African vegetable project helps local elderly

By Vanessa Kyalimpa
Sarah Namutebi, 67, cannot imagine life before the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and UCU School of Medicine vegetable project. She couldn’t get a job because of her age and, without money, she couldn’t eat.  

Now, as one of more than 100 elderly Mukono-area men and women engaged in the project, she’s getting food, and she has a job of documenting her health through nakati (also known as the African egg plant). 

“For all the time I’ve stayed in this village I have suffered; there was a point where I could not even afford money to buy paraffin in order to light my lamp because I had no job where I could get money,” said Namutebi. “But ever since I started working with this research project, I got both some money to get paraffin and food to eat.” 

The UCU project, “Exploring the potential of Indigenous vegetables for human health in Uganda,” started in February and is focused on studying the health benefits of African indigenous vegetables. 

The research sample is 106 elderly participants. Their blood samples were taken before distribution of vegetables started for a comparison with their blood samples that will be taken at the end of the distribution in December. 

The garden where the agricultural sciences faculty planted African indigenous vegetables, including the Ethiopian eggplant, which is also known as the bitter tomato or nakati.
The garden where the agricultural sciences faculty planted African indigenous vegetables, including the Ethiopian eggplant, which is also known as the bitter tomato or nakati.

Isooba David, the field technician of the project said that they distribute vegetables three time every week to every participant.

“In order to ensure that the participants eat the right number of vegetables, we measure the vegetables for the participant, pack it and later measure another pack of vegetables for the rest of the family,” he said. “This ensures that no other family member consumes some of the participants’ vegetables.”

More than an on-paper document, the study has changed a number of lives of the residents of Ntawo county in Mukono.

Nkudizane Mohammed, a graduate of Agricultural Science and Entrepreneurship, said that he gained employment because of the study and can afford to provide for himself without having to call his family back home.  Working three days a week and earning sh26,000 ($6.90) daily, he helps with measuring the vegetables 

See work of the vegetable project in action

“I have gained hands on experience,” Mohammed said. “I have learned how to understand, learn from the community and I’m working with and how to serve them.” 

Nanyange Joan, a 36-year-old mother of three, resident of Ntawo and one of the local non-elderly employed with the project, said that the joy she has is unmeasurable because even without paying any fees, she together with her children have learned a lot because they were taught how to grow the vegetables, how to take care of them even in the harsh conditions. She plants the nakati, harvests it and prepares it for packaging. 

“These vegetables need a lot of water to grow properly but even in this hot weather, they are flourishing,” Nanyange said. “This is because we were taught how to take care of them. Now, I don’t need to buy any more vegetables from the market because with these skills, I can now also grow my own vegetables in my small compound at home.” 

Migambo Oboth, a participant and resident of Kigunga, Seeta, said that she was very happy with this research because her family was not eating vegetables in the time of higher prices. 

“In this economy today, cost of feeding had become very expensive,” Oboth said. “I was no longer able to buy myself vegetables to add to my meal. I’m very appreciative to this team for always providing for us because now I can have a balanced diet.”

With the proliferation of excessive fried foods, junk food and genetically modified foods in the nutrition enterprise, the role of research becomes indispensable if indigenous organic food such as vegetables are to be preserved or enriched.