The importance of indigenous knowledge and traditional crops in the survival strategies of rural people have only recently been recognized by researchers in South Africa. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the effect of the Promotion of African leafy vegetables for food security and nutrition project on African vegetable research and its impact in the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa
Indigenous crops research is since 1994 an existing research focus area for ARC-Roodeplaat. The impact of the Promotion of African leafy vegetables for food security and nutrition project however was noticeable, since it strengthened existing research projects. The reason for this is that the baseline information gathered as part of this project provided a better understanding of the role these crops play in the survival strategies and food security of the rural communities in South Africa. The production training and awareness actions spilled over into larger extension groups and resulted in more communities targeted, with both gender and age differences addressed.
New research has been initiated to help address some of the problems (production systems) and lack of information (baseline, consumption patterns, nutritional analysis, market value) identified. The food-based approach, Addressing low vitamin A status with the use of orange fleshed sweet potatoes and dark green leafy vegetables, is now starting to incorporate the information gathered during the study in the different communities, thus ensuring a more holistic approach. The potential commercial value of these crops was highlighted and the role it could play for establishing emerging farmers enhanced. Awareness creation within the scientific community was done through publications, papers, posters, workshop and conference attendance, with some conference organizers specifically inviting these contributions. The exposure has led to more national and international institutions making use of the capacity built during the project duration. Universities are partners on nutritional and consumption studies, thus helping to strengthen the capacity in the scientific community on traditional vegetables. All these actions help to uplift the image of African Leafy vegetables from a poor man's crop to a high value niche market crop.