In rural areas and urban slums in sub-Saharan Africa, many poor people face severe food and nutritional insecurity. About this writes Biosciences eastern and central Africa – International Livestock Research Institute.
Nutritional problems remain major in Africa for many decades. Their solution will ensure the well-being of people and the economic growth of many countries of the continent.
Currently, the level of global acute malnutrition is on average 30%, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the emergency threshold is 15%. That is, in Africa it is exceeded by 2 times! At the same time, the rate of severe acute malnutrition averages 5%!
The problem of lack of food in Africa: what plants are usually cultivated and why the Amaranth in Africa
Poverty and food insecurity in Kenya’s slums are very high. Herders and farmers in remote areas of the country suffer from food shortages. Kenyan children under 5 years of age suffer from malnutrition in 33% of cases, 22% have problems with weight, they are too thin. The situation is similar in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
In eastern Africa, the staple food is starchy plants, especially corn. Corn is a good source of calories, but lacks essential amino acids such as lysine.
Traditional plants, such as amaranth, make it possible to supplement the nutritional properties of starchy foods with vital macro / microelements and biologically active compounds that are important and beneficial to health.
Most of the activities of farmers associated with the production of traditional plants, include women and young people. These traditional cultures are an important source of food for the mother and child, and also provide financial households. Household territory is used for growing plants in households, and then the resulting products are simply sold on local markets.
The production, processing and commercialization of traditional African vegetables is growing, but the potential remains underdeveloped. The most commonly used and fully domesticated traditional vegetables are the following plant species:
- Amaranthus .;
- Vigna spp .;
- Solanum spp .;
- Cleome gynandra;
- Cucurbita spp;
- and Corchorus spp.
In recent years, amaranth has received special attention. This is due to its resistance to drought, as well as the rapid Amaranth period in Kenyis ripeness. Amaranth is increasingly cultivated in Kenya and in neighboring African states. Good nutritional value also contributes to its popularity. In particular, leaves are a good source of vitamin A, C, K and folate. Seeds contain high levels of protein (gluten-free), are a good source of dietary fiber and minerals such as iron, zinc, copper and manganese.
Amaranth seed oil can also provide unique health benefits. As a result of the research, it was found that regular consumption of amaranth oil can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while improving the antioxidant status and certain immune parameters of the body.
Amaranth research project: how will it spread the plant in Africa
In Africa, a new project was launched aimed at popularizing amaranth, studying the peculiarities of its production, the use of amaranth leaves and grain in food.
In East Africa over the past 10 years, amaranth is increasingly used in food preparation and the production of various foods. Since, in comparison with other traditional vegetables, it is ideal for multipurpose use (both the leaves and the grain are edible plants, besides, one can get different products from them).
The project in Africa allows to combine agricultural practice, science and technology in the field of food, as well as attracting farmers and parties interested in the industrial use of amaranth to produce a variety of nutritious, safe and stable foods to ensure better life for African people.
The project is implemented in Kenya and Tanzania. The project is expected to collaborate with more than 240 farmers organized in clusters: approximately 30 farmers in 8 East African regions, 3 in Kenya and 5 in Tanzania. This will make it possible for Africans to improve the supply of nutrient-rich foods, as well as increase farm and household incomes.
The first stages of the project imply an assessment of the limitations in knowledge and technology throughout the value chain (from farm to consumption), and then the creation of strong links between different segments of the value chain (producers – processing enterprises – retailers – consumers).
In particular, today it is already known that farmers, small and medium-sized producers constantly face production problems due to:
- insufficient knowledge of farming methods, breeding and agronomic aspects,
- inadequate knowledge of post-harvest practice;
- limited possibilities for extending shelf life and adding value;
- poor storage and distribution systems;
- weak packaging and marketing strategies; product promotion.
Therefore, the goal of the project will be to study low-cost sustainable technologies to solve problems related to crop loss after harvesting, creating a variety of stable and nutritious marketable products from amaranth, which will subsequently be presented in retail.
The creation of strong networks and established links between producers and processors of amaranth products will help stimulate the development of farms and the production of dietary and healthy foods.
The research partners are:
- Jomo Kenyata University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) (Kenya);
- Beca-ILRI Hub (Kenya), Sokoine University (Tanzania);
- AVRDC (World Vegetable Center, Regional Center for Africa) (Tanzania);
- Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (Australia).
- Project Coordinator Dr. Daniel Sila (Jomo Kenyata University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Kenya).
These studies prove that amaranth can in the future solve the problem of nutritional deficiencies that threaten many regions of the planet in the coming decades.