Monday, 18 March 2013

Traditional Methods of Indigenous Vegetable Preservation...

Food by its nature begins to go bad the moment it is harvested (Nummer, 2002). In the past, traditional methods of food preservation were a sure way of improving this situation especially in the rural area where a lot of food goes to waste especially after harvest.  Access to stable and sustainable food supplies was a precondition for the establishment of food security at the household level and the society. Preservation practices ensured regular flow of food into the household throughout the seasons for its members. The promotion of these readily available technologies for home preservation such as drying of vegetables and fruits at home reduced wastage and ensured better utilization of fresh produce available in abundance during the harvest season (FAO/USDHEW, 1986).

The granaries that were used as food store in the past were made of sticks that served as insect repellant to minimize infestation of stored grains (Farnandez, 1994:10 quoted in Akong’a 1998). Grain containers, sealed gourds and hand-woven baskets were also used to preserve and store grains. The design was to keep away moisture. According to (Parrish, 1994) the sealed containers acted as an elementary form of fumigation chambers. Among the Luo and Luyia, ash served as preservative for grains especially peas and beans after a thorough drying. Among the Luyia, grains in bulk were stored in pots or special granaries sealed using cow dung to serve as cement. Cow dung made the granaries airtight and too hot for pests to survive. Some communities used storage above the kitchen hearth to keep grains dry and free from pests because of the heat and smoke. Sorghum in particular could be kept in such a store for more than 10 years (Akong’a, 1998).

Among the Luo of Western Kenya, indigenous vegetable were dried under the shade of a tree or a period of three to four days the put in a pot that was covered with a lid then sealed with cow dung. The vegetable would stay in the pot for more than a year without going bad. The vegetable served as food reserve to be used during lean period.

In the recent times, humans have focused on fewer plant species, mostly exotic plants, thus resulting to narrow food focus. This narrow focus has led to a decline in original knowledge needed to identify and prepare wild plant species; locally affecting the population’s nutritional status, especially in the developing world (Griveti and Ogle 2000; Ogoye-Ndegwa and Aagaard-Hansen 2003). Despite the nutritional and medicinal value of indigenous vegetables, these vegetables are treated as weeds during high season when they are in plenty. Methods of preservation are very important deterrent to the wider utilization of these vegetables. Information about traditional systems is no longer transferred from one generation to the next therefore, the knowledge gap between the older generation in the rural areas and urban youth in particular is widening (Mnzava, 1989).

Many researchers, (Johns and Kokwaro 1991; Cooper et al. 1992; Humphry et al. 1993; Jacks 1994; Abbiw 1997; Asfaw 1997; Mathenge 1997; Okafor 1997; Chweya and Eyzaguirre 1999; Maundu et al. 1999a; Maundu et al. 1999b) have emphasized advantages of consuming indigenous vegetables as compared with introduced exotic leafy vegetables such as cabbage. Firstly, the nutritional value of the indigenous leafy vegetables is higher (Nordeide et al. 1996; Uiso and Johns 1996; Shackleton et al. 1998).

Secondly, they ensure food security since most indigenous vegetables are drought and pest resistant (Odiaka and Schippers, 2004). Thirdly, most species have a potential for income generation because they grow throughout the year and can be harvested with minimal inputs (Jacks 1994). However, there is fear of losing the indigenous knowledge therefore large quantities of vegetables are lost due to poor handling and storage (Maudu, 2004).

Many people lack adequate amounts of rich nutritious foods needed for health and a productive life. Chronic under-nutrition affects some 215 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, that is, 43 percent of the population (FAO, 1996). Deficiencies of iron, vitamin A and iodine are also widespread; about 300 million people are affected every year, and a much greater number are at risk of these deficiencies. Indigenous vegetables such as Gynandropsis (Akeyo or Dek) have very high concentrations of iron and calcium while Tribulus terrestris L. (Okuro) has calcium (Orech et al, 2007) that can alleviate the problem of malnutrition in Kenya.  

The post-modern period has seen most Africans leave the traditional ways that ensured constant supply of food throughout the year and adopted methods that makes them vulnerable to hunger and diseases. It is therefore imperative to promote these traditional methods to supplement with the modern ones as a way of ensuring constant supply of food. 

BY: Audia Atogo
Cultural Heritage Department,
National Museums of Kenya.

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