Science - April 20, 2010

Green herb to combat malnutrition

The herb-like plant Amaranth shows great promise for the reduction of malnutrition in Kenya. This plant has a lot of healthy proteins, vitamins and beta-carotene.

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Amaranth is also a lucrative crop for small-scale farmers if they maintain a proper fertilization scheme, according to Cecilia Moraa Onyango, who has researched into the cultivation, nutrition and fertilization aspects of this plant. She aspires to graduate on 29 April under professor Olaf van Kooten of Horticultural Production Chains.
Hypochondriacus
Kenya had a great diversity of traditional leafy vegetables in the past, postulates Onyango, but most of these vegetables are no longer eaten as food. However, these last few years have seen a return because of campaigns which highlight the nutritional values, health aspects and flavours of these herbal plants. Onyango examined possibilities offered by the plant Amaranthus hypochondriacus. This herb is rich in unprocessed proteins, vitamins, fibres, minerals such as iron and zinc, and anti-oxidants such as flavonoids and glucosinolates.
Very little care
The green amaranth is a promising crop for small-scale woman farmers around Nairobi. This herb is easy to cultivate, grows fast, requires very little care and is ready to be harvested eight weeks after sowing. It is sold in both the market and the supermarket.
Manure
Onyango conducted field trials in 2007 and 2008 to find the right fertilizers for the amaranth. The best crop yield and quality resulted from using the fertilizer ammonium phosphate; cow manure gave a lower yield, while a mix of organic and chemical fertilizers also worked well. She found out from calculating the estimated income for a family business in amaranth cultivation that using chemical fertilizers resulted in a much higher income than using cow manure.  Too much chemical fertilizers is bad for the quality of the crop, adds the PhD candidate.
Onyango advocates increasing the cultivation of amaranth in Kenya because this can add the much needed vitamins and minerals to the diet of the Kenyans, thus reducing malnutrition.

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