Food, often regarded as one of the basic needs of mankind seems to be a scarce commodity in
many households in Africa. The state of malnutrition, especially in some poor rural communities,
usually affects the health of children resulting in illnesses such as stunted growth, goitre,
blindness and kwashiorkor.
This, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is directly or indirectly responsible
for about 3.5 million child deaths every year in Africa, a situation which is partly attributed to
low vegetable and fruit intake.
Sadly enough, global measures to reduce the menacing effects of this phenomenon on the
continent appear to be towards the introduction of food supplements which are usually expensive
and inaccessible to many poor households. It has therefore become necessary to explore
alternatives that offer poor households cheap source of essential micro-nutrients.
As part of the efforts to address the frightening impacts of hidden hunger on the African
continent, several international and local institutions continue to encourage research on
undervalued, neglected, and underutilised species that abound in many communities. One of
such institutions is the United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa
UNU-INRA, the only UN University presently in Africa, has released two research reports that
affirm the potentials of some traditional plant species in tackling malnutrition, particularly
among poor populations in Africa. The first research, conducted by Dr. Muibait O. Bello, a
Visiting Scholar to the Institute, reveals that the leaves of baobab tree, locust bean tree, and black
plum tree contain high levels of fibre, calcium, zinc and
The study, which was carried out in Nigeria, also shows that,
monkey orange fruit contains five times the iron and vitamin C
of conventional fruits like orange and guava.
Similarly, in the second research report, Dr. Catherine V.
Nnamani, another Visiting Scholar to the Institute, affirmed that
black nightshade leaves, another underutilised plant species,
Underutilised Plant Species: Baobab Tree (left), Locust Bean Leaves (middle) and Black Plum Leaves (right)
Black nightshade leaves
Black Nightshade Leaves contain higher nutritional values among the 15 other traditional leafy vegetables in her research.
Her findings indicate that the leaves of black nightshade contain higher protein values than
exotic species like garden lettuce which is usually cherished and expensive in Africa.
The fact is that findings such as these are potential sources for reducing malnutrition, especially
among poor rural households in Africa.
It is in this regard that the research reports are reiterating the need for people to consume these
traditional vegetables and fruits to ensure adequate intake of micronutrients, dietary fibres and a
host of essential non-nutrient substances that could help in preventing major non-communicable
diseases and malnutrition in many African communities.
This, in fact, is where lies the need for advocacy on these underutilised plants species in our
communities in the fight against malnutrition and hunger. It is also important that health
institutions and other stakeholders incorporate the use of these locally available plants into
policies as an alternative nutritional supplement for poor and food insecure households.
As the only UN think tank currently in Africa, UNU-INRA continues to empower African
institutions and researchers to carry out relevant research, such as this one, in the area of natural
resources management to inform policies for sustainable development.