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Protein and Energy Contribution of African Indigenous Vegetables: Evidence from Selected Rural and Peri-urban Counties of Kenya

Although positive steps have been taken towards reducing food insecurity, it remains a serious and recurrent issue, especially in developing countries. Food insecurity is aggravated by the world’s growing population and global ecological changes and calls for novel agriculture-based hunger eradication strategies. It is argued that production and consumption of indigenous vegetables (IVs) enhances accessibility and availability of nutritious food in households. Indigenous vegetables (IVs) contain significant amounts of macronutrients and high levels of micronutrients. As their agro-economic advantages make them relatively easy for uptake by resource-poor households, they represent a direct solution to ‘hidden hunger’. Household-based survey data collected from 1232 IV producers in rural and peri-urban areas of five selected counties in Kenya in 2014 were used to examine the dietary contribution of IVs. Five priority indigenous vegetables were analysed: amaranth, cowpea, African nightshade, spider plant and Ethiopian kale. Quantitative analysis was performed using food security indicators from the ADePTFood security Module data analytical software. This study’s findings indicated African nightshade was the most consumed indigenous vegetable, providing the largest share of dietary energy consumption (average of 43 kcal/person/day). Amaranth was found to provide the highest share and cheapest source of dietary protein consumption, an average of 4.9 g/person/day, thus meeting 8% of the adult daily protein requirement. These results showed the clear dominance of indigenous vegetables over exotic vegetables in terms of protein contribution, achieved both by amaranth’s high protein content compared to cabbage, as well as the low per unit cost of protein in indigenous vegetables compared to exotic vegetables. Given that, IVs have a significant protein content that adds variety to staple diets at comparatively low median dietary unit values and that they are important sources of dietary energy, efforts should be made to increase their consumption by undertaking further research, raising awareness and instituting policies.