Aug. 2010, Volume 4, No.4 (Serial No.29)
Journal of Agricultural Science and Technology, ISSN 1939-1250, USA
Iron and Protein Content of Priority African Indigenous
Vegetables in the Lake Victoria Basin
M. O. Abukutsa-Onyango1, P. Kavagi1, P. Amoke2 and F. O. Habwe2
1. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology (JKUAT), Thika Road P.O Box 62000, Nairobi 00200, Kenya
2. Maseno University, Kenya P.O. Box 333, 40105-Maseno, Kenya
Received: January 08, 2010 / Accepted: March 01, 2010 / Published: August 15, 2010.
Abstract: African indigenous vegetables have many nutritional and health benefits that have not been well researched and fully
exploited. The objective of this study was to determine iron and protein contents of seven priority African indigenous vegetables found
in Eastern Africa. The vegetables were planted at two sites, Maseno University, Maseno in western Kenya and Jomo Kenyatta
University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Juja in Central Kenya between 2006 and 2008. These vegetables were organically
grown and edible parts of each of the vegetable harvested during vegetative growth stages just before onset of flowering and analysed
for iron and protein contents. Nightshade and cowpea had high levels of both iron and protein. Pumpkin leaves and amaranths had high
iron content while spiderplant and slenderleaf had high protein levels. Both iron and protein levels differed significantly between the
seven vegetables at both sites. Nightshade and cowpea contained iron and protein levels that would provide 100% of the recommended
daily allowance (RDA) iron and 50% of recommended daily allowance protein for optimal human growth and health. These results help
to demonstrate the nutritional value of African indigenous vegetables and their potential use in nutrition intervention programs.
Key words: Hidden hunger, nutrition security, vegetables.
Over 60% of the populace of the Lake Victoria
region live below the poverty line, with serious food
insecurity problems resulting in malnutrition, poor
health and inadequate basic necessities (African
Institute for Capacity Building in African Development)
[1, 2]. Eighty percent are food poor and 20-30% of the
children under five years of age are malnourished.
Malnutrition is normally manifested in various forms
in children, such as their being underweight or stunted,
or suffering from iron-deficiency anaemia, normally.
The most serious malnutrition problems are a result of
inadequate consumption of micronutrients normally
referred to as hidden hunger . These malnutrition
problems are prevalent despite the fact that the Lake
Victoria basin is endowed with agro-biodiversity
Corresponding author: M. O. Abukutsa-Onyango, Ph.D.,
professor, research fields: horticultural physiology and nutrition.
African indigenous vegetables (AIVs) . African
indigenous vegetables have several advantages and
potentials that are yet to be exploited . These
vegetables have been documented to be micro nutrient
dense, have high content of anti-oxidants and they are
adapted to the tropical environment. One of the major
constraints that hinder optimal production and
utilization of AIVs include lack of technical production
and utilization packages, inadequate information on the
micronutrient and protein contents . Priority African
indigenous vegetables identified and selected for their
nutrition and economic potential in a study conducted
between 2004 and 2006 in Kenya, Uganda and
Tanzania included African nightshade (Solanum
scabrum), vegetable amaranths (Amaranthus blitum),
vegetable cowpeas(Vigna unguiculata), spiderplant
(Cleome gynandra), pumpkin
moschata), slenderleaf (Crotalaria ochroleuca) and
jute mallow (Corchorus olitorius) and African kale
Iron and Protein Content of Priority African Indigenous Vegetables in the Lake Victoria Basin
(Brassica carinata) [6-8].
To ascertain the nutritional potential of African
indigenous vegetables, a study was conducted in Kenya
between 2006 and 2008 with the objective of
determining iron and protein contents of seven priority
African indigenous vegetables found in Eastern Africa.
2. Materials and Methods
The study was conducted in research plots at Maseno
University in Western Kenya and at the farm of Jomo
Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
(JKUAT) in Juja, central Kenya between 2006 and
2008. Seeds of African nightshade, vegetable
amaranths, vegetable cowpeas, spiderplant, pumpkin
leaves, slenderleaf and jute mallow were planted in
well prepared seed beds using organic manure in
completely randomised block design (CRBD). The
edible parts of each of the vegetables were harvested
during the vegetative growth stage just before
flowering and analysed for iron and protein content
using methods described by Association of Official
Analytical Chemistry (AOAC) . Data was subjected
to analysis of variance to determine whether treatment
effects were significant at 5%, 1% or 0.1%. Separation
of means was done using LSD5% to establish which
treatment means were different from each other.
3. Results and Discussion
Results indicated that there were significant
differences (P≤0.05) in the iron content of the
vegetables and they ranged from 14.7 mg/100g fresh
weight for slender leaf and 50.0 for pumpkin for the
Maseno site and between 16 for cowpeas and
slenderleaf and 50 mg/100g for pumpkin and
nightshade for JKUAT site as shown in Table 1. The
table also shows that iron contents found in all the
vegetables contained over 70% and 80% of the
recommended daily intake of iron for Maseno and
JKUAT respectively. The observation that AIVs
contain high iron content is in line with report of
Abukutsa-Onyango  and Habwe et al . Iron is
important in the structure and function of red blood
cells and deficiency leads to iron deficiency anaemia, a
common health problem in many developing tropical
countries. African indigenous vegetables could be used
in alleviating this problem as they have higher iron
content that can meet daily iron content than cabbage
(Brassica oleracea var. capitata), a commonly
consumed vegetable .
Table 2 shows that the protein content of indigenous
vegetables differed significantly (P≤0.05) for both sites
contributing 18-54% of the recommended daily intakes.
Proteins are often deficient in diets in developing
countries, this is especially so for nursing and
expectant mothers, weanlings and pre-school children.
The production and consumption of grain legumes
which are always available to the rural population in
the Lake Victoria region are encouraged, but African
indigenous vegetables could be used to provide supple-
Table 1 Iron content of priority African indigenous
vegetables and percent contribution to recommended daily
Table 2 Protein content of priority African indigenous
vegetables and percent contribution to recommended daily
Iron and Protein Content of Priority African Indigenous Vegetables in the Lake Victoria Basin Download full-text
mentary protein and should be promoted and exploited.
It has been demonstrated that quality and nutitious
products can be developed from AIVs like high iron
simshade, simco and simama . The high iron
recipes developed from AIVs can alleviate iron
deficiency anaemia in the Lake Victoria region and
Africa at large. Development and formulation of
nutritious recipes and products of indigenous
vegetables found in East Africa will contribute to
alleviating problems of malnutrition, loss of diversity
and low income .
This study has revealed that 100 g fresh weight of
the edible part of nightshade and cowpea contained
iron and protein levels that would provide 100% of the
recommended daily allowance (RDA) iron and 50% of
recommended daily allowance protein for optimal
human growth and health. These results help to
demonstrate the nutritional value of African indigenous
vegetables and their potential use in nutrition
This work was supported with grants from
SIDA-SAREC, World Vegetable Center, Regional
Center for Africa-AVRDC-RCA and Bioversity
International. Appreciation also goes to Maseno
University and Jomo Kenyatta University of
Agriculture and Technology for providing facilities,
research plots and laboratory facilities. Sincere thanks
go to Patrick Omulubi (the late) of Maseno University
and Francis Wetende Okoma of JKUAT for their
diligence in planting and managing the vegetable crops
in the field. The paper is written in memory of Peter
Amoke who did the analysis for the Maseno site but
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