Nigerian women reap benefits from indigenous vegetables

By Adebooye Odunayo Clement, Olanike Fasilat Deji, Adeolu Babatunde Ayanwale, Oyedele Durodoluwa Joseph and Alao Titus Oluwagbenga


Demand for fresh indigenous vegetables in Nigeria has increased considerably thanks to a research team comprising Nigerian and Canadian researchers. Radio programs in the local language have raised awareness of the nutrition and income benefits of indigenous vegetables. In 36 months, farmers have formed 22 registered underutilized-vegetable cooperatives, involving over 1,200 farmers (50% of them women). The cooperatives facilitate access to credit and inputs. The research team's economic analysis shows greater returns from indigenous vegetables compared to conventional vegetables. Farmers’ yearly income rose from approximately CA$2,200 to CA$3,700.

Rural women in Nigeria generally lack the resources to purchase high value food items (eggs, meat and milk), and instead gather indigenous vegetables, leaves and fruits from the wild to feed their families. Indigenous vegetables are often highly nutritious, containing key vitamins and minerals - including high levels of carotenoids (Vitamin A), flavonoids, and phenolics - that support human health. But despite this potential, research systems have failed to prioritize indigenous vegetable species to improve food security, nutrition and income in farming communities. As a result, most of these indigenous vegetables remain uncultivated and their potential untapped.

Working in four administrative states in south- western Nigeria, the Sustainable Production and Utilization of Underutilized Nigerian Vegetables to Enhance Rural Food Security project developed new technologies for six high premium indigenous vegetable species, which were selected on the basis of their food values, consumer acceptability, marketing potential and amenability to agronomic practices. The varieties included: local celery (woorowo), local amaranth (teteatetedaye), fluted pumpkin (ugu), African nightshade (odu), eggplant (igbagba) and scarlet eggplant (ogunmo), and the technologies included improvements in land preparation, seeding rates, staking technology, seed treatment and pest control. The project has supported improved production, processing, preservation and marketing of the vegetables.

Increased demand for indigenous vegetables - The project works with 1,200 farmers (50% women) who have been formed into 22 vegetable cooperative groups. Each group has received training on agronomic practices, gender issues and savings education. Each cooperative is registered with relevant authorities in each of the four states so that farmers are able to access bank credit and federal government support. Farmer cooperatives have strong potential to further exploit market opportunities, and contribute to the government push to commercialize indigenous vegetables in domestic and export markets. Radio programs known as ‘Ramo Elefo’ (Ramo the Vegetable Seller) have been aired on popular FM stations in south-western Nigeria to create awareness on production, utilization, and nutritional and health benefits of underutilized vegetables, reaching over 3 million listeners. These and new jingles have helped to stimulate demand for seeds or further information on indigenous vegetable production.