A Crusader for Local Vegetables


Mary Abukutsa-Onyango has a passion for indigenous African vegetables. Mary is a Kenyan horticultural scientist and she knows what she is talking about. For many years local plants all over Africa have been pushed away and replaced by exotic plants like spinach or cabbage. The great majority of Kenyans think that those plants are native and better for health.

Mary, who is a professor at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, has tried to reverse this trend and reintroduce the original plants in the food chain. Why?  Because they are richer in vital nutrients and micro-nutrients, with medicinal and other agronomic properties superior to exotic vegetables. They are also good for the family table and for generating income.  The species tested include cowpeas, vegetable amaranth, spider plant, African nightshade, jute mallow and the African kale.

So Mary is on a crusade to teach her fellow Africans and especially Kenyans. Over 60% of the rural communities in Western Kenya are poor, resulting in malnutrition and poor health among many rural households. She is fighting a tough battle because those indigenous vegetables are spurned by the well-fed as food only for the poor, and by the poor themselves as alternatives only in times of extreme hunger.

Finally, her efforts were recently met with success when  the spiderplant, African nightshade and vegetable amaranth, among others, started being sold in Nairobi supermarkets and restaurants. Moreover, last June, Mary won an award for her work.

Part of her success results from being one of a growing team of innovative scientists given fellowships by African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), a fantastic program aimed at boosting the female talent pool supporting Africa’s women farmers.

But Mary soldiers on. A latest victory? Having the Kenyan Health Ministry advising hospitals to include African indigenous vegetables in the diet of HIV-positive patients.

Via irinnews.org – Picture by Mike Goldwater

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