Indigenous vegetables give more 

Farmers are encouraged to grow traditional vegetables for income. Photo / Lominda Afedraru

What you need to know:

  • Despite Sub-Saharan Africa being home to hundreds of indigenous vegetables, which can supply the required vitamins and minerals such as Beta-carotene, vitamins A, C and E, folates, iron and calcium, these vegetables have not been mainstreamed in the staple diets. 

Indigenous vegetables contain vitamins and minerals which are essential in the absorption and metabolism of food consumed by the body. 

Despite Sub-Saharan Africa being home to hundreds of indigenous vegetables, which can supply the required vitamins and minerals such as Beta-carotene, vitamins A, C and E, folates, iron and calcium, these vegetables have not been mainstreamed in the staple diets. 

Potential consumers of indigenous vegetables complain about the inconsistency in supply and poor quality of products availed to them due to the seasonality of supply, long distances between production areas and potential consumption centres and poor post-harvest handling.

Despite the fact that the entire African continent is endowed with these vegetables that vary from country to country, Uganda is gifted with different varieties grown region by region.

Traditionally, vegetables were gathered from cultivated lands near homesteads and sometimes together with uncultivated fruits from bushes and forests in the vicinity. 

Some of them have higher protein, phosphorus, iron, vitamin and carotene contents than the exotic, high-yielding vegetables that have progressively replaced them since colonial times.

The vegetables include Amaranth species commonly known as Amaranthus dubius (dodo), nakati, Gynandropsis gynandra (African spider), African eggplant, Hibiscus sabdariffa (malakwang), Crotalaria ochroleuca, Hibiscus esculentus (okra), Jute mallow (otigo lwoka), Vigna unguiculata  (cow pea leaves) Boo, Manihot esculentum (Cassava leaves) and Cucurbita maxima (pumpkin leaves). In the article below, Seeds of Gold gives you tips on how to plant Hibiscus sabdariffa commonly known as malakwang among the Luo, kulubu (Lugbara) and lakabi (Madi).

Description of the plant 
In a Science Direct Publication compiled by Elsevier of December 2014 it is stated that hibiscus is a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae.

Hibiscus sabdariffa also known as roselle, is an ideal crop for developing countries as it is relatively easy to grow, can be grown as part of multi cropping systems and can be used as food and fibre. The genus hibiscus includes more than 300 species of annual or perennial herbs, shrubs or trees. 
Growth character.

In a study conducted by scientists from the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) in 2003 led by Dr Elizabeth Rubaihayo from the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NaARL) Kawanda, jointly with agricultural scientists from Makerere University College of Agriculture and environmental sciences, the team notes that Malakwang is easy to grow in most well drained soils but can tolerate poor soils.

It requires 4-8 months growth with night-time temperatures with a minimum of 20 Celsius as well as 13 hours of sunlight and a monthly rainfall ranging from 5–10 cubic metres (130–250 mm) during the first few months to prevent premature flowering. 

Rain or high humidity during the harvest time and drying process can downgrade the quality of the calyces and reduce the yield. The quality and yield rate is determined by seed stock, local growing conditions, time of harvest, post-harvest handling and mainly the drying step. 

Land preparation 
Loam soil is the preferred soil, especially that which is high in organic content for most agricultural production systems. 

The soils must contain neutral pH range of 6.4 – 7.6 with fairly high organic matter, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.  These soils must therefore be on the fertile side for agricultural production purposes.
In the first digging farmers are expected to turn over the soil and organic matter using the hoe.  

In the second tilling process it is important to make the seed bed fine. This is done two weeks after the first digging.

Seed processing 
Most farmers growing malakwang process their own seed though occasionally farmers obtain seeds from other farmers but these occasions are rare. 

The process of raising seeds is where uprooting or cutting of old plants with seeds is done. It is dried under sunshine for a week or more and later threshing, and cleaning of seeds, is done. 

Most farmers store seeds in calabashes, tins, polythene bags or simply by hanging plants over the fire place in the kitchen.  

Planting and weeding
Seeds are sown using broadcasting method or seedlings that have been raised in seed beds or collected from the wild are transplanted in the prepared garden.

Some farmers practise mulching and others have areas set aside for composting to overcome soil infertility and moisture in case of dry season.
Weeding can be done once or twice after two weeks period of plant mainly for good growth and pest control.

The commercial farmers may apply animal manure mainly chicken manure being preferred since it does not carry weed seeds as in the case of cattle manure or fertilisers before planting. 

Pests and diseases
According to Dr Rubaihayo, malakwang is less susceptible to disease and pests than the exotic vegetables except in some cases such as hibiscus sabdariffa where leaf beetles (Ootheca metablis sp) and Lampyris noctiluca also known as glow worms do a lot of damage by causing holes on the leaves.

Other pests include beetles which consume the leaves as well as aphids thereby causing damage and yield loss.
The common disease is blight which affects the buds of the plant causing them to turn brown and eventually drop off before they have a chance to open.  It can affect the foliage of plants as well. Affected areas are commonly covered with grey fuzz. 

Chemical controls of blight include potassium bicarbonate, copper hydroxide and thiophanate-methyl. 
Framers can control the diseases using traditional methods which include adequate airflow, proper watering techniques and hand removal of affected areas or infested plants.


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