Researchers at Kenya University Botanic Garden are trying to re-establish jute mallow and similar vegetables as staples in the African diet. Jute mallow is a nutritious leafy vegetable with a long history and a variety of names (originating from Egypt, it is also called ‘Egyptian spinach’). The leaves are very nutritious, rich in iron, protein, calcium, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and dietary fiber. When cooked, the leaves exude a slimy jelly which many liken to the texture of okra, prompting the name ‘Bush okra’. The vegetable has almost as many varieties as it does names (more than 15 in total). The most widely cultivated species is Corchorus olitorius, but all of the varieties are all edible and widely cultivated. The jute mallow is harvestable three to four weeks after planting, can be re-harvested three or four times a season, and doesn’t require artificial fertilizer. Farmers can harvest six to ten tons per hectare and jute mallow can be planted in rotation with other crops, resulting in healthier plants that are more resistant to damage by pests. Unfortunately, despite these benefits, jute mallow has largely gone ignored by researchers, leading to a lack of quality seed, as well as indigenous knowledge about cultivation practices.(Source: Worldwatch Institute blog, 12 Mar. 2011)
Rice is Madagascar’s main staple crop and ‘Dista’ rice, which is cultivated in the Toamasina province near Lake Alaotra (in the northern central plateau of Madagascar), is named after the farmer who discovered it.The rice, a pale pink color, smells like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, is very nutritious and yields are double that of other varieties. Dista rice also shatters less when milled, helping reduce post harvest losses and increasing farmers’ income.Dista yields are also high for another reason: farmers are using the “Système de Riziculture Intensive” to cultivate it (see http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/index.html for “System of Rice Intensification”, SRI). SRI practices include transplanting seedlings when they are very young and growing them widely apart, adding compost from organic matter to the soil, weeding regularly, and using a minimum amount of water instead of flooding fields. This helps create deep root systems that are better able to resist drought, while also increasing yields, strengthening the plant, and enhancing its flavour. (Source: Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet, 28 March 2011)
An international body for gathering and promoting knowledge about underused crops is to be established in Malaysia. Crops for the Future will encourage investment and research into neglected and underused plant species — such as Africa's baobab and marula trees — for the benefit of the poor and the environment (Source: Brendan O'Malley, SciDev, 26 November 2008).
The BGCI organisation notes that local knowledge is important and valuable. As many traditional and indigenous cultures are being eroded, it is important that they are recorded and/or promoted within the communities, so the knowledge is not lost. This knowledge can be an important means of supporting research on useful plants, understanding plant properties and cultivation, and helping local communities to improve their well-being. Botanic gardens are useful for recording and maintaining traditions and local knowledge of plant use. They can also contribute to equitable conservation and research on useful plants. Education and outreach focused on indigenous and local knowledge can help gardens to connect with their local communities, and to encourage the conservation of local knowledge and traditions related to plants. The website notes some relevant websites and articles relating to exploiting indigenous species.
The Indigenous Food Plants Programme was initiated by the National Museums of Kenya in 1989, and has been implemented with the help of two NGOs and local communities in ten districts of Kenya. The aim is: to compile a database of the indigenous food plants of Kenya, through research in the field and at the East African Herbarium; to compile agronomic, nutritional, cultural and market data on priority species; to promote the cultivation, consumption and marketing of these foods through field demonstrations, educational materials and the media.
ADAPPT is a project supported by a European Union grant through the ACP Science and Technology Programme to establish a network of scientists and agricultural technicians, from NGOs, agricultural institutes, ministries and universities from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom with a focus on pesticidal plants as environmentally benign and safer alternatives to synthetic pesticides. ADAPPT will establish an intra-African network with linkages to international networks; build capacity to assess research needs to facilitate the formulation and implementation of research policies associated with pesticidal plants and to prepare and submit project proposals for new funding opportunities, and; enhance the research capacity and incentive of the network partners and so increase the quality and impact of research results and disseminated outputs.