Vegetables in Africa


There is a great deal of diversity in vegetables on the African continent. Some of these African vegetables originated on the continent, while some have been cultivated in Africa for so long that they have become African through their domestication and adaptation on the African soil. Some vegetables are pan-African, adapted across most parts of Africa. However, there are a few that are better adapted to only certain parts of Africa, fuelling regional variations.


In the northern part of Africa for example, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, and jute mallow flourish and are prevalent. Common root vegetables include potatoes, onions and garlic. Other root vegetables commonly used in North African cuisine include carrots, turnips, and beets. In addition, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant are also commonly used in stews and salads.


Across the eastern part of Africa, some common vegetables include African black nightshade (solanum nigrum), stinging nettle, amaranth, spiderplant (cleome gynandra), Pumpkin, black-eyed peas commonly known as cowpeas, african eggplant, Ethiopian kale (brassica carinata) and  okra. Other vegetables commonly eaten include common kale (brassica oleracea),  tomatoes, French beans, carrots, spinach and cabbage. These vegetables, while not indigenous to East Africa, have been adapted for cultivation in the East African topography and have been acclimatised to the region.


In southern Africa, a greater variety of fruits and vegetables abound. Fruits and vegetables include bananas, pineapples, pawpaw (papaya), mangoes, avocados, tomatoes, carrots, onions, potatoes, and cabbage.


Tackling Food Security with Traditional African Vegetables

The African continent is home to hundreds of indigenous vegetables and other food plants that fell out of fashion as well-known vegetables were introduced from other parts of the world. Plants such as the baobab, amaranth, wild melon, and the African mango. These native plants provide rich nutrition, often attaining superfood status, while surviving harsh conditions. Because of a lack of a research focus and scientific investment into these traditional food plants, they are lost to the world at large. Overcoming food and nutritional insecurity among women, pregnant and lactating mothers, and children under five years of age, remains a challenge in many developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa.


One of the avenues to tackle the issue of food security in Africa could be via re-igniting an interest in, and a taste for some of the lost traditional foods. We have a unique opportunity to explore the promise that Africa holds in terms of its edible botanical wealth. Instead of placing the focus solely on genetic engineering as the solution to food security, we should broaden the scope of fighting food security to include researching already available, but largely unknown food plants in Africa. Because some obscure traditional plant might have a genetic composition that is so outstanding that it could well facilitate solutions to some of the the world’s most pressing food issues.


Given even a little attention and support, Africa’s fruits and vegetables could contribute even more towards improved nutrition, increased income for smallholder farmers, and lead to enhanced agricultural productivity and improved agricultural biodiversity.


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