Lilongwe University for Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar), through the capacity building for managing climate change (Cabmacc) in Malawi, has embarked on a commercialisation project of indigenous vegetable seeds.
Indigenous vegetables have, for a long time, been regarded as food for poor people and would hardly grace tables in restaurants and hotels.
But as more people become aware of healthy eating habits and medicinal properties of such foodstuffs, indigenous vegetables such as luni, bonongwe, mwamunaaligone, chisoso, chidede, chigwada, khwanya, kholowa and others are now favourite dishes in most homes.
They are not only sold on marketplaces and supermarkets, but they also form part of main meals in some restaurants, hotels and other renowned eateries in the country.
With climate change and weather variability characterised by increased incidents of droughts, floods, erratic rains and emergence of new forms of pests and diseases, experts contend that indigenous vegetable growing is the way to go.
Luanar molecular biologist and head of Horticulture Department, Abel Sefasi, said most indigenous vegetables survive harsh climatic conditions and do well even with low inputs and minimal care.
“Indigenous vegetables are highly nutritious, they adapt to intercropping, have high survival rates even in the face of harsh climatic conditions, have short production cycles and required medicinal properties,” he said.
A 2001 research by a renowned professor in crop physiology, Roger Leakey, showed that indigenous vegetables are five percent higher in nutrient content than exotic ones.
“Besides, some indigenous vegetables such as bonongwe boost immunity in the body and is ideal for people living with HIV,” said Sefasi.
It is for this reason that Luanar, through Cabmacc, has embarked on an indigenous vegetable seed commercialisation project.
The project aims to produce certified seeds on a largescale for sale to smallholder farmers and non-governmental organisations.
Luanar, through the department, is also training people in local vegetable production, processing and utilisation.
Sefasi said Luanar has also come up with a high-yielding variety of bonongwe (amaranthus) called Hypo Bunda.
Through the commercialisation of indigenous vegetable seed project, Luanar has partnered Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, World Vision International, National Association of Smallholder Farmers in Malawi (Nasfam) and Malawi Red Cross.
The university is also working with Chitedze and Bvumbwe research stations for their expertise in certifying seeds and promotion of indigenous crops.
Nasfam marketing officer Joseph Mseteka said they are excited with the project, adding that they have been encouraging farmers to grow indigenous vegetables, but did not have a reliable source of seeds.
“Through this project, we are now assured of a sustainable source of quality seeds,” he said.
The project comes amid calls for institutions and organisations to complement government efforts in achieving food and nutritional security at both local and national levels.