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Using Indigenous Foods to Tackle Malnutrition in Kenya

Indigenous crops are grown in almost all parts of the Kenyan countryside. These crops are rich in protein, dietary fibre, carbohydrates, vitamin and minerals. Indeed, you will never miss them in most developing countries, as they are considered the basic food of the indigenous populations of Africa.

These crops are also usually drought and pest resistant making them tolerant to unfavourable conditions.

Some of these crops include:

  • pumpkin leaves and fruit
  • amaranth leaves and grains
  • pigeon and field beans

In a developing country like Kenya, the cost of animal products that provide high amount of iron and minerals like calcium and zinc can be compensated with pulses (legumes) and cereals. These crops are rich sources of vitamin and minerals and need no fortification as they are naturally fortified.

New Approach Needed to Tackle Malnutrition

Malnutrition is experienced in Kenya, especially in North Eastern region and some parts of Eastern and Coastal region.

Undernutrition is the type of malnutrition which occurs when the energy intake is less than what the body requires while the second type, overnutrition, occurs when the energy intake is high than that what is required by the body.

The most prevalent form in Kenya is undernutrition, with children under five years being the most affected. New approaches are therefore needed to address this problem, especially now when the fertility rate in the North Eastern region is comparatively higher than the rest of the country.

A study done in University of Nairobi analysed some indigenous crops to establish their suitability to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in the country. Some of the crops analysed included:

  • amaranth
  • ground nuts
  • pumpkin
  • pumpkin seeds and leaves
  • amaranth leaves (terere)
  • drumstick leaves
  • sweet potatoes
  • ground nuts
  • finger millet
  • pigeon peas and 
  • butternuts

The Nutrient Content of Indigenous Foods

A picture of an Amaranth plant in a farm.
Amaranth (Terere)

From the study, amaranth and finger millet were found to have a protein content ranging between 5.7-13.6%, 1.7-8.2% of lipids, and 59-75.8% of carbohydrates.

The legumes that were analysed were found to be excellent sources of protein content with a range of 18%-21%. Their fibre content ranged from 7.0% to 19% and carbohydrate content ranged from 15% to 57%.

The margins seen in the content of the different crops were significant due to factors like environment, soil type or fertility.

The following were the range of minerals in the indigenous crops that were studied:

  • Calcium between 25-328mg/100g
  • Iron between 1.0-5.1mg/100g
  • Magnesium between 44-1320mg/100g
  • Zinc between 1.6-15mg/100g
  • Sodium between 0.2-19mgand100g
  • Phosphorous 60-1105mg/100g

In vegetables, pumpkin leaves and amaranth (terere) were the best in protein content. Furthermore, protein content in the legumes were very good.

To ensure that all amino acid are consumed these crops can be consumed in combination to ensure that they meet FAO/WHO reference pattern (for instance combining a pulse like kidney beans and maize grain, or having maize meal with amaranth).

From this study it’s evident that indigenous crops are very nutritious and can be used to address not only malnutrition induced by hunger but also micronutrient deficiencies in vulnerable populations due to their significant mineral content.

Indigenous crops can also be used to fortify processed food products e. g. porridge flour can be fortified using amaranth.


1. Catherine N. Kunyanga, Jasper K. Imungi, Vadivel Vellingiri. (2013). Nurtitional evaluation of indigenous foods with potential food-based solution to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in Kenya. Journal of Applied Bioscience

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