Contribution of cultivated African indigenous vegetables to agro-biodiversity conservation and community livelihood in Mumias sugar belt, Kenya
Wemali, Everlyn Nambiri Chitechi
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Worldwide, agricultural activity causes great concern to conservation of natural biodiversity. In Kenya, agricultural expansion into natural habitats continues unabated, thus posing a threat to biodiversity. Research into the rate of loss of biodiversity and regain through agro-biodiversity practices are largely lacking. This study was carried out to examine how cultivation of African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs) have contributed to agro-biodiversity conservation and enhanced community livelihood in Mumias sugar belt area of Kenya. The study set out to specifically isolate and analyse factors that promote cultivation and consumption of AIVs, determine the contribution of cultivated AIVs to community livelihood, assess indigenous knowledge (IK) that has sustained cultivation of AIVs and evaluate opportunities and challenges that exist in consumption and cultivation of AIVs. This study adopted a descriptive research design. It used 392 individuals sampled from sugarcane out-growers of the Mumias Sugar Company. Key informant interviews, structured questionnaires, checklist and Focused Group Discussions were used to collect data. The resulting data was statistically analysed, discussed and presented in graphs, tables and charts. Further, species diversity was determined using the Shannon–Weaver Diversity Index (SDI). From the resulting analysis, it was noted that farmers contribute to agro-biodiversity conservation by cultivation of 10 AIV species and by preserving genetic material in the cultivated AIVs. The vegetables cultivated were: C. olitorius, V. unguiculata, G. gynandra, C. maxima, C. brevidens, C. ochroleuca, B. junceae, S. nigrum, A. hybridus and A. lividus. Cowpeas were cultivated by 83.1% of respondents compared to African kales cultivated by only 2.4%. The highest SDI was 1.85 in Lubinu sub-location and the lowest was 0.69 in Bukaya sub-location. The types of cultivated vegetables were predicted from previous year data by the relationship: y = 1.048 + 0.368x. Factor analysis isolated five factors that motivated cultivation of AIVs: financial gains, diversification, household size to land-size ratio, availability of land and seeds, and vegetable sufficiency. There was a positive correlation between household size and cost of vegetables as explained by regression model: y = 2.432 + 0.162x. This study observed that AIVs contribute to livelihood of households through increased food security, diversification of sources of income and provision of sustainable natural resource base. Indigenous knowledge is important in sustenance of AIV cultivation. Cowpeas and pumpkin leaves are most preferred. The vegetables on decline are spider plant, bitter slender leaf, African kales and nightshades. Primary factors underlying the decline include scarcity of seeds, scarcity of land and divergent attitude. Challenges facing production of vegetables are intermittent production, market, drought, pests and access to seeds. Opportunities in production of AIVs are education, medicinal potential and preparation time reduction techniques. The study concluded that cultivation of AIVs conserves, sustains and improves biodiversity and livelihoods. It recommends inclusion of teaching of AIVs in formal and non-formal education curricula, creation of awareness through special days, development of county seed banks, and feeding program initiatives that incorporate AIVs.