Africa-Press – Kenya. Kenyans are not eating adequate vegetables as per the World Health Organization recommendations. WHO guidelines indicate that one is supposed to consume at least 400 grammes of vegetables per day. But according to nutritionists, Kenyans are eating between 100-130 grammes per person per day.
Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi said Kenya faces a triple burden of malnutrition. This encompasses undernutrition (stunting, wasting and underweight), micronutrient deficiencies, and obesity with associated diet-related non-communicable diseases (DRNCD).
He said there is a need to shift food choices toward nutritious foods that if consumed more, would result in diets that improve the health and quality of life for many Kenyans.
“Vegetables stand out for health benefits. African traditional vegetables have higher quantities of nutrients and numerous substances linked to the prevention of cancer and diabetes than exotic vegetables such as cabbage or lettuce,” the CS said.
“Research shows that the African traditional vegetables contain essential vitamins, particularly A, B and C, and minerals (such as calcium and iron) as well as supplementary protein and calories. The high protein and vitamin contents in these vegetables can eliminate deficiencies amongst vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women.”
He spoke during the launch of Vegetable for All project in Nairobi. Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) country director Ruth Okowa said vegetable consumption in Kenya has remained stagnant.
“Vegetables are an important component of healthy and sustainable diets but consumption in Kenya has remained stagnant. It is currently at 100-130 g/per person/day against WHO recommendation of 400 grammes of fruits and vegetables per person per day,” Okowa said.
She said GAIN in partnership with national and county governments, and development partners have launched a Sh1.5 billion Vegetable for All project aimed at promoting production and consumption of healthy vegetables.
The five-year project will be piloted in five counties of Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, Machakos and Mombasa. She said the project will among other things target to improve dietary diversity for 1.1 million urban and peri-urban citizens.
Okowa said eating plenty of vegetables and fruits in all meals daily can help one manage weight as they are low in calories. In addition to their health benefits, an increased consumption of vegetables can also contribute to the economic development of Kenya.
The recently released Kenya Demographic Health Survey report (KDHS 2022) estimates that 18 per cent of children six to 59 months are still stunted, five per cent are wasted, 10 per cent underweight and three per cent are overweight, way above the World Health Assembly targets.
The economic impact associated with malnutrition, especially underweight and stunting in children, is quite significant and has far reaching effects on productivity, health and education.
According to the Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) study of 2019, Kenya is estimated to have lost an equivalent of Sh373.9 billion which represents 6.9 per cent of 2014 GDP.
Further productivity related losses from malnutrition contributed the largest costs at Sh352 billion (6.52 per cent of GDP) followed by health and education at Sh18.6 billion and Sh3.2 billion (0.34 per cent and 0.06 per cent) respectively.
In addition, malnutrition negatively impacts on the human capital and undermines productivity. Kenya human capital index stands at 0.55 (World Bank 2020) which means any child born today will only realise 55 per cent of their productivity potential.
Okowa said vegetables offer a valuable avenue for farmers to diversify their crops and generate income. “By promoting the consumption of vegetables, we can empower our local farmers and enhance food and nutrition security in the process. Furthermore, vegetables play a vital role in preserving our environment,” she said.
“By consuming more vegetables and reducing reliance on animal-based products, we can contribute to mitigating climate change and conserving precious natural resources.”
GAIN executive director Lawrence Haddad said the project funded by the government of the Netherlands aims to encourage Kenyans to consume more vegetables and build the demand for vegetables.
“We want a million Kenyans to consume better vegetables and have better diets. Vegetables are really key in preventing malnutrition. They can also help in dealing with issues like obesity, overweight, diabetes and anaemia,” he said.
“Through the project, we will be able to help ‘mama mbogas’ access reliable and safer supplies of vegetables. We are working with county governments to support the demand and the supply of vegetables,” Haddad said.