Tracing back indigenous vegetables to the farms

Every morning, Mary Nyaranga Obiri sells her indigenous vegetables to the middlemen who flock her one acre piece of farm in Trans-Mara before they transport it to Nairobi. Mary who is commonly known as Sabina by her clients has been growing the local vegetables since 1974.

In additiona to her farm, she also grows these vegetables on other leased farms in small portions. According to her, growing the vegetables goes beyond passion. She strongly believes that their consumption gives one more than the satisfaction but rather enhance their health. “You become healthier when you regularly consume these vegetables as compared to the exotic ones,” said Sabina.

The vegetables have recently By Victor Nyakachunga increased in their popularity in the major urban centres where the consumption was dismal. More urban residents are seeking these vegetables due to their taste, as a precaution to stabilize their body’s immunity and partly as an extra delicacy to expand their menu. This has attracted farmers like Mary to increase their farms and add more varieties of the vegetables in their farms.

“We grow so many varieties of these vegetables,” said Mary, “we could plant more than five different varieties in a quarter piece of land.” Most of these vegetables include: cowpeas (kunde/egesare), African nightshade (managu), jute mallow (mrenda), vegetable amaranth (mchicha), African spinach (enderema/ndemra), spiderplant (chinsaga), African kale (kandhira), slender leaf (mitoo) among others

Just like other local small scale farmers here, Mary still prefers to use the seeds obtained from the vegetables for planting. Even though the seeds are locally available for farmers to obtain, there is a common belief that they normally result into a less tasty and extra-large leaves. For them, they would rather let the vegetables mature and preserve the seeds for their next planting.

The landscape and the weather conditions of Kisii and Trans-Mara region also favour these vegetables. Normally, indigenous vegetables do well in fertile soils in regions that receive adequate rainfall. Irrigation is also important for maximum yield and especially in dry areas or in the seasons.

Mary for instance is able to harvest 100 bags of spider plant from an acre piece of land where on a good demand would retail at Sh1000. The plants are normally ready for harvest within one month from the time they are grown. The high yield is enhanced by using the manures and letting cows graze during the off planting season as the majority of farmers rely on rain water.

However, all is not so rosy for the indigenous farmers like Mary as sometimes there is overproduction leading to losses and wastes, pests and diseases attacking the crops and the grotesque presence of the middlemen who are actually the big gainers in the entire cycle since they are able to dictate the market prices especially for farmers who do not have a direct access to market.

By entirely depending on indigenous vegetable farming, Mary has been able to sustain herself adequately and educate all her children with the proceeds she earns from the sales. Her daughter has also joined her in the farming business and now they are able to alternate in both farming and selling in Nairobi where there is a ready market.

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