Reading: Indigenous Vegetables in Tanzania, Significance and Prospects

African indigenous vegetables play a highly significant role in food security of the underprivileged in both urban and rural settings (Schippers, 1997). They can serve as primary foods or secondary condiments to dishes prepared from domesticated varieties. They are also valuable sources of energy and micronutrients in the diets of isolated communities (Grivetti and Ogle, 2000). Further, they may serve as income sources and may be marketed or traded locally, regionally, even internationally, and the primary importance of edible wild species during periods of drought and or social unrest or war is well documented (Humphry et al., 1993, Smith et al., 1995, Smith et al., 1996). However, the important role of African indigenous vegetables in Tanzania’s health sector, diets and as an income source is threatened through extinction of the genetic resources of these species. Many landraces of vegetables are in the process of being replaced by modern varieties (FAO, 1998). (Weinberger and Myusa, pg. 11)

Of the three target vegetables, amaranth had the highest Fe contents (up to 37.05 mg per 100 g of edible portion) followed by African nightshade (up to 15.90 mg)(Table 3.1). The African eggplant has the lowest contents of Fe (being as low as 2 mg per 100 g of the edible portion). (Weinberger and Myusa, pg. 18)

Although many health and nutrition workers in Tanzania have paid much attention on promoting consumption of ‘imported’ vegetables such as spinach, when it comes to using a food-based approach for combating dietary anemia, they may need to rethink and focus more on some of these indigenous vegetables. For example, while the iron contents of spinach (Spinacia oleracea) found in most parts of Africa is known to be 1.7 mg per 100 g edible portion (FAO, 2004), the values observed in this study for amaranth and nightshade are as high as 37 mg. Other noted good sources of iron include spiderflower plant and hairy lettuce (up to about 50 mg per 100 g of edible portion). (Weinberger and Myusa, pg. 23)


Plants Commonly grown in household gardens:

Pumpkin leaves
Sweet potato leaves
Cowpea leaves
African eggplant
Ethiopian mustard
Cassava leaves
Wild cucumber
Spiderflower plant


Share of households engaged in cultivation of IVs in home gardens (urban areas)
City          Amaranth               Nightshade               African eggplant                    Grows IV
Arusha       45.5                            45.5                                  36.4                                         52.9

various IVs (top 10)

Jute mallow
Spider plant
Wild cucumber
Hairy lettuce
Pumpkin leaves
Cowpea leaves
Black jack
Sweet potato leaves
Cassava leaves

Buying IV crops is much more important during the dry season, when approximately two-thirds of all households purchase IV crops at the market. During the rainy season hardly any household buys IV crops since vegetables are either found and collected outside the homestead or produced in home gardens during that period. In Kongwa and Singida one-third of households never buy IV on the market (Table 4.9). The crops most frequently purchased on the market, listed in order, are amaranth (67% of all households), okra (37%), African eggplant (33%), nightshade (25%) and sweet potato leaves (23%). Amaranth is by far the most popular crop to be purchased on markets, and this is true for all districts (Table 4.10). Exotic vegetables are more often purchased at the market than IV crops, which are more often produced at home (Weinberger and Myusa, pg. 32)

Table 4.11. Source of vegetables consumed
Exotic vegetables                      Indigenous vegetables               Total
Source               (N)            (%)                            (N)                 (%)                                   (%)
Purchased     661           65.4                            86                22.1                                  53.4
Produced       331           32.8                          232               59.6                                  40.2
Collected            0                 0                             67                17.2                                    4.8
Gift                      18              1.8                             4                    1.0                                      1.6
Total                1010        100.0                       389               100.0                              100.0


Question                                                        Arumeru                    Kongwa                  Singida               Muheza                   Avg
Do you offer IVs when visitors                 93.0                           85.8                          85.7                      95.3                     89.8
come to your home?
Do you consume IVs at special                36.6                               39.6                       37.8                        61.3                     44.6
Are IVs an important contri-                    94.4                               94.3                       90.8                       93.4                     93.2
bution to the diet when
there is food shortage?
Do adult males in your house-                95.8                                 87.7                      93.9                        96.2                     93.2
hold eat IVs?
Generally, do your children                   100.0                              93.3                        96.9                         96.2                    96.3
like eating IVs?
Are you teaching your children             84.5                                 80.0                      91.8                          88.7                    86.3
how to prepare IVs?
Is it important to be able to                      93.0                                97.2                       83.7                         84.0                    89.2
identify IVs?
Are fewer varieties of IVs to                    56.3                                 35.8                       64.3                          22.6                     43.3
be found nowadays than
20-30 years back?
Note: Figure represents the share of respondents who answered “yes”. Source: Survey conducted by AVRDC in cooperation with HORTI-TENGERU, 2003. N = 359 households


