Rutgers NJAES faculty in the fields of agriculture and human nutrition are working together on an international development project that combines these disciplines to strengthen the linkage between increased production and consumption of fresh vegetables with improved human health and nutrition. Principal investigator Jim Simon, distinguished professor of plant biology, with co-principal investigators Dan Hoffman, associate professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences, and Ramu Govindasamy, professor, Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics, along with other Rutgers colleagues and in concert with Purdue University, were awarded a competitive five-year award valued at $2 million from the USAID-funded Horticulture Innovation Lab.
The initiative will address major barriers to nutritional and economic growth of at-risk populations in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) that face poverty, hunger, and under-nutrition. The project’s approach is to develop nutritional measures for at-risk individuals and the general public to incorporate improved intake of highly nutritious African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs) and at the same time strengthen the value chain for production and marketing of these vegetables by smallholder farmers.
One of the major obstacles in adequate nutrition is the availability of sufficient micronutrients from a diversified diet. The indigenous vegetables to be studied potentially include amaranth, moringa, African eggplant, Ethiopian mustard, African nightshade, and spider plant, which contain ample levels of these nutritional components. The project will focus on access, affordability, availability, and adoption of these AIVs in Kenya and Zambia while working with the World Vegetable Center in Tanzania.
The objectives are to increase indigenous horticulture in Africa, especially engaging the value chain for smallholder farmers in production, which will drive improvements in health and nutrition while also serving as a prime income generator to deliver adequate nutrition for at-risk populations of SSA. The project team will monitor access, availability, price, adoption, and consumption in producer households to increase consumption of nutritious foods using AIVs. The research will also address nutritional aspects of AIVs in human diets, validate how health is improved when AIV consumption is increased, and how, through appropriate interventions in the value chain and education, smallholder farmers can reduce poverty while improving food security, nutrition, and health for these at-risk populations.
The project team will also work toward identifying the most effective communication and outreach strategies. Plans are to communicate nutritional information based upon scientific research to the populace via digital filmmaking and visual images, as well as more conventional radio; agricultural fairs; school demonstrations; school gardens; seed packs; and developing user manuals for food production, harvesting, storage, packaging, preparation, and nutrient compositions of the various AIVs while collecting data on effects of the programs and their impacts.
Editor’s Note: this story was previously published in the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station 2015 Annual Report.