promoting the production and marketing of African indigenous vegetables, particularly by rural women farmers, as a means of reducing poverty and improving rates of nutrition.

Abukutsa-Onyango’s promotional zeal has resulted in Spiderplant, African Nightshade and Vegetable Amaranth, among others, selling in Nairobi supermarkets and restaurants, after years of being spurned by the well-fed as food only for the poor, and by the poor themselves as alternatives only in times of extreme hunger.

She is one of a growing team of innovative scientists given fellowships by African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), a programme aimed at boosting the female talent pool supporting Africa’s women farmers.

With the profile she has had through AWARD, Abukutsa-Onyango is seeing her vegetables also coming on to the table of Kenya’s policy-makers. The Health Ministry, for example, has advised hospitals to include African indigenous vegetables in the diet of HIV-positive patients.