Marketing African Leafy Vegetables: Challenges and Opportunities in the Kenyan Context
Activities to scale up production and consumption of African leafy vegetables have increased greatly in the recent past. What are the emerging issues in relationship to commercialization of these vegetables, given their previous unexploited state? The market share of ALVs vis-à-vis other vegetable species, particularly kales, cabbages and spinach, has been on the upward trend, in the urban markets and increased consumption in rural areas too. How has this influenced the various players in the ALVs sector for example farmers, traders and consumers? Issues of quality control, reliability and pricing remain critical to the future success of ALVs farming. The fact that ALVs are fast becoming the vegetable of choice, especially in the hitherto, non-consuming segments of the society including the upper and middle class households, and generally among the elite in Kenya is a situation that requires serious assessment and action plan. The paradigm shift in the consumption patterns of ALVs has implications on the continued availability of the vegetables to the lower-end of the market consumers-the poor. Therefore, the reality that their income and nutritional resources could be exploited to their disadvantage is very much a possibility. What should be the policy and research considerations in the unfolding scenario? Women have been closely associated with cultivation and selling of ALVs; however, studies have shown that whenever a crop begins to appreciate in the market and starts fetching higher income, men tend to push their way into the trade. Similarly, higher income prospects in any trade create competition and sooner or later non-competitive segments of the market fall by the way side in due course, and in our case these would be small-scale farmers and traders. These issues are fundamental and need focusing as ALVs enter a new phase of production and consumption regimes. More efforts are needed to cushion the vulnerable groups, who have previously dominated the ALVs market, against the emerging big and medium commercial players. Otherwise, exploitation and loss of livelihoods among the vulnerable groups will be inevitable.
Key words: African Leafy Vegetables, Women, Commercialization.