The Importance of Traditional Leafy Vegetables in South Africa
The use of traditional leafy vegetables in communities has been noted in several studies. These studies highlighted concerns about the loss of knowledge. The aim of this work was to enhance the role of African leafy vegetables in the nutrition of vulnerable groups in South Africa through improved preparation, promotion of consumption, processing, landrace improvement program, and management of their genetic diversity. Researchers needed to establish the extent of the use, conservation status and awareness of these plants, to ensure effective research decisions. The results from these studies are reported on here. Localities that differed in ethnicity and climate were targeted. The data collection phase used a questionnaire survey, rapid and participatory methodologies to collect information from the women. Traditional leafy vegetables were found to be a very important source of food in summer, but especially in winter. Several drying methods are used to ensure the availability of these vegetables during the winter. Pumpkins and cowpeas were the only crops grown, with some of the others occasionally broadcast. The most popular crops for consumption with all the age groups were amaranth and pumpkins, with jute mallow (Chorcorus sp.) and spider plant (Cleome gynandra) popular in the northern areas in South Africa. Where cowpeas were available, they were seen as the most valuable dried leaf product, as they were used as a safety crop due to their long shelf life. Ethnicity and gender had an effect on the use and preferences of the different crops, with men preferring the more bitter taste and women and children preferring the milder taste. Different ethnic groups showed differences in terms of bitterness of the taste and composition of the leaf mixes. In many areas seed systems were poor as the traditional role of keeper of the seed had been lost. Constant downgrading of traditional vegetables and associated knowledge by research and extension had led to the labels of ‘backward knowledge’ and ‘poverty foods’. This led to a shift in food use and willingness of the youth to learn about and eat these crops. Awareness creation contributed to a change in the perceptions amongst the youth and adults, leading to increased demand for information and seed. It was determined that traditional leafy vegetables played an important role in food security in rural South Africa, but the status of the crops, as well as their conservation, need to be addressed to ensure sustainable use.
Keywords: Leafy vegetables, Food security, Conservation
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