African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs) are considered a significant contributor to food security and nutrition for smallholder farmers in East Africa. They are also important as a source of income, particularly for women, although the farmers’ capacity to meet a growing demand for vegetables is limited by lack of good quality seed.
Among the East African countries, Uganda is endowed with the agro-climatic conditions, which are suitable for cultivation of a wide range of several indigenous vegetables.
But, few of them are domesticated, the majority being wild or volunteer plants.
They are abundant in rainy seasons but scarce in dry seasons, except a few grown mainly for sale in trading centres and urban markets.
At the research level, conservation is far from satisfactory. Most of the germplasm collected in the 1940s and 1980s is believed to have been lost.
So, a number of organisations in collaboration with National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro), is involved in plans to revive conservation of indigenous vegetables as a priority.
Diet and income
Cabi—Centre for Agricultural Biosciences International—is one such development partner. It promotes growing AIVs among farmers in East Africa.
Cabi carries out a sensitisation of farmers to grow vegetables and promoting them as part of diet as well as an income-earning activity.
In Uganda, different vegetables are grown in different regions. They have various traditional names depending on the area and language used.
The vegetables include Amaranth species commonly known as Amaranthus dubius (dodo), Gynandropsis gynandra (African spider or nakkati), African eggplant, Hibiscus sabdariffa (Malakwang), Crotalaria ochroleuca (Alayu), Hibiscus esculentus (okra), Jute mallow (Otigo lwoka), Vigna unguiculata (cowpea for the leaves) Boo, Manihot esculentum (cassava for the leaves) and Cucurbita maxima (pumpkin for the leaves).
Farmers in many parts of Uganda, particularly the central region, are now involved in growing Amaranth species for the grain. This is later processed into flour.
Grain amaranth is known to be an industrial and food crop in many parts of the world. It has nutritional, medicinal and industrial properties.
Against this backdrop, some of the farmers adding value to grain Amaranth, shared their experience.
Processing amaranth grain into food and feed
I am Margret Kayiza, a resident of Kiwenda village in Wakiso District. I am a farmer who grows mainly vegetables including Amaranth, onions and tomatoes.
I am a widow, who looks after my family with the proceeds from the farm. I had to go beyond farming to invest in adding value to Amaranth grain.
After harvesting the bunch containing grains, it is bulked in a sack and threshed to separate the grain. Later, the grain is spread to dry on raised racks. When dry and sorted, it is heated over fire and taken for milling.
I process it into flour, which is packaged differently according to various quantities and sold at different prices. For instance, a one-kilogramme pack is Shs7,000 each.
In a month, I am able to process 50 to 200 kilogrammes of Amaranth powder to meet the market demand.
Some people mix the Amaranth flour with wheat flour to make chapatti or use it to make porridge.
What made me venture into the business was advice from a doctor who treated me after getting involved in a motor accident.
Since 1997, I have got involved in other accidents but the one in 2013 was terrible. My back hurt to the extent that walking became a problem.
Dr George William Bukenya, who treated me, said consuming products made from Amaranth would enable me to recover quickly.
Amaranth has nutritional benefits; It contains Vitamin A, B and C, carbohydrates, manganese, magnesium, zinc, iron and potassium, among others.
The doctor encourgaed me to grow the vegetable and make flour out of the grain as a way to earn a daily income. It can be used as feed for poultry and livestock because of its nutritional benefits.
All year round
Therefore, from 2013, I started with Amaranth on five acres of land. I have other plots of land where there are bananas, tomatoes and onions.
I grow Amaranth all year round with seed saved from previous harvests. Some farmers prefer to grow it during dry season when there is less of it available on the market, to sell the leaves and grains at higher prices.
Prior to starting, I was trained by farmers who already had the knowledge as well as scientists at Makerere University.
I managed to grasp everything in a short time and became a trainer in making powder from Amaranth.
Thereafter, I mobilised farmers from Busukuma Sub County into an association. Kiwende Horticulture Farmers’ Association (KIHOCRA). There are 68 members in total. We collect the product and sell it as bulk and split the proceeds among ourselves equally.
Last year, our association was approached by a company from Ethiopia to supply 700 tonnes of Amaranth grain a month.
But we could not raise that quantity because farmers engaged in growing Amaranth are still doing it on small scale.
Therefore, I encourage women to venture into growing Amaranth and processing the grain because it is a good source of income.
I get a harvest every week
My name is Peter Lubwama, 55, a farmer doing mixed farming on 25 acres of land in Bwaba village in Luwero District. I grow bananas (matooke), coffee, maize, cassava as well as Amaranth.
I developed an interest in growing Amaranth and dedicated two acres to it for the grain, which I sell to those who are involved in the processing.
I started growing the vegetable last year to supplement the diet at home. After getting training from Ms Kayiza and her team, I started growing it on larger scale.
My interest is in selling the grains. I am able to harvest 1,000 kilogrammes from the two acres although, in most cases, I tend to do intercropping to avoid labour costs. When I intercrop with maize, the harvest is about 600 kilogrammes.
I sell the grain from Shs1,500 to Shs2,000 a kilo depending on the market price. During harvesting season, I am able to sell 50 to 100 kilogrammes. However, I ensure that I grow it all year round, which makes it possible for me to get some Amaranth every week.
We were taught to do pruning every two weeks. We are supposed to uproot stems and leave only two to grow. This will enable better flowering for good grain. It is interesting growing Amaranth for seed. When a grain is harvested, a new shoot will sprout meaning one stem takes three months to collapse and the grain takes 15 years to become sterile.
Where I am, I am one of the few Amarath farmers in the area. Since I am sort of isolated, I hardly face challenge of pests.
As a supplement
But the farmers who grow it close to fields, where there are other vegetables, are usually faced with pest infection.
Through growing Amaranth, I have been able to pay school fees for my six children from the proceeds. I encourage other farmers to adopt Amaranth as a supplement to the other farm activities they are engaged in.