Vegetable preservation should be part of conversations on food security

Members of Kithingati Self Help Group in Mwingi West, Kitui county dry green vegetables in a solar drier for future use. [Philip Muasya, Standard]

Food security remains one of the crucial areas which Kenya is grappling with. Hidden hunger is very prevalent owing to many underlying challenges around food and dietary needs of the population. Hidden hunger is a form of undernutrition that occurs when intake and absorption of vitamins and minerals (such as zinc, iodine, and iron) are too low to sustain good health and development. Vegetable intake plays a critical role in human health and should be an unavoidable companion in diet.

Kenya, like many other African countries, relies on maize, rice and wheat as primary sources of calorie-dense food which is more often accompanied by vegetables to complete a meal cycle. However, access to sufficient, nutritious and affordable vegetables is not a guarantee for most families. Apparently, sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest in regard to vegetable consumption on a global scale due to insufficient supplies.

This deficit is hampered by among other factors, post-harvest loss and waste, unreliable rainfall to sustain farming, climate related hostilities and unreliable skills on vegetable preservation. Such challenges negate efforts employed to fight hidden hunger. Study shows that two in three women of reproductive age worldwide are affected by vitamin and mineral deficiencies (hidden hunger).

These numbers are even higher if all populations were to be incorporated. Annually, the average African adult should consume a recommended minimum amount of 76 kg of vegetables, according to Food and Agriculture Organization, a ration that falls short due to the above-mentioned factors (consumption is at below 20kg), the lowest of all regions in the world.

In this perspective, appropriate interventions should be adopted to promote vegetable availability between seasons even as the world lurches from one crisis to another – climate related uncertainties, constrained economic performance, pandemics, wars amongst others.

As a result, vegetable preservation should make an urgent agenda item in all dialogues on food security. While emphasis is more often placed on maize, rice, wheat, and now the millets and tubers, vegetable preservation should be a matter of urgency to curb the already spiraling hidden hunger known to impede normal growth and development of children, expectant mothers and adolescents.

Even though there is a steady demand for indigenous vegetables among clients owing to the notable nutritional properties they contain, most restaurants, hotels and food joints are unable to meet their clients' demands during prolonged dry period when their cultivation is lowest.

Vegetable dehydration is one such solution that addresses post-harvest loss and waste and ensures continuous availability of healthy leafy veggies in between seasons. With application of appropriate skills and technology, farming communities can tame the perennial menace of vegetable loss as consumers stock sufficient veggies to cushion them against lean seasons.

Similarly, a number of consumers who have sampled dehydrated veggies before have expressed good feedback in relation to their palatability. A few concerns raised are in regard to scarcity of the product in the market and quality assurance, a worthy concern that should guarantee product safety. Processors are in this case challenged to adherence, fulfil and attain required standard from relevant regulatory agencies to increase consumer confidence.

In order to bridge the gap in food security and nutrition in an uncertain environment locally and globally, concerted efforts from both producers and consumers is required. Consumption of dehydrated veggies especially promotes social, economic and environmental benefits and makes good sense to popularise the product. It increases farmers' income, reduces hidden hunger and environmentally, it reduces menthane gases that emanate from vegetable waste.