The Role of Vegetables and Legumes in Assuring Food, Nutrition, and Income Security for Vulnerable Groups in Sub‐Saharan Africa

AuthorNVPR Ganga‐Rao,Jaqueline Hughes,Emmanuel Monyo,Moses Siambi,Said Silim,Rajeev Varshney,Abdou Tenkouano,Chris Ojiewo,Dyno J. D. H. Keatinge,Ramakrishnan Nair
Published date01 September 2015
Date01 September 2015
The Role of Vegetables and Legumes in Assuring Food,
Nutrition, and Income Security for Vulnerable Groups
in Sub-Saharan Africa
Chris Ojiewo, Dyno J. D. H. Keatinge, Jaqueline Hughes, Abdou Tenkouano,
Ramakrishnan Nair, Rajeev Varshney, Moses Siambi, Emmanuel Monyo,
NVPR Ganga-Rao, and Said Silim
Rising food and nutritional insecurity threatens the livelihoods of millions of poor people,
particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Vegetable and legume production and consumption are a potent
mechanism for small-scale, disadvantaged farmers to obtain the required nutrients in their diets and
to generate much-needed income through trade. Vegetables and legumes are key sources of nutrients
and health-promoting phytochemicals, providing higher micronutrient contents and a wider
spectrum of essential compounds to meet nutritional and health needs than other food sources.
Diversifying diets with vegetables and legumes is a cheaper, surer, and more sustainable way to
supply a range of nutrients to the body and combat malnutrition and associated health problems
than other approaches that target only a single or a few nutritional factors. Furthermore, vegetables
and legumes often accompany staple crops in meals, and most staple crops are less palatable without
vegetable or legume accompaniments. As a growing world population demands more and higher
quality foods, and as environmental problems such as soil degradation, water scarcity, biodiversity
loss, and climate change become more acute, the need for innovative vegetable and legume research
solutions to improve food and nutritional security cannot be overemphasized.
KEY WORDS: nutrition, income security, vegetables
In 2013, an estimated 842 million people were suffering from chronic hunger,
down from 868 million in 2012. Although this reduction is promising, the number
of hungry people remains alarmingly high (Food and Agriculture Organization,
2013). Of the 842 million hungry people, 98 percent live in developing regions
(Food and Agriculture Organization, 2013). While chronic hunger f‌igures seem to
be going down, more than 2 billion are still undernourished. In sub-Saharan
Africa, food demand has continued to exceed supply while micronutrient
def‌iciencies have aggravated the problem of food security (Food and Agriculture
World Medical & Health Policy, Vol. 7, No. 3, 2015
1948-4682 #2015 Policy Studies Organization
Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ.
Organization, 2013). Siegel, Ali, Srinivasan, Nugent, and Venkat Narayan (2014)
recently conducted a study on the supply:need ratio for vegetables and fruits and
reported that sub-Saharan African countries—including Eritrea (0.05), Chad
(0.09), Burkina Faso (0.10), Mozambique (0.12), and Ethiopia (0.12)—had the
greatest shortages. This particularly affects women and children in the region.
Poor maternal and child dietary habits, poor household economic status leading
to the inability to obtain nutritious food, as well as poor maternal education and
awareness of sources of critical nutrients in food are some of the predominant
causes of undernutrition (Bellete, 2005). Improving and diversifying agricultural
production, notably with vegetables and legumes, coupled with education on
healthy nutrition, good eating habits, food preparation, and safe handling are
effective strategies for overcoming malnutrition and chronic diet-related diseases
such as excess weight and obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular
diseases (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2007a). Additionally, this can
contribute to poverty alleviation through additional income from sales and
increased employment opportunities (Schreinemachers, Nagaraj, Hughes, &
Keatinge, 2014). However, all such interventions rely on a policy environment
benef‌icial to horticulture if they are to be effective. Such policies, for example,
include specif‌ic regional legislation that would be favorable to the easy release
and quality maintenance of the seed of improved varieties. This is being pursued
successfully at present by the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) and
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It remains evident that
the older colonial legislation regarding variety release remaining in law in many
countries, though appropriate for f‌ield crops such as maize, is most inappropriate
for crops with only small national markets. Such is usually the case with
vegetables such as tomato, cabbage, and indigenous vegetables. This discourages
investment by the private sector in developing the horticultural seed sector.
Likewise, as use of input levels into agriculture such as fertilizer and irrigation
water is much lower in Africa than in other comparable parts of the world, policy
opportunities to encourage the use of local water associations and the promulga-
tion of appropriate fertilizer stockists are urgently required. Twomlow et al.
(2011) have clearly indicated that even small amounts of good quality fertilizer
and seed can substantially improve productivity in f‌ield crops and this f‌inding
will be just as true for vegetables and legumes. Likewise, Woltering, Pasternak,
and Ndjeunga (2011) have demonstrated that solar pumping and trickle irrigation
can be the key to successful market gardening in the Sahelian region of West
Africa. Policy initiatives to encourage the better use of such inputs have the
potential to substantially improve the horticultural sector.
Methods, Limitations, and Bias
This synthesis article highlights major efforts, achievements, lessons learned,
challenges, and gaps in the process of mainstreaming nutrient-dense vegetables
and legumes—especially those traditionally referred to infamously as “orphaned
crops“—into production, utilization, and marketing systems for food, nutrition,
188 World Medical & Health Policy, 7:3

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