Have you heard of the African nightshade, amaranth or spider plant? They are East Africa’s supergreens, filled with nutrition. Although long overlooked, scientists around the world are now studying their health benefits, hoping that these indigenous vegetables might be a weapon against dietary deficiencies.
There’s also a growing interest among farmers and restaurants in East Africa. According to the scientific journal Nature, the cultivation of indigenous vegetables in Kenya grew by 25 percent from 2011 to 2013. This is positive news for a population struggling with hidden hunger, since indigenous crops have a higher amount of protein, vitamins, iron and other nutrients than non-native crops.
“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, to Nature.
Just a few years ago it was difficult to buy indigenous vegetables in East Africa. Vegetable markets were instead dominated by greens such as kale and collard greens – introduced by the colonial powers a century ago.
The problem with these imported varieties is not only that they contain less nutrients. Growing them requires more water and fertilizers than the sturdier native vegetables.
More research and improved seeds are needed to increase yields of the indigenous vegetables. But it’s already clear that East Africa’s supergreens are a promising option.