Category: General HORTINLEA, SP 7, SP 10, PhD & Master theses
Embracing participatory research for AIVs
How can African indigenous vegetables (AIVs) be more present in Kenyans’ diets? Why do farmers grow AIVs and why not? Which role does gender play in production, marketing and consumption of AIVs? These were guiding questions at the first joint HORTINLEA (Horticultural Innovation and Learning for Improved Nutrition and Livelihood in East Africa) workshop organised by ACTS (African Centre for Technology Studies) from March 16-17th, 2017 in Kakamega, Kenya. ACTS and HORTINLEA brought together researchers, farmers and policy representatives to discuss challenges and potentials in an open forum. Over 70 experts took part in the two-day workshop consisting of eight presentations, three discussions and one AIV testing session.
At the first day, everyone not already familiar with AIVs was introduced to the traditional vegetables. A presentation of the HORTINLEA project by Dr Emil Gevorgyan (HU Berlin) raised awareness of main issues in promoting AIVs in Kenya. One of the project’s goals is identifying AIV value chains as well as building a sustainable knowledge bank on AIVs. Prof Mary Abukutsa (JKUAT) and Dr Patrick Maundu (KENRIK) further described the cultural and nutritional background of the traditional vegetables. AIVs grow almost anywhere in Kenya. “Amaranth itself has a diversity of 15 known species growing in various climatic zones”, says Dr Maundu. Furthermore, the plants are high in nutrition and can generate income - especially for smallholder farmers. However, instead of planting traditional vegetables like African nightshade, amaranth, spiderplant and cowpea, Kenyans mainly focus on few exotic crops such as maize or sugar cane. Researchers blame this missed opportunity among others on people’s attitudes, a lack of awareness on the potential of AIVs, limited knowledge and poor market links. This is an issue, because “knowledge keepers are being lost over time”, as Maundu warns.
The following discussion thus asked for smart strategies to promote production, marketing and consumption of AIVs. Sensitisation campaigns and training opportunities boost the production. However, such activities need to be supplemented with cooperatives for example among farmers and seed suppliers. Quality seeds are currently quite expensive and thus no real option - especially for smallholder farmers. Furthermore, production depends on rainfall and is therefore seasonal. Building kitchen gardens could change this dependency. “To improve sustainability we really try to embrace participatory research”, claims Dr Lusike Wasilwa from Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), one of the discussants. Among Kenyan customers - especially in urban regions and among the youth - AIVs are perceived as healthy but outdated. Recipes that enhance the often bitter taste should therefore be spread in magazines or food fairs. Another chance to promote AIVs is seen in including groups that are so far left out of the preparation process. Men and the youth have limited knowledge and are thus not aware of the potential of traditional vegetables. This also partly due to existing socio-cultural conditions.
The first day was concluded with a focus on gender dynamics and value chains of AIVs. Gender influences production, marketing and consumption, but needs to be understood in a broader context.“Very few studies have addressed women and AIVs”, states Dr Ann Kingiri (ACTS). “Within HORTINLEA there are two subprojects that contribute to closing this research gap.” One of the subprojects (SP7b) looks into meal cultures. PhD students Meike Brückner and Anne Aswani found several challenges and opportunities in AIV consumption. Even though AIVs are readily available almost anywhere and considered to be very healthy, they are time-consuming in preparation and need a lot of water, which is often an impediment. Furthermore, AIVs are still considered to be poor-man’s food while becoming quite pricy at the same time. Nonetheless, these vegetables are a strong cultural factor. “During preparation and in times of scarcity, AIVs actually bring people together through sharing food”, remarks Aswani. An overall result of both subprojects is that women are heavily responsible for production. However, women are limited in resources. They lack land rights, time and access to more lucrative markets. In addition to existing coping strategies developed by women like establishing producer groups, the PhD students Emma Oketch and Ruth Githiga from SP10 recommend institutional, structural, social and market solutions. This includes land rights on a local level, child care services and joint gender training for men and women.
The second day benefited from farmer participation throughout the workshop. It started with a training session on public policy and advocacy by SP13 PhD Nancy Laibuni. The participants outlined the national and regional horticultural policy process and discussed possible influencers in decision-making to encourage AIV farmers. Challenges for AIV farmers were summarised and entry-points for possible policy interventions identified. Main problems like lacking infrastructure, missing storage facilities or inadequate training of farmers were thought of as policy issues. For other problems like seed quality, the participants found innovative solutions: Old varieties are sweeter in taste and could be improved and thus be sold more easily. For this purpose a seed bank created by farmers in cooperation with research and parastatal institutions like KALRO could build momentum. In a conclusive discussion, representatives from all sectors of the AIV value chain were brought together: farmers, policy, research and NGOs. The aim was to go into detail with issues and opportunities to create awareness for AIVs. As one discussant remarked: “We have not taught our children to prepare and consume AIVs”. This is a big challenge that should be tackled through social innovations and involvement of the youth. Furthermore, farmers growing AIVs need to be able to generate more income from their labour. Among other options this could be achieved through inclusive commercialisation, which on the other hand relies on more flagship programmes, collaborative working groups and innovative thinking altogether. This however bears threats like leaving behind subsistence farmers and especially women. In the end of the workshop everyone joined for a communal AIV testing. Over three different courses the workshop participants exchanged ideas, followed up on discussions and allowed themselves to be convinced by the nutritional value and flavourful taste of AIVs.
© Marlen Bachmann, Dorcas Anyango, Dr Emil Gevorgyan