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In the 1990s, scientists in Kenya noticed an alarming development. The traditional African leafy vegetables (ALV) they had eaten as children were rapidly disappearing from farmers’ fields and people’s tables. ALVs contain vitamins and minerals that are lacking in many of the major staple foods consumed in sub-Saharan Africa but the vegetables had been neglected by researchers, growers and consumers for decades. Many people considered ALVs to be inferior to, and less fashionable than, introduced vegetables such as cabbage and kale. This dietary shift was not only placing the genetic diversity of these vegetables at risk, but also the nutrition security of vulnerable groups. 

Bioversity International's research approach

Bioversity International works with partners in Sub-Saharan Africa to revive the interest of researchers, growers and consumers in ALVs in order to promote income and food security. The initial phase of the project looked to conserve agricultural biodiversity by documenting, identifying, and genetically analyzing ALVs. A subsequent phase sought to enhance the genetic material of priority ALVs, improve horticultural practices and seed systems, introduce marketing of the vegetables, and disseminate information about ALVs to target groups.

Results

  • Cultivation of ALVs increased dramatically (up to 98% of households in some areas) due to increased knowledge of their nutritional value that led to demand in urban markets and increased home consumption;
  • Increased income from the sale of ALVs in many areas, which provided economic empowerment of women, who dominated most of the ALVs’ activities; 
  • Households that marketed ALVs were relatively more well off economically than those that did not;
  • Increased dietary diversity improved household wellbeing;
  • Improved genetic diversity of ALVs allowed for greater adaptation to different environments, and more effective management of agricultural pests and diseases, which is especially important in the face of climate change; 
  • An impact assessment ranked Bioversity as the most influential partner in promoting production of ALVs and in raising awareness of their value.

Impact brief

African Leafy Vegetables come out of the shade looks at the impact of more than ten years work by Bioversity International with partners.

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