Exotic vegetable cultivation is labor and water-intensive in southern Africa hindering dietary diversity. In Zambia and Malawi, diversity must be addressed as few as 22%(DHS2013) and 29%(DHS2011) respectively of children under-2 consume a minimum acceptable diet and, about 10% of reproductive-age women are undernourished.African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs) are often wild or the byproduct of existing cultivation, drought/pest resistant and nutrient-rich. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) conducted a rapid assessment of AIV knowledge, availability and popularity in Chiptata (Zambia) and Chikwawa (Malawi) to determine their potential for promotion.
The rapid assessment included ten focus group discussions with mothers and fathers, eight key informant interviews with multi-sectoral frontline workers, and seven market interviews with food vendors in the two districts.
Communities acknowledged eating AIVs with a greater variety reported in Zambia than Malawi (35 versus 16 plants). AIVs were referred to as tasty, readily available, often free and requiring less water than exotic vegetables to grow. Respondents also listed perceived health benefits, including high levels of nutrients and disease prevention. Despite this, some stigma exists around AIVs and promotional efforts are needed to ensure pregnant women and young children consume these micronutrient-rich foods.
Social and behavior-change interventions to improve dietary diversity should include messages to counter stigma and promote AIVs. Peer-to-peer nutrition promotion interventions should promote AIVs.Multi-sectoral frontline workers should be trained on nutrient content, preparation, and preservation to retain nutrient values of AIVs. Additional studies are necessary to establish health benefits of AIV consumption and their contribution to child growth.