Professors Attend African Indigenous Vegetables Project Launch in Kenya

WRITTEN BY: Matthew Burkhart (

In cooperation with other institutions, NC State launched a new project focused on promoting the cultivation and consumption of African indigenous vegetables (AIVs) in Kenya. The project, which is part of NC State’s CREdO program connecting research, education and outreach, aims to address issues of food security, nutrition and economic empowerment for women and youth in Kenya.

The project is a collaborative effort between NC State, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), the University of Nairobi and UC Davis and is funded by a USAID grant. The project was officially launched on March 15, bringing together key stakeholders to discuss the project’s goals and objectives. NC State Professors Peter Ojiambo and Carlos Iglesias attended the event.

Ojiambo, a professor in the Department of Entomology, highlighted the University’s role in providing capacity building and training for Kenyan partners as a part of the program. NC State will host a Kenyan graduate student in the Department of Horticultural Science and offer short-term training opportunities in the U.S. and in Kenya for members of the project team. These trainings will focus on various aspects of the AIV value chain, including genetics, nutrition, crop management and post-harvest handling.

The project aims to use climate-smart technologies to help farmers produce higher-quality, more nutritious AIVs and provide access to markets. The partners are working with farmer cooperatives, which include around 400 growers, to provide training on disease identification, variety selection and drying processes. 

Iglesias, a professor in Horticultural Science and the director of the Plant Breeding Consortium, explained that the project takes an integrated, end-to-end approach to the AIV value chain.

Iglesias emphasized that NC State’s role is that of a facilitator and partner, rather than a director. 

“We let the national institution build on their ideas, we sort of provided some input,” he said. “We are one more piece in this project.” 

Iglesias said NC State will reach the project’s goals primarily through facilitating extension services, providing a link between local farmers and government agencies in Kenya.

AIVs are a group of leafy green vegetables native to the African continent. In addition to being high in micronutrients, Ojiambo said, AIVs are easy to grow, are usually grown by women and youth and have an opportunity to tackle food insecurity as they require minimal labor and no pesticides. 

Although their benefits are known to researchers, Ojiambo said AIVs suffer from a lack of awareness, undeveloped value chains and a lack of capacity and technology in Kenyan markets. 

Ojiambo said the project also seeks to stimulate the Kenyan market for AIVs through the development of new uses and recipes involving the vegetables.

One of the key challenges the project aims to address is the diminishing quality and nutritional content due to high perishability of leafy green vegetables and often long transport time. The project is looking into ways to improve post-harvest handling and storage to extend the shelf life of AIVs. 

The launch event in Kenya was an important milestone for the project, as it provided an opportunity for the partners to officially present the project to stakeholders and the media. The event was attended by the director of KALRO, the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research from the University of Nairobi and representatives from UC Davis. 

“If it works, then we can scale it up to other parts of the country.”

Moving forward, the project partners are looking to expand the funding for the project beyond the USAID grant. They are actively seeking additional funding from other organizations to address other challenges along the AIV value chain to ensure the long-term sustainability of the project. 

The next steps for the research component of the project include characterizing the diversity of AIVs, selecting promising varieties for further study and multiplying these varieties at a larger scale. The partners also plan to host a field day at NC State next year, inviting chefs, nonprofits and other stakeholders to learn about the nutritional benefits of AIVs and see them growing in the field. 

Ojiambo said this three-year project is just the beginning of grasping how beneficial AIVs can be for the uplifting of women and youth in Kenya.

“My hope is that we’re able to get support moving forward to doing this at a much larger scale,” Ojiambo said. “It’s just a pilot. If it works, then we can scale it up to other parts of the country.”