Amaranth: adding nutrition to African diets through low cost sustainable processing

In rural areas and urban slums of sub-Saharan Africa, many poor people are faced with severe food and nutrition insecurity. These issues remain Africa's most fundamental challenges for human welfare and economic growth1. Currently, the rate of Global Acute Malnutrition stands at an average 30%, twice the World Health Organization's (WHO) accepted emergency threshold of 15%. Equally, the rate of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) is at an average of 5%.amarant_2.jpg

In Kenya, poverty and food insecurity are highest in urban slums, among pastoralists and farmers in remote areas, which comprise 80% of the land mass. Children below 5 yrs in Kenya are 33% malnourished, 6% wasted and 22% underweight2. The situation is similar in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Across east Africa, the common food is starchy staples particularly maize. Maize is a good source of calories but is devoid of essential amino acids such as lysine. Traditional plants such as amaranth offer the opportunity of complementing the nutritional properties of starchy staples since vital sources of macro/micro-nutrients and bioactive compounds of health benefits. Most farm activities related to production of traditional plants involve women and youth. These traditional crops provide an important maternal and child nutrition source as well as household income. They are mainly grown in home gardens for home consumption or sold in local markets.

The production, processing and commercialisation of traditional African vegetables is on the rise but the potential remains underdeveloped. The most commonly consumed and fully domesticated traditional vegetables are the Amaranthus spp. (Pig weed), Vigna spp. (Cowpea leaves), Solanum spp. (Black nightshade), Cleome gynandra (Cat's whiskers), Cucurbita spp. (Pumpkin leaves) and Corchorus spp.(Jute/Bush okra).

The drought tolerant nature of amaranth coupled with its short maturity period has led to intense production interest in Kenya and neighbouring countries. The leaves are a good source of vitamin A, C, K and folate. The seeds contain high levels of protein (gluten free) that is unusually complete for plant sources and are a good source of dietary fibre and minerals such as iron, zinc, copper, and manganese.

Amaranth seed oil may also provide unique health benefits with some studies showing that regular consumption may reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while improving antioxidant status and some immune parameters3.

How will the project contribute to research and development for Africa?

amarant_1.jpgThis project is focused on addressing the main challenges facing the whole production and value-addition chain (from farm to consumption) of the leaves and grain of amaranth. In the east Africa region over the last 10 years, amaranth has increasingly gained grounds over the other traditional vegetables due to its high acceptability and multipurpose use(both the leaves and grain are edible).

This project integrates agricultural practices, food science and technology, and  nutrition by engaging farmers and industrial stakeholders with the primary focus of improving the production of a variety of nutritious, safe and shelf stable food products for better livelihoods.  The project is focused in Kenya and Tanzania.  It is expected that the project will interact with about 240 farmers organized in clusters of approximately 30 farmers in 8 east African regions, 3 in Kenya and 5 in Tanzania, with an aim of increasing nutrient diversity and incomes for farmers and households.

The first steps of the project will include evaluating the constraints in knowledge and technology in the whole value-addition chain (from farm to consumption) followed by creating strong links between the various segments of the value-addition chain (growers, processors, retailers, consumers).

Farmers, small and medium scale producers are constantly challenged by production problems due to:

(1) inferior crop types and varieties arising from insufficient knowledge on crop husbandry practices, breeding and agronomic aspects,

(2) inadequate knowledge on post-harvest handling practices and limited options for extending shelf life and value-addition,

(3) poor storage and distribution systems,

(4) poor packaging and marketing strategies.

The project will therefore explore low cost sustainable technologies to address postharvest losses by creating a variety of shelf stable, acceptable, nutritious and marketable amaranth products. Creating strong networks between growers and processors of amaranth products will enable wealth creation to be stimulated at farm level along with dietary

Research partners:

  • Jomo Kenyata University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Kenya
  • BecA-ILRI Hub, Kenya
  • Sokoine University, Tanzania
  • AVRDC-The World Vegetable Center, Regional Center for Africa, Tanzania
  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia

Project contact:

Dr Daniel Sila, JKUAT This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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