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Diversity from field to fork

Young woman with child carrying leafy green vegetables from her home garden. Credit: Biovision, December 2017 Newsletter
Young woman with child carrying leafy vegetables picked from her home garden. Credit: Biovision, December 2017 Newsletter

Bioversity International collaborates with Biovision to encourage farming families in the Vihiga County of Kenya to grow a wider range of vegetables, boosting their health and self-confidence and opening up opportunities to earn money, while in turn conserving biodiversity.

“I feel so proud,” says Eunice Kimiya, a beneficiary farmer from Vihiga, Kenya, “I was wasting a lot of money going to the market buying vegetables, and [now] I just harvest my own vegetables…”

Growing vegetables in their own kitchen gardens, members of five farmer groups in the Vihiga County of Western Kenya are learning to enrich their daily diet while saving money. This was the key concept behind the Bioversity International and Biovision initiative Diversity from field to fork, which covers the entire supply chain by providing trainings on growing, producing and marketing high-quality seeds from traditional varieties of leafy vegetables, and to Community Health Volunteers on advising others on what constitutes a balanced diet.

More veggies, more money and more vitamins

As a result, farmers – mainly women – are using their own kitchen gardens to grow traditional vegetables, which are contributing to a more vitamin-rich diet with lower expenses, and subsequently to healthier households.

Eunice reveals that in the past she only cooked a few vegetables, which she bought from the market: “Previously, I spent too much time and money at the market buying vegetables. I no longer have to do this as I can grow enough for my family”. She expanded her gardening from just maize, yams and bananas, to include spinach, cowpeas, kale, amaranth, spider plant, black nightshade, pulses such as crotalaria, jute mallow, pumpkins, carrots, spring onions and many more. Similarly, Florence Oside from Masana explains that she now understand the importance of a varied diet and grows a diverse range of leafy vegetables in her kitchen garden. "Best of all," she says “My children like ugali and vegetables such as saga (spider plant) from the garden.”

New source of income and confidence

Some farmers are not only saving money by growing their own vegetables, but have managed to make their gardens a source of income. Farmers can consume their own vegetables and use them to produce seeds, creating a new and powerful way of generating earnings. Isaac Otieno, Research Assistant, Bioversity International, explains that providing farming families the skills to grow traditional vegetables boosts their self-confidence: “They have a greater belief in their own ability.”

With help from the project, traditional leafy vegetables are much more common in the Vihiga County, adding variety to the daily diet of local families, providing them with vitamins and nutrients. The farmer groups plan on improving and scaling up their seed production and marketing for wider reach. They will then be able to offer training to other communities on cultivation and healthy eating.

Now, with her newfound appreciation for varieties of native leafy vegetables, Eunice is herself a Community Health Volunteer and shares her knowledge on vegetable growing and importance of a varied diet with others in her community. And with more time to spend on gardening, she wants to promote biodiversity by planting more vegetables and sharing the seeds in a local resource centre. “It is an interesting project,” she says, “and I just want it to continue so that we can learn more.”

Dig deeper in this edition of the Biovision newsletter.