The role of African leafy vegetables in food security
African leafy vegetables (ALVs) are a diverse set of crops grown across sub-Saharan Africa. They have been a staple of traditional diets and contain many critical micronutrients but their importance has been largely ignored by researchers and policymakers at the expense of imported crops. Availability, accessibility, and utilization of ALVs are limited by factors across the supply chain. This research investigated seed systems, drought tolerance, hydroponic production, market barriers, consumer preference, and the impact of gender as related to ALVs. We found that ALVs play an important role in food security and that critical differences exist between formal and informal sectors. Women play a stronger role in informal sectors, but the balance between the formal and informal markets is changing, and this may jeopardize the incomes of many women. The determinants of household security were different for male- and female-headed households, and this information can be used to address the gap in food security between genders. Market barriers differed for formal and informal ALV retailers but consumer preference for quality did not, suggesting that investment in postharvest handling may allow ALV growers to capture greater value. We also showed that ALV germplasm is diverse, offering both a wide range of species with different agronomic characteristics and important differences in drought tolerance among accessions. Crop- and location-specific factors impacted farmer adoption of seeds and technologies, highlighting the importance of evaluating policies and interventions with sensitivity to gender, species, and location. ALVs can be used to empower marginalized populations, and this research proposes several ways to do so. However, the market for ALVs is changing rapidly, and future research is needed to monitor trends and assure that these vegetables are used to increase social equality rather than aggravate existing disparities. Promoting savings groups and capital accessibility can help to build this capacity, especially for women. Overall, this research revealed that a wide diversity of under-studied ALV species is contributing to food security in important ways and that the potential exists to strengthen production, distribution chains, and markets further. Well-targeted research and investment could have a substantial impact in this area in improving sustainability and food security for people across sub-Saharan Africa.
Hallett, Purdue University.
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