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It is an ambitious goal: within a good ten years or so, the United Nations wants to end hunger worldwide. Considerable progress has already been made in the past three decades, yet one in nine people around the world still goes hungry. And the number of people who do not have enough nutritious food to eat is a lot higher still. According to the United Nations, a third of the world’s population suffers from malnutrition.
Why quality and not only quantity is important
Kenya is particularly affected. Half of the country’s population of 46 million do not get enough minerals, trace elements or vitamins from their diet. Because it is often not noticeable just from looking at a person, this is sometimes described as "hidden hunger". This poses a particular risk to children as such malnutrition hampers their physical and mental development.
German-African cooperation to promote traditional crops
Headed by Wolfgang Bokelmann, a professor of horticulture at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the German-Kenyan research consortium Hortinlea wants to combat malnutrition. The team believes that cultivating and marketing native African crops is the way forward, as these are often more nutritious than imported varieties, and also respond better to natural fertilisers. African Nightshade for example is a traditional leafy vegetable that contains four times as much vitamin C as spinach, while amaranth grain contains ten times as much calcium as cabbage.
Why native vegetables were forced from the market
There are a number of reasons why many Kenyans do not buy native vegetables nonetheless. For one thing, they were forced from the market by an export-oriented agricultural policy that favoured exotic varieties such as tomatoes and cabbages. Their reputation suffered and they were mocked as being old-fashioned and food for the poor. It was only when Kenya’s government recently launched a campaign to highlight the benefits of traditional vegetable types that demand began to grow again.
Traditional vegetables to combat hunger and poverty
That said, vegetables such as African Nightshade are currently grown for the most part only by smallholders for their own consumption. The seeds are not of particularly high quality and yields are low. To ensure that this nutritious leafy vegetable is served up in more Kenyan households in future, the more than 100 scientists from 19 universities and research institutions in Germany and Kenya, with the financial support of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development , have been focusing since 2013 on the entire value-adding chain: from cultivation to marketing to consumer. How can the quality of the seeds be improved and water saved during cultivation? What are the dietary habits of urban and rural people? How can poverty be combated by growing and marketing traditional types of vegetable?
What is the correlation between gender roles and diet?
To answer these questions, not only natural and environmental scientists but also social scientists are needed. This is why a German-Kenyan team headed by Christine Bauhardt, a professor of gender studies and globalisation at Berlin’s Humboldt-Universität, is studying the role of women. Field research has shown that women are primarily responsible for growing and harvesting the traditional vegetable varieties, while men do the selling. What is more, women do not own the land they till, and decide more rarely than men what is grown on it. The team plans to draw up recommendations for how to modernise production and marketing without further reinforcing the gender-specific role allocation and unequal access to resources.
The fight against hunger involves a combination of many different aspects. Step by step, mammoth scientific projects such as this bring us closer to achieving the goal of a world without hunger.
The international collaborative project Hortinlea – Diversifying food systems wants to improve the nutritional situation in rural and urban regions of East Africa. Hortinlea is made up of universities and non-university research institutions. The participating researchers belong to six institutions in Germany, ten in Kenya and two in Tanzania.www.hortinlea.org