07 February 2007

Zimbabwe: Promote Wild Plant Foods

The Herald (Harare)
Posted to the web February 7, 2007
Sifelani TsikoHarare

THE University of Zimbabwe has started a project to promote wild plant foods, which can contribute substantially to household food and livelihood security for communities dotted around the country.
The project, which is being done in Buhera district in the Manicaland Province, is coordinated by Dr Maud Muchuweti of the Department of Biochemistry and a team of other experts in the field of food, nutrition and family science and biological science.
The Kellogg Foundation funded the project through a grant.
"We want to create more awareness on the value of indigenous wild plant foods and promote their effective utilisation," Dr Muchuweti said.
"Wild plant foods are effective as a survival strategy. We are identifying plant foods that are traditionally used by people in Buhera. We are documenting how the foods are prepared and preserved as well as their nutritional content."
This is a major milestone in the development of cultural information that will provide an authoritative look at many neglected food sources that can contribute to food security, agricultural diversification and income generation.
It puts Zimbabwe on a firm footing in line with the Convention of Biological Diversity, which specifically notes that national action strategies and programmes for sustainable agriculture should include "promotion of crop diversification in agricultural systems were appropriate including new plants with potential value as food" and "promotion of use of, as well as research on poorly but potentially useful plants and crops were appropriate".
Wild plant foods are still being consumed in Zimbabwe and in most parts of Africa despite the threats of urbanisation, environmental degradation, loss of indigenous knowledge regarding their identification, preparation and preservation and other factors.
"These foods are still not being sufficiently valued for contributions they can make in preventing malnutrition and for survival strategies," Dr Muchuweti said.
"The nutritional properties and traditional knowledge of wild foods have been dismissed as 'old wives tales' or 'poor man's food. Little is known about their health and nutritional benefits."
Diseases of the developed world such as diabetes, obesity and cardio-vascular diseases are now a major public health problem in Zimbabwe and in most parts of rapidly urbanising Africa.
The UZ project will involve identifying wild and famine plant foods, their preparation and preservation, nutrient analysis, cataloguing and documenting other uses of wild plant foods to enhance livelihood security.
"Commercial crops pose a threat of genetic erosion to indigenous food plants. Reduced exploitation of wild and famine plant foods is very unfortunate as some local foods may have better nutritional value than commercial foods," Dr Muchuweti said.
For example, muchakata or muhacha (parinari curatellifolia) a medium to large evergreen tree which produces yellow brown colour fruits (hacha) from May to November can be used to prepare "Mukandabota" a kind of porridge.
Communities dotted around Zimbabwe are rich with information pertaining to various aspects of how wild plant fruits, vegetables and tubers can be identified, prepared and preserved.
Wild fruits and berries found in Zimbabwe include, checheni, chechete, nhunguru, matamba, mapfura, maroro, masau, matohwe, nhengeni, tsambatsi, umqokolo and many others that can, among other things, contribute to the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
Wild vegetables found in Zimbabwe include a variety of okra types -- derere mowa, derere hosi, derere njeje, derere nama and other vegetables such as bupwe, chipondamasvinya, nyevhe and many others.
Tubers include chinyembanyemba, garidye, chifumuro, madhumbe, mufarinya, tsenza, tsangadzi and numerous others that have both medicinal and nutritional values.

Such foods form an integral part of the daily diets of many poor rural households. Wild foods are a source of important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that complement the staple crops eaten by many of the more vulnerable people, including children and the elderly.
The importance of a wide range of wild plant species -- including roots and tubers, leafy vegetables and fruits -- need to be documented in a botanical database for future generations.
In addition to this, there is an assortment of wild edible mushrooms, edible grass and seeds that the UZ project is documenting from communities in Buhera.

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