Native African Vegetables Could Help Solve Food Crises

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By Amanda Stone

This is the first post in a regular series about African indigenous crops that can improve food security and protect the environment.

The leguminous plant, which is in the same family as the peanut, produces seeds that taste somewhere between a chick pea and a haricot bean or garden pea, and are typically boiled, canned, roasted or fried, then ground and blended into many traditional African dishes. (Photo credit: UNEP)

Ever heard of the Bambara Bean? How about Nyimo or Vignea Subterranea or the African Groundnut? No matter what you call it, this little bean, which is indigenous to tropical Africa, is highly overlooked by scientists, development agencies, and humanitarian programs, even though it packs a lot of nutrition. The bean may have originated in Mali, but it’s also popular in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon. It is now widely distributed and grown in Asia, parts of Northern Australia, and South and Central America and is often found for sale on street corners in Johannesburg.

One reason the bean is growing in popularity is because it’s a hardy plant, able to withstand high temperatures and dry conditions. It also has a variety of uses. The leguminous plant, which is in the same family as the peanut, produces seeds that taste somewhere between a chick pea and a haricot bean or garden pea, and are typically boiled, canned, roasted or fried, then ground and blended into many traditional African dishes. When boiled they are eaten as a snack, but they can also be added to stews and used to produce flour. In addition, seeds can be extracted for oil.

The Bambara bean is also high in protein, and particularly methionine, which makes the protein more complete than in other beans. In addition, it has the highest concentration of soluble fibers which has been shown to reduce heart disease and certain types of cancer.  According to a 2006 report from the National Academies of Science, “the nutritional balance [of the Bambara Bean] is so good that some consumers claim they could live on the seeds alone.” The high protein level makes it not only a low cost and dependable cash crop for subsistence farmers but also a valuable weapon in the battle against hunger across Africa.  This little bean could go a long way in helping to fight Africa’s food crisis.

Amanda Stone is a communications intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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