malnutrition in africa

The rise of Africa’s super vegetables

Long overlooked in parts of Africa, indigenous greens are now capturing attention for their nutritional and environmental benefits.

Just a few years ago, many of those plates would have been filled with staples such as collard greens or kale — which were introduced to Africa from Europe a little over a century ago. In Nairobi, indigenous vegetables were once sold almost exclusively at hard-to-find specialized markets; and although these plants have been favoured by some rural populations in Africa, they were largely ignored by seed companies and researchers, so they lagged behind commercial crops in terms of productivity and sometimes quality.

Now, indigenous vegetables are in vogue. They fill shelves at large supermarkets even in Nairobi, and seed companies are breeding more of the traditional varieties every year. Kenyan farmers increased the area planted with such greens by 25% between 2011 and 2013. As people throughout East Africa have recognized the vegetables’ benefits, demand for the crops has boomed.

This is welcome news for agricultural researchers and nutritional experts, who argue that indigenous vegetables have a host of desirable traits: many of them are richer in protein, vitamins, iron and other nutrients than popular non-native crops such as kale, and they are better able to endure droughts and pests. This makes the traditional varieties a potent weapon against dietary deficiencies. “In Africa, malnutrition is such a problem. We want to see indigenous vegetables play a role,” says Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, a horticultural researcher at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Juja, Kenya, who is a major proponent of the crops.

Scientists in Africa and elsewhere are now ramping up studies of indigenous vegetables to tap their health benefits and improve them through breeding experiments. The hope is that such efforts can make traditional varieties even more popular with farmers and consumers. But that carries its own risk: as indigenous vegetables become more widespread, researchers seeking faster-growing crops may inadvertently breed out disease resistance or some of the other beneficial traits that made these plants so desirable in the first place.

“It is important that when we promote a specific crop, that we try to come up with different varieties,” says Andreas Ebert, gene-bank manager at the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC), an agricultural-research organization based in Shanhua, Taiwan. If the increasing popularity of these vegetables limits choices, he says, “the major benefits we are currently seeing will be lost”.

Ed’s Note:  Listen to granny, clean your plate

From the series MSF in 2013:

“We sent mobile clinics out to reach people who’d fled into the bush, where terrible conditions and lack of food made malnutrition a huge problem. Even though we were a small team we saved a lot of children’s lives that way.”
— Dr. Yolaine Civil, Doctors Without Borders pediatrician in Central African Republic (CAR)
MSF staff weigh a baby to check for malnutrition at a mobile clinic near Bossangoa, CAR. Photo © Ton Koene


1st grade. The first time I remember being called fat.
We’d had our annual health check up, and the teacher was aghast by my weight. Screamed at me for being able to eat an entire sweet roti when I weighed more than her-an adult who was like 3 times my age.
The first time I wished I didn’t exist, felt that I had absolutely no right in this world.
I was 6.
People ask me why I’m scared of health check -ups.

2nd grade class party. I asked for a 3rd slice of cake or so.
The teacher gave me this look as if I was the reason behind the malnutrition in Africa.
My friends want to know why I’ve never eaten cake in school.

3rd grade swim class. They snicker as I come out of the dressing room, of how the ladder creaks as I go down, at how much water I displace.
I pay no attention to it, but 7yrs later, people wonder why I’d rather jump into the water than use the ladder.

4th grade science class. The first time we’re learning about a healthy diet. Something I’d known of since the time I’ve known my name. The teacher casually mentions obesity and its factors, but all I saw were daggered stares aimed right at me. The first time I wished that I could make myself smaller, to somehow shrink and not take up space. The second time I wished that I didn’t exist.

5th grade school washroom. I was alone in one that was frequented by seniors. 3 girls, much older than I comment on how I barely fit in the mirror. They call me a yellow bulldozer.
I was 10.
To this day my friends get annoyed at my refusal to go to the washroom alone.

6th grade theatre class. The time I sat on a desk and it broke. My best friends promised not to tell anyone, but instead ratted me out to the whole class, and the cruelty didn’t stop for weeks.
My parents want to know why I don’t like wooden chairs.

7th grade art class. We’re making portraits of each other. A girl decides to make a caricature instead and shows my cheeks as bulbous and adds 2 extra chins. A harmless joke.
My grandma wants to know why every morning I squish my cheeks until they turn red, sucking them in with every breath.

7th grade. The first time I learnt that I do not look graceful.
The first time I start sucking my stomach in all the time.

8th grade. The first time I learnt that stores will not have my dress size. That the mannequins were the definition of beauty and honey, if you’re wider than the mannequin, there really isn’t any room for you. That my place was at the back of the collection-if I’m lucky that is.
My mother asks me everyday why I don’t want to go shopping.

