Transforming Vegetables into Products

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Vegetables are not only nutritious, but add taste and variety to staple foods, such sorghum, rice, and maize. But tomatoes, okra, and leafy greens, including amaranth, spiderwiki and other vegetables indigenous to Africa tend to have a short shelf life. Most are only available part of the year. During the “hungry” season before the rains come, rural communities have few ingredients available to add flavor to the staples they depend.

Danielle Nierenberg meets with staff at The World Vegetable Center in Bamako, Mali. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

At the AVRDC-The World Vegetable Center office outside of Bamako, Mali, however, researchers and scientists are working with farmers to make vegetables  available year-round through different preservation techniques. Theresa Endres, a community development specialist, is working with women farmers to determine not only which vegetables can be “transformed” into different products, but what products the women will actually want to use. Okra powder, for example, which is made from drying and then grinding okra, is commonly used in Mali for sauces; powdered tomato products, however, aren’t and the women prefer using fresh tomatoes for cooking.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), up to 50 percent of crops is wasted before it ever reaches the dinner table in Africa, making it more important than ever to find ways to preserve and transform food so that it’s available all year long.

Stay tuned for more on innovations that prevent waste in the food system State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, which will be released in January 2011.

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