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November 2007: International Partners

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The Importance and Nutritive Value of Traditional Foods and Eradication of Hidden Hunger (Hidden hunger is a lack of micronutrients in vitamins and minerals.)

By Christine Nasimiyu Lusakia
The Community Outreach and Indigenous Nutrition Network (COAINN)

COAINN is a community-based organization dealing with the production of orphan crops (indigenous nutritious food crops that have been neglected). It reaches out to orphans and out-of-school youths who are trained on technical skills and production. They then carry out extension in their community. The CBO advocates for healthy indigenous methods of growing crops (organic farming). The neglect of indigenous food crops has led to hidden hunger, malnutrition and hence death of many children.   

Orphan crops like sweet potatoes and cassava have a great value in the African/Kenyan diet. Used as famine crops, they can remain in the soil for a long time. They are resistant to unreliable weather conditions, do not need chemicals for production, and do well in a variety of soils. They are cooked using simple methods like roasting and boiling and need no spices when cooking. These crops provide food security, nutrition and good health. They are nutritionally rich and produce stable, reliable yields even under adverse conditions and at times when other foods are scarce. They contribute to the robustness and stability of ecosystems and mitigate the effects of environmental changes.
Local foods provide opportunity for producers of novel products and create employment at different levels

COAINN’s main objectives are to improve community nutrition, eradicate hidden hunger, reduce poverty through the sale of surplus indigenous food crops; advocate for community participation in decision making in development programs; to organize food fairs to create a forum for youths and communities to taste and see neglected food crops that have high nutritive value; advocate for environmental conservation through the use of indigenous farming methods, tree planting and use of energy saving; and train girl guides, scouts and young farmers clubs, women groups and communities on the importance of indigenous food crops. Other target groups are schools, youth groups, the rural poor and disabled community members.
Crops Handled

Sweet potatoes, cassava, traditional vegetables, amaranthus, black nightshade, pumpkin leaves, etc.

Leafy Vegetables

Indigenous leafy vegetables are more nutritious than imported vegetables like cabbages, are well adapted to local growing conditions, and can be more productive and less damaging to the environment. Women grow these vegetables in their kitchen garden.

By promoting traditional vegetables we get to the heart of hidden hunger. Women feed their children more nutritious food, hence eradicate hidden hunger. Traditional leafy vegetables improve the health of the children. If a woman grows vegetables and sells surplus, she has income to buy medicine, education and the like for her children and herself, contributing to a better livelihood and enhanced prospects for the family. A satisfied baby is a happy youth.
Minor cereals like millets and sorghum and traditional crops like sweet potatoes, cassava and yams are an important source of food and nutrition and are security for people in marginal areas. Grains are high in energy and rich in micronutrients, vitamins and essential amino acids, which are deficient in major cereals such as rice, wheat and maize.

Kenyans have shown a positive change in the consumption of local foods, i.e. children being given millet and groundnut uji instead of maize meal, also using roots for breakfast rather than breads, etc. There is a high demand for local vegetables like sucha, saka, spiderflowers, jute, etc. Urban dwellers are also eating a lot of the local foods, which are more nutritious. Hotels in urban areas are also serving a variety of traditional dishes.

Efforts should be made, however, to overcome a certain prejudice, which sees the western diet as modern and traditional as “backward.” It’s on this basis that COAINN organizes food competition and exhibitions that enable the community to learn about local nutritious foods that they have neglected. This is in line with the millennium goals on hunger. The community is helped to see for themselves the benefits a diverse diet brings, which is also affordable.


Roots are looked upon as the poor man’s food and as inconvenient because they take a long time to cook and have a short shelf life. Roots have high levels of vitamins, minerals and functional nutrients and therefore reduce hidden hunger.

Facts for Well-Being

Information can help save the lives of many millions of children in the developing world. Many poor people live in rural areas and are vulnerable to malnutrition and premature death. Information about the production of traditional foods can significantly reduce malnutrition and help protect the health of the next generation. Mental and emotional development of children is essential for proper development and good health. This information to protect the health and growth of children has not yet been put at the disposal of the poor majority.

COAINN, apart from nutrition, extends to the community facts for life in a bid to connect the information on health with the daily lives of the people who are confronting disease, malnutrition and poverty. Men and women should join hands in this endeavor. The health of both women and children can be improved by spacing children at least 2 years apart and avoiding pregnancy before the age of 18 years. All pregnant mothers should go to a pre-natal clinic. Infants should be breast-fed until they are 6 months old. Children’s food should be enriched with mashed vegetables and small amounts of oil. Children with diarrhea need to have their lost water replaced. Make sure children are given all immunizations to protect them from several diseases. Illnesses are caused by germs. Prevent this by washing hands with soap and water after using the latrines and before handling food.



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