Traditional crops for modern diets
A lack of diversity in the diet is a major cause of malnutrition in rural farming communities in Tanzania. Traditional vegetables can bridge the nutritional gap.
A lack of diversity in the diet is a major cause of malnutrition in rural farming communities. The problem is particularly acute for women of child bearing age and children under 5 years, who are susceptible to different diseases due to weak immune systems brought about by a lack of nutrients. Statistics from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Zanzibar show that 69% of children under 5 age are anemic, while one-third of women age 15-49 years are deficient in iron, vitamin A and iodine, two-fifths of women are anemic, and one in ten women are undernourished.
In general, malnutrition is high in Tanzania, particularly among people in low-income groups who consume a diet of mainly carbohydrate-rich staples low in minerals and vitamins.
The USAID-funded Homegarden Scaling Project has raised awareness throughout communities to better understand the causes and solutions to malnutrition in Tanzania. Under this project, household gardens approximately 6 m x 6 m have been promoted to increase production and consumption of traditional vegetables. Participants learn how to establish and maintain gardens, receive seed kits to get their gardens started, and learn the proper preparation of vegetables with recipes designed to retain nutrients.
Farmers from Mzuri and Mahonda villages in Unguja (Zanzibar) said they like the easy access to fresh vegetables their home gardens provide. They also earn some income from selling the excess garden produce they can’t consume at home.
‘‘I used to suffer from anemia, difficult vision as well as high blood pressure, but currently I am better since I started to consume vegetables frequently from my garden at home,” said Ms. Nachian Makame Haji from Mzuri village. “I feel this is a great benefit and I am proud to be a participant in this project.’’
Ms. Tekla Mzee Ali from Mahonda village had this to share: “I used to wake up very early in the morning to make snacks and go around the village to sell them, but I could not get enough money to feed my children. After the introduction of this project in my village, I planted some vegetables to feed my family and sell the excess on the open market or door-to-door. I have been able to earn TSh 15,000 to 20,000 per day and am now better compared to the past.”
Traditional vegetables grown in the project area include amaranth, African nightshade, African eggplant, spider plant, cowpea, okra and jute mallow. Some farmers have started to save their own seed for following seasons (photo 2 below). Ms. Rehema Issa, a Community-based Trainer (CBT) in Mzuri village, harvests seed, stores it, and uses the seed to sow in the next season. She also raises seedlings, which she distributes to group members to plant in their home gardens.
Story and photos: Radegunda Kessy