Indigenous Food Plants Programme: using locally available edible
species to enhance community health, provide income and conserve biodiversity
The Indigenous Food Plants Programme was initiated by the National Museums
of Kenya in 1989, and has been implemented with the help of two NGOs and
local communities in ten districts of Kenya. The aim is:
The programme thus has three components: research, extension and education.
Such a programme was needed for several reasons:
to compile a database of the indigenous food plants of Kenya, through research
in the field and at the East African Herbarium;
to compile agronomic, nutritional, cultural and market data on priority
to promote the cultivation, consumption and marketing of these foods through
field demonstrations, educational materials and the media.
People were despising their traditional foods in favour of exotic foods.
This was most common among the younger generation, who took pride in their
‘modern’ patterns of consumption.
Poverty, famine, and malnutrition were common in rural areas despite the
fact that local foods were readily available.
Much local knowledge regarding the nutritional value and cultivation of
local edible plants was being lost. Most people no longer knew, for example,
when and where to collect seeds, etc.
Having never been written down, the indigenous knowledge of the elderly
was slipping away day-by-day.
A number of important species, or varieties of species, were on their way
CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING; PLANTS; FOOD; BIODIVERSITY
Regions: coastal, central, northwestern and western
Neighbourhood/village: Magarini, Mukuyuni and Ndaragua, Kaputir, Yimbo
Indigenous knowledge was the main source of the information needed:
Indigenous knowledge was thus the starting pont. Specialists in nutrition,
ecology, and botany have had to base their research on it because there
was simply not enough time, money or human resources to duplicate all of
that knowledge. The scientific, economic, and socio-cultural significance
of the indigenous knowledge becomes apparent as specialists and practitioners
work with it.
to determine which species could be consumed (fruits, vegetables, gum,
as tea, etc.);
to set priorities based on the taste, market value, availability, etc.
of the edible plants;
to determine which species were plentiful and which were on the verge of
to draft guidelines regarding nutrient content and methods of propagation;
to assess the general value of the species;
to begin an ecological analysis of the species (types of soil in which
they grow, seasonal availability, etc.);
to document the vernacular names;
to learn of the variation within each species.
STAKEHOLDERS AND BENEFICIARIES
Economic: Local fruits and vegetables can be sold at the market,
which encourages their cultivation.
Environmental: Important food species are protected in their natural
habitat as well as being cultivated in fields and household gardens.
Other: By creating more respect for traditional food plants and
more pride in their consumption, the project encourages NGOs and government
agencies to launch more programmes focussed on these food plants.
The practice is beneficial in several ways:
There are therefore also several groups of stakeholders:
It improves the local communities’ living standards and health.
It enhances the knowledge which extension workers put to daily use.
It generates knowledge that is useful to NGOs seeking ways to alleviate
poverty and improve public health.
It generates scientific knowledge useful for the preservation of cultural
and biological diversity.
A large number of people are involved in the practice or affected by it
in one way or another:
members of the local communities, mainly the young people aged 3 to 30
who are the chief target group, and women, who are organized into groups
extension workers, administrators, and other local practitioners
NGOs, including the main initiator (National Museums of Kenya, NMK) and
the main actors (NMK, World Neighbours, World View international, Kenya
Freedom from Hunger Council)
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Some 30,000-40,000 play an active, hands-on role.
Another 100,000 are involved in some small way.
Some 1,000,000 people will have heard the message or been otherwise influenced
by the practice.
Indigenous food plants that had never been studied are now known to the
Three important efforts are effectively combined: research, extension,
and the dissemination of information for consciousness-raising purposes.
A contribution is being made to the conservation of biological and cultural
By raising the status of indigenous knowledge in the eyes of local communities,
the practice not only helps to alleviate poverty but also increases people’s
respect for their own culture.
IT IS CONSIDERED SUCCESSFUL BECAUSE:
Commercial interests could result in a selection of species and varieties,
and thus reduce the present diversity.
Research exposes local knowledge to piracy.
SUCCESS EXPRESSED IN QUALITATIVE OR QUANTITATIVE TERMS:
More people than ever before--especially young people—now appreciate traditional
Traditional foods are now more common in markets than they were before—even
Research results—which document the nutritional value of local foods, for
example--reach the local communities, where this knowledge is put directly
The practice addresses no fewer than three major problems facing our world:
loss of cultural diversity, loss of biological diversity, and poverty.
POTENTIAL FOR REPLICATION
A recent survey conducted in Nairobi revealed that traditional leafy vegetables
are being sold in every one of the 20 open retail markets sampled, and
most supermarkets now stock at least some type of traditional food, such
as flour for making traditional porridge.
Over one-quarter of Kenya's population has been sensitized to the issue.
A database containing detailed information on more than 850 species is
now available to researchers.
With a few adaptations, the practice could easily be transferred to
other places. Only two conditions would have to be met:
The practice has not yet been replicated elsewhere—at least not to the
knowledge of the people in Kenya who are responsible for it.
The plant species in question must still be present, and someone must still
be alive who possesses traditional knowledge about the species. These may
not have died out entirely.
The target group must have access to land for growing crops and/or protecting
The project began in January, 1989, and there is no end in sight.
SOURCES OF FUNDING:
Canadian Organization for Development through Education (CODE)
Columbine Foundation Netherlands
National Museums Kenya
Nog Meer Binding Foundation
P. M. Maundu - National Museums of Kenya
Dr. Rashid A. Aman - National Museums of Kenya
Organization that provided this information:
National Museums of Kenya
Research and Scientific Affairs
Kenya Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge
P.O. Box 40658
Telephone: +254-2-742131 / 742161
World View Foundation
P.O. Box 48108
Kenya Freedom from Hunger Council
P.O. Box 30762