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Traditional African vegetables signify opportunities for South-South Fair Trade

By Fairtrade International


Vegetables consumed in Eastern Africa include carrots, kale and cabbage, but these are historically not part of the continent's diet. Western favourites have at times overshadowed the region's gloriously-named indigenous vegetables, including cowpea leaves, spider plant and slenderleaf.

These greens are part of Africa's heritage and are thought to pack a potent punch, with medicinal, immune-boosting and nutritional properties. They are better suited to growing in the local soil, have little need for fertilisers or pesticides, and are more resilient to the ravages of climate change.

The traditional leafy vegetables have, in the past, been looked down on; sometimes considered old-fashioned. Now the plants, with their high levels of roughage, zinc, iron, calcium, manganese and Vitamin A, are seen as a way of building food security, as well as a chance to celebrate a rich cultural tradition.

For these reasons, there has been a resurgence in the vegetables' popularity. A recent report from Fairtrade Africa and Christian Aid highlighted the potential demand for Fairtrade certified traditional vegetables in the Kenyan market.

Fairtrade International recently established the first Fairtrade prices for indigenous African vegetables and it's hoped this will be an opportunity to protect and rekindle interest in these plants, further boosting their reputation and consumption, first in Kenya, and then other countries in the region.

Those who grow traditional vegetables tend to be poor and disadvantaged women, often farming less than half a hectare, in vulnerable communities, and this price mechanism will benefit them, increasing their income and their role within their farming groups.


There is growing demand in Nairobi from health-conscious consumers for specialized restaurants that serve healthy, ethnic foods. African leafy vegetables are perfect ingredients for this market. Amaica, a small but significant restaurant chain, buys its cowpea leaves, spider plant and slenderleaf from groups of women growers and is interested in working with Fairtrade to help certify these groups. Certification will empower the women and ensure a fair price for their work. Amaica will also be certified as a trader and become the first in the region to serve Fairtrade certified meals.

Frank Olok of Fairtrade Africa, the Fairtrade producer network for Africa and the Middle East, says ‘the new vegetable prices are significant for Fairtrade sales within Kenya’.

The first National Fairtrade International Organisation in a producer country was set up in South Africa five years ago. South Africa is currently the fastest growing market for Fairtrade certified products. The Fairtrade Marketing Organisation of East Africa (FMOEA) is the second organisation to launch on the continent. It opened its doors in May 2013 and currently promotes Fairtrade certified products in Kenya. It will be targeting other countries in eastern Africa in the future.

Fair Trade is thought to be effective in parts of the world where the inequalities within a society are obvious for local consumers to see. It can also be a real boost to farmers to see their produce for sale locally, bearing the Fairtrade Mark.

“Fairtrade certified producers in Africa are keen to expand these markets for Fairtrade products,” adds Frank. “We enthusiastically welcome south-to-south trade.”

You can read the full article here.


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