Title : Revisiting the past: A case of indigenous vegetables in Africa
S ankofa, a word from the Akan tribe in Ghana symbolizes bringing into the present what is good from the past to make the future better. Commercialization of indigenous vegetables has largely been ignored in Africa and Keyser (2013) states that improved farmer access to quality seeds is likely many years away due to capacity limitations and legal obstacles. Obel-Lawson (2006) identified non-appreciation of African traditional vegetables and urbanization as leading factors that contribute to peoples’ preference for exotic vegetables as against indigenous ones. Vegetable production in sub-Saharan Africa has emerged as an important business for smallholder farmers especially those in the urban and peri-urban areas as it serves as their main source of livelihood. Popularly cultivated species comprise exotic vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage and cucumber, and indigenous African vegetables including bito (Hibiscus sabdariffa), berese (Hibiscus cannabinus), bento (Vigna unguiculata)) and alefu (Amaranthus cruentus). Indigenous species have adapted to local conditions over time, are highly diverse and evolve as reliable performers in their localities. Generally regarded as low yielding, their desirable traits still make them sought after by some indigenous communities. The focus on exotic high yielding vegetable species, has rendered unexploited indigenous vegetable species to extinction (Shei, 2008). Varietal lines for most indigenous vegetables have become inferior due to inbreeding depression, which further threatens their extinction. Availability and accessibility of quality and well adapted indigenous vegetable seeds have become a major challenge. Loosing these qualities through the loss of indigenous varieties potentially threatens food security of indigenes. The UNs SDG 15 seeks to take urgent steps to halt biodiversity loss, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species. Africa trails behind in the use of modern varieties making it ever more difficult to compete with food imports from the global market (Keyser, 2013). It is important to understand the nutritional value of indigenous vegetable varieties to see how best they can be modernized. A major obstacle for the success of the vegetable sector is unavailability of well adapted seeds. There is an urgent need to conserve and save seeds of these species for current and future generations. Breeders can multiply these saved landraces and further improve them through genetic engineering without losing quality and other preferable attributes of the indigenous vegetables. These approaches have the potential to prevent extinction of local vegetable species, increase nutrient availability and preserve biodiversity to achieve SDG Goal 15. Improving farmers’ access to quality seeds for indigenous vegetables and introducing them to good agronomic practices can increase yield and decrease post-harvest losses, thereby reducing food insecurity for local indigenes. People from indigenous communities are moving to cities but they still have indigenous tastes implying that latent demand exists for indigenous vegetables. Majority of farmers are smallholders with little resources so prices of improved indigenous vegetable seeds must not be a disincentive for adoption. Seed sales could create jobs for unemployed individuals from rural communities who have migrated to urban areas. The main objective of this study is to identify and preserve lines of indigenous vegetable varieties in Africa, giving rise to the following research questions:
• What are the varietal lines for common indigenous vegetables in Africa?
• What is the current commercialization level of indigenous vegetables in Africa?
• Which characteristics of indigenous vegetables are important to consumers and what can be done to improve the quality of these vegetables in Africa?
• At what price will African farmers be willing to buy seeds of improved indigenous vegetables? The research adopts a cross-country approach to purposively sample study sites across a number of African countries including Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania.