A Global Agricultural Research Partnership

Improving livelihoods using local agricultural biodiversity


Peninah Mwangangi is a smallholder farmer in the arid region of Kitui in eastern Kenya, and a member of the Kyanika Adult Women’s Group. Today, she has a new tool in the field and on her table, to help fight climate change which is affecting her community.

Through a 10-year research project led by Bioversity International with partners, and funded by the International Research Development Centre (IDRC), Peninah and other farmers have reintroduced traditional foods like African leafy vegetables into their crops and diets. These vegetables contain vitamins and minerals that are lacking in many of the major staple foods consumed in sub-Saharan Africa. But the vegetables had been neglected by researchers, growers and consumers for decades. The benefits have been noticeable. The traditional crops have helped them against harvest loss when the rains don’t come. They have provided a new source of income, especially to the women farmers in the area. Additionally, the families have also reported nutritional benefits as a result from having a more diverse diet.

“When Bioversity came, they showed us and trained us about traditional foods. They brought us the seeds, we planted them, and we have seen this enables us to have food until the rainy season comes,” Peninah said.

Bioversity played important roles with partners to manage the promotion of production, usage, awareness creation and capacity building of how to cultivate, harvest, store, prepare, and cook the African leafy greens. Afterwards, over 60 percent of project participants in one area reported that their net monthly income from the vegetables had increased and sales of African Leafy Greens at supermarkets in Nairobi rocketed an astonishing 1,100% in just two years.

The project involved many partners for success. Bioversity worked with national research organisations in Kenya to distribute seeds to smallholder farmers, NGOs to provide training, the national Ministry of Health to raise awareness of the value and nutrition of neglected, traditional foods, and local womens’ groups to scale up and implement
the project. Links with local supermarkets helped bring the product to market. Peninah said the change has been noticeable in the community and she wants it to be sustainable for future generations.

“At first, people thought plants like nightshade and amaranth were not foods that you eat. But when Bioversity came, they explained to us the benefits of nightshade and amaranth to the body. They showed us how to harvest and preserve traditional seeds. We say to mothers, the elderly, the children and those who will come after us, we tell them to plant indigenous foods because they are good for our bodies and for everyone.”

Read more about the African Leafy Vegetables project
This story was part of ‘Fork on the Road to Rio’ farmer stories series.