9th grade. I start voicing myself, using my loudness to carve an identity that will not let me back down.
9th grade. The first time I starved myself. Because that’s what I was told- in a world that values my outsides more than my insides, I needed to shrink myself. That if people were to listen to what I had to say, I needed to be smaller, take up less space.
That if I had eaten two slices of bread, I had eaten more than what I was supposed to. That with every groan and cramp in my stomach, I would be more beautiful.
I was 14.

10th grade. This anxiety is killing me. All people see about me are my big thighs and my wide hips and my huge arms.  
10th grade. The first time I put my fingers down my throat.
I was 15.

11th grade. The first time I googled anorexia.
11th grade. The first time I refused to eat food in school. The first time I made myself not take any lunch to school. The first time I let everyone believe that I don’t feel hungry. That one apply a day is enough.  
I was 16.
11th grade. The first time I started becoming quieter. Because if I said too much, it would somehow be related to my weight and used against me.
My mother wonders why I’ve stopped liking school.

11th grade. The first time I discovered slam poetry.
The first time I openly weeped because someone finally related to my struggles.
The first time I saw that I can be fat and beautiful. The first time I realise that it’s okay that I take up space.
The first time I learn to reject the conditioned negativity. The first time I learn that I have the right to be happy?

So this is me asking the world to be nicer. Because that 6yr old girl deserves to be taught the right way to eat healthy foods.
Because that 7yr old girl shouldn’t be made to feel bad about feeling hungry.
Because that 10yr old girl shouldn’t have a lifelong fear of public spaces.
Because that 13 year old girl shouldn’t  have to cry after coming out of every clothing store.
Because that 14 year old girl deserves better than 48hrs of stomach groans and cramps.
Because that 15 year old girl deserves more than a slow gag reflex.
Because that 16 year old girl shouldn’t feel scared to talk.

Because this 17 year old girl shouldn’t be conditioned to think that she doesn’t deserve love, happiness, success, unless she’s thin.

Poverty in Africa

The phrase, “Be thankful for what you have, luxuries for African orphans are the necessities for you” always finds a way into our ears today with those nagging parents trying to get us to stop complaining about our lack of luxuries. The ideal and generic response is to just roll your eyes while they keep preaching about this cliché saying and make comparisons between you and people in Africa. However main stream this saying sounds, the truth behind it is much more than parents or teachers make out of it. The literal meaning still stands strong, but the depth of this saying goes substantially further than what a reactive thought could ever achieve. Assuming most of us live in the developed part of the Northern Hemisphere, we face the fact that we are beyond lucky. We are blessed. Our essential emotion for our living conditions should be beyond thankful. We should embrace every moment of our blessed lives here where we live. Whether it be from living in a one-bedroom apartment to living off a $200,000 annual paycheck, we live as royalty in comparison to our brothers and sisters in Africa.

When an overview is given of Africa’s economic situation, the considerably low numbers also finds a way to surprise us. The 50 USD GDP per capita is barely enough to sustain an economy compared to the averaged 1000 USD GDP per capita in American cities. Misspent funds simply used at the wrong time and wrong place seem to dominate the factors that render most of the money used by government essentially useless. A prime example for this would be the Akosombo dam which was designed to extract certain minerals. However, the ore meant to power the dam was extremely rare in the area, making the dam pretty much useless. That being established, minimal funds are available for children in Africa. Many parents try to create a better life for their children by setting out and finding a consistent flow of income but often, failure is the result. Even established orphanages struggle to provide children with their needs. The lack of money obviously correlates to food, medicine, and overall utility shortages. Unlike America, the economic crisis in Africa has a devastating affect on orphans and their lives.

With notably low funds, Africa cannot mass-produce and distribute cures for diseases. Apart from the insufficient funds and the lack of clean drinking water, disease covers Africa. These ultimately lead to a spike in infant mortality rates. The presence of mixed sewage that contains deadly bacteria in the drinking water eventually leads to fatal diseases. Most of this comes from inadequate sewage systems adopted by most cities in Africa. With dirty water and the inability to create solutions, Africa is left in a lose-lose situation in which they both lose money in attempts at solutions and at the same time, watch their population slowly suffer from these problems that are virtually unstoppable giving the status quo. This ultimately ends up affecting the children of Africa. It can either create orphans or create problems for orphans. These orphans must endure the hardships thrown at them by the harsh surroundings for the place they must call home.

Which brings up the question: To what extent would you go to help these children? And remember, be thankful for what you have, luxuries for African orphans are the necessities for you.