Table 5.6. Number of harvests per crop
Vegetable                      Mean                       Maximum                N
Sweet potato                30.7                              180                      12
Okra                                 21.3                                90                        51
African eggplant          15.0                               48                        21
Pumpkin                          12.6                                32                       18
Amaranth                         9.7                                60                       56
Nightshade                      5.3                                 40                       39
Cowpea                              5.3                                 50                       91
Ethiopian mustard        4.5                                 21                        13
Wild cucumber               4.2                                  9                            5
Jute mallow                     2.0                                  2                            1
Total                                  10.8                              180                        307
Source: Survey conducted by AVRDC in cooperation with HORTI-TENGERU, 2003. N = 307 plots


Labor distribution in IV production (family labor)
Men &                                                Women &
Activity                                          Men                      Women               women              Children                  children                       Family
Nursery bed/ sowing                109                         57                          77                         3                                 5                                    10
Land preparation                       142                          36                           98                         2                                 8                                    18
Harrowing                                       59                           11                           29                         0                                 3                                     2
Transplanting                                34                            17                          44                         1                                 6                                     16
Seed broadcasting                        11                             9                              6                         0                                 2                                       3
Weeding                                           85                             55                         127                       5                                12                                   32
Mulching                                          1                                0                               1                        0                                  0                                      0
Fertilizer application                 36                              13                             6                        0                                  0                                      2
Manure application                    49                              32                           39                       2                                  6                                     13
Pesticide application                 71                               3                                1                       0                                  0                                       0
Irrigation                                       121                             33                             18                      2                                 12                                      7
Harvest                                             51                            179                           43                      4                                  13                                   16
Transport to market                    27                             39                             8                        0                                   0                                      1
Total                                                   796                          484                          497                  19                                67                                   120
Source: Survey conducted by AVRDC in cooperation with HORTI-TENGERU, 2003. N = 220 plots


Positive traits identified by farmers
Vegetable Production Consumption

Early maturity Short cooking time
Long production cycle Good taste
Repeated harvesting Micronutrient content
Little input required Low water content
High yield (large leaves) Can be dried
Low susceptibility

Vegetable cowpea

Early maturity Short cooking time
Long production cycle Good taste
Repeated harvesting
Grows in low fertility soils
High yield (large pods)

Early maturity Short cooking time
Long production cycle No spines/ hairs
Repeated harvesting Avg mucilaginous material
High yield (large fruit)
Jute mallow

Early maturing Short cooking time
Long production cycle Soft
High yield Good taste
Rain tolerant Storage
African nightshade

Early maturity Short cooking time
Long production cycle Nutritious
Easy harvesting
Little input required
Low susceptibility
African eggplant

Early maturity Good taste
Long production cycle
High yield (large fruits)
Low susceptibility
Source: compiled from various tables in Keller, 2004.

Indigenous vegetables are important both for consumption and production, and in both cases, poor households rely more on these vegetables than more wealthy households. However, in comparison to older literature, the importance of IVs for consumption appears to have declined over the years. For poor households, the value of IV consumption is approximately 11% of the value of all food consumption, compared to 2% for the wealthiest households. Indigenous vegetables contribute significantly to the consumption of micronutrients, particularly of poor households, where approximately half of vitamin A and one-third of iron requirements are consumed through IVs.
Approximately 40% of farmers who cultivate small plots of land are engaged in the cultivation of IVs, while only 25% of relatively largescale farmers are engaged in the cultivation of IVs. The share of both marketed and non-marketed indigenous vegetables in total household income is, on average, nearly 13%. Indigenous vegetables thus contribute significantly to overall household incomes. It would be wrong to believe, though, that IVs are a purely subsistence crop. Several IVs are highly commercialized, and some of them can nowadays be found in supermarkets and convenience stores. Thus it appears that there is a good market potential for these crops, both in the high-price segment, as well as in the low-price segment.

A willingness-to-pay analysis among urban consumers indicated there is considerable scope for price increases. On average, consumers were willing to pay an additional 34% for amaranth to 23% for African eggplant. Commercial seed companies are also recognizing this potential and are entering—albeit cautiously—the market of IV crop seeds. (Weinberger and Myusa, pg. 64)


Works Cited:

Weinberger, Katinka, and John Msuya. “Indigenous Vegetables in Tanzania, Significance and Prospects.” (2004). The World Vegetable Center. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. <;.