Access to High Value Markets by Smallholder Farmers of African Indigenous Vegetables in Kenya


Author(s):  Ngugi, Isaac; Gitau ,Raphael; Nyoro, James

African indigenous vegetables are known for their importance in providing nutritious food, both in rural and urban areas. The vegetables play a crucial role in income generation and subsistence. Some of them have been attributed with having medicinal-value properties and are grown for home consumption. They are considered traditional crops, because whereas some of the plants were planted, others were readily available and harvested in their habitat appearing as volunteer crops or weeds.

Others had been consumed for countless generations signifying their value and importance in local cultures. The value of indigenous vegetables is not fully appreciated in Africa especially in urban areas (IPGRI 2005). Although indigenous leaf vegetables and fruits have been an integral part of agricultural systems in Africa, most African countries have not given them priority in crop development.

They have not featured significantly in the research agendas of international or local organizations that have tended to focus on improved exotic varieties. Local varieties have been replaced by improved or exotic varieties and species. However, producing more exotic food crops by itself is not a panacea to malnutrition problems in Africa. The quality of food and its nutrient content is very crucial. Through greater production and consumption of indigenous vegetables, we can eliminate malnutrition and promote healthy diets in Africa.

Although there is resurgence in demand, the diversity of indigenous leaf vegetables and fruits of Africa, has in the past been seriously eroded as a result of multiplicity of environmental, political, and socio-economic factors (Adebooye and Opabode 2004). Kenya has suffered from transitory and chronic food insecurity, mainly due to drought and floods and an over reliance of maize crop. Exploitation and growing of indigenous vegetables adaptable to the local environment, will, in the long run improve the food situation, nutrition, and health of the people.

In Kenya there are more than 210 species of leafy vegetables that are part of traditional diets and have not been fully utilized, thus there is a great potential to be harnessed (IPGRI 2006). Over the past ten years, consumers have become increasingly aware of the nutritional and medicinal values of vegetables, and the demand has been on the rise especially in major urban centres in Kenya. This has created demand especially in both formal and informal markets in the urban centres. In order to assist farmers to grow these vegetables and access the markets, a developmental organization, Family Concern, has been assisting farmers to transform themselves from subsistence into business support units (BSUs) to produce the vegetables on a sustainable basis and ensure consistency of supply to the markets.

Formation of these farmer associations has led to the development and enforcement of a suitable code of conduct, credit access and affordability, transport, and operations. The market restructuring and supply chain in Kenya through Family Concern has assisted small farmers to adopt suitable farm inputs, use improved crop husbandry practices, handle produce properly after harvesting, enhance quality, and maintain the recommended standards and packaging. The non-governmental organization (NGO) has linked these farmers to high value markets e.g. supermarkets where they fetch reasonable prices. Farmers are also guaranteed markets for their products throughout the year.

Currently the indigenous vegetables are in high demand. It is on the basis of the above that the current study is being undertaken. The key aim of the study is to identify how small-scale traditional vegetable farmers could be better integrated in the emerging and restructured markets such as supermarkets. The study identifies the factors attributed to successful inclusion in the chain supplying the dynamic markets and estimates the cost and benefits of the inclusion.

Access to High Value Markets by Smallholder Farmers of African Indigenous Vegetables in Kenya