Traditional leafy vegetables into your garden

Traditional leafy vegetables into your garden
Published: 19 October 2017 (1982 Views)
A garden can be defined as a piece of land next to a house, meant for growing flowers, fruits or vegetables. A garden with a variety of rape, spinach, lettuce, okra, spider flower, moringa, pigweed, black jack, creeping vines, tomato and yellow, green, red pepper may not only satisfy the eyes for its look, but may also result in a more diverse diet. Diversity in vegetable consumption leads to a healthier diet. Dietary deficiencies and food insecurity are strongly related to decreasing diversity of traditional diets.  

Traditional leafy vegetables used to form part of the traditional diet in our country that are in the meantime rarely served in many households, particularly in urban areas of Zimbabwe. Such vegetables can be grown even in small home gardens in urban areas. These vegetables are naturally rich in nutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamins A, C and E, fibre, minerals, and proteins, and provide antioxidants that are required by the human body for a healthy growth. These nutrients are required in small amounts by the human body for proper growth and development. If the human body lacks them, then the body is prone to disease attacks e.g. lack of Vitamin A may result in blindness in childhood, iron deficiencies cause anaemia in expecting mothers.  Some of these crops are known to be rich in lysine, an essential amino acid lacking in cereal based diets, our main staple in Zimbabwe. Some have two-threefold uses; leaves can be consumed as vegetables, roots provide starch and can also be used as traditional medicines to cure various ailments (including medicinal therapy for people with HIV/AIDS, diabetes, high blood pressure and other common ailments).

Traditional leafy vegetables can be grown even under stressful biological conditions, a prevailing situation in most of the cities, with limited water supplies, land and other resources. The water use efficiency of these traditional leafy vegetables varies. Spider flower, for example, uses water more efficiently than exotic vegetables like rape and cabbage. Moreover, you can recycle the seed you have produced yourself unlike the seed for rape or cabbage, which you always have to buy; seeds that are imported from remote countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands. Also production costs are relatively lower than producing rape which needs constant sprays against pests and diseases. Production of traditional leafy vegetables is easy, you only are encouraged to harvest the seed from your crops and keep it safely, avoiding detrimental conditions that may affect germination. Such conditions may include early or late harvesting of seed or subjecting the seed to very high temperatures like keeping the seed in the kitchen or close to windows. Moreover, having a diversity of plants in a small area besides your house comes with several additional benefits. Spider flower is known to repel pests that harm rape plants, thus reducing the need to use pesticides. Pesticides are expensive and they not good for the human body and the environment.  

Planting of these vegetables can be done all year round in virtually all cities and towns in Zimbabwe. Watering and manure placing can be done on spot, per square meter you need 20 kg of manure or compost and one gram of seed if not intercropped for spider flower. You can choose what to grow depending on your taste. The bitter taste in spider flower can be toned down by cooking it together with pigweed or black jack leaves, and adding tomatoes, spices as well or tripe (matumbu in Shona or the first or second stomach of a cow or other ruminant used as food). Although the supply of fresh traditional leafy vegetables is limited during the drier season, you can consume them in dried form too. To improve the nutritional quality of the dried vegetables, for instance dried pumpkin leaves, you can add paste-like dumplings made from pumpkin seeds to the vegetables. "Bumbe rinenge nyama", according to Oliver Mtukudzi, meaning that these dumplings are more like meat in terms of their protein quality.

For those who are in marketing the traditional leafy vegetables, convenient packs are ideal considering that large parts of the urban population have gradually adopted western lifestyles with less time for household work, hence, they prefer vegetables that are quicker to cook and prepare. By convenient packs we mean that they should be ready to cook- the vegetables should be sorted, plucked leaves from their stalks, cleaned, sliced and air dried to remove access water on the surface, then packed. The slices shouldn’t be very thin although much thinned vegetables look very appetising, they may have reduced shelf life. A scientific study analysed the vegetable cutting, its influence on shelf life and nutrition. Very thin cutting of vegetables was found to expose them to microbes that cause decay reducing storability. Furthermore, thin cutting reduces the nutrients content. Convenient packs can also add marketing value to these traditional leafy vegetables so that consumers might be willing to pay price premier for cooking-ready mixtures in attractive packages or other convenience food innovations based on traditional leafy vegetables.

The consumption of traditional leafy vegetables is, however, constrained by the social stigma that their consumption is associated with poverty. This mentality should move away from the people, considering our current Zimbabwean situation where malnutrition co-exists with obesity. These national problems will continue to exist as long as people on purpose avoid certain (healthy and beneficial) food commodities due to the food’s social image. On the other hand, many people tend to have a strong preference for fashionable fast-food. In every street in our towns, cities and along our highways food outlets have been popping up in recent years, selling very much affordable big chicken pieces and French fries. Also, every Tuesday, people get some nice treats, they queue at Pizza Inns, where they are given the opportunity to buy one pizza and get one for free while the space occupied by vegetables in the supermarkets is shrinking.

Promoting small-scale home garden cropping of traditional vegetables in Zimbabwe’s urban areas can thus yield multiple benefits for our country. Daily diets can inexpensively be enriched. The share of the home production not consumed in the household may be sold or be exchanged for other foods with neighbours. As the plants are robust, they require only a low level of inputs. Seeds can be obtained from current plants. Gardens may become more colourful. This activity might even provide a range of business opportunities for innovative and visionary entrepreneurs who succeed to create marketing value out of such traditional vegetables. Options for doing so might be emphasizing the nutritional value of such food or its importance for preserving the healthy and rich nutritional heritage of Zimbabwe. Also, connecting this traditional eating culture with currently fashionable popular eating culture might create a range of innovative products which urban dwellers might be eager to purchase. In Nairobi, a recently established traditional vegetables restaurant is considered to be one of the fanciest places in town.

The authors are affiliated with the Agricultural Economics and Rural Policy Group1 and the Centre for Crop Systems Analysis2 at Wageningen University in The Netherlands. Feedback: praxedis.dube@wur.nl


- Praxedis Dube, Rico Ihle, Wim Heijman and Paul Struik

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