Researchers on a mission to revive nutritious Togotia vegetable

Agriculture Counties Editor's Pick Nakuru

The ever-changing climatic conditions have become a worrying challenge for farmers in Kenya, with a number wracking their minds as to what enterprise to venture in for profitability and food security.

The planting season ahead looks bleak for farmers in Nakuru and Baringo counties if the recently released meteorological reports forecasting repressed rainfall are anything to go by.

Pest and disease control has also sent many panicking as they grapple with high costs of herbicides and pesticides, which have also been cited as the highest contributors of diseases and drug resistance among humans.

“I have always consumed Togotia (scientifically known as Erucastrum Arabicum) as a vegetable either alone or as an additive to managu (African Nightshade), sageti ( spider plant) or as an ingredient of mukimo (mashed potatoes),” testifies Agnes Njori, a resident of Kong’asis  in Gilgil Sub county.

Njori, has never domesticated Togotia, as its invasion of her maize farm has always afforded her the nutrition she needs for a season, before she reverts to pumpkin leaves and other African leafy vegetables, when Togotia is mature and not malleable to her liking.

The green small leafy African vegetable could be the solution many farmers are looking for to ride over the woes of the dwindled rainfall and still remain afloat while being food-secure.

Egerton University’s Agro-Science Park Director Prof. Paul Kimurto says Togotia has the potential of turning tables in the country, with the University multiplying and genetically modifying its seeds for better yields.

“We continue to support the development and multiplication of  Togotia so that we can come up with the best varieties that can germinate easily and yield higher while being more drought and disease resistant,”  notes Prof Kimurto.

Egerton University’s Dr. Mirriam Charimbu (Crops Horticulture and Soils) and Dr. Charles Kihia (Biological Sciences) through their project “Exploring the potential of Togotia: A forgotten African leafy vegetable for nutritional security and climate adaptation in Kenya”, hope to develop appropriate cultivation systems for the vegetable.

“We aim to understand the growth habit of Togotia and determine the nutritional qualities derived from this food product. Togotia is mainly consumed as a vegetable, fodder and herbs across Kenya communities.

Two ecotypes of Togotia have been discovered with high nutrition value, capable of slowing down aging and strengthening the immune system,” said Dr. Charimbu, noting that the research had benefitted from technical advice from experts such as Dr. Maureen Cheserek , a Food Nutritionist at the department of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The project that benefitted from a Sh4.9 million funding from Innovate UK KTN 2022 Award, has witnessed farmers in the two counties cultivating the wild crop, which has always been seen as a weedy plant alongside the Black Jack and Wood Sorrel.

“When I heard that Togotia was drought-tolerant and disease-resistant, I set aside a small portion of my farm to try it. I was surprised that it grew well despite the meager rainfall that we received that year,” noted Julia Chebotibin, a resident of Ravine, in Baringo County.

Ms Chebotibin, who was invited to testify during the research results dissemination workshop held recently at a Nakuru hotel, said she has since ventured into its growth and sale, while its seeds also afforded her income.

Areas of Bahati, Mau Narok, Ravine and Baringo central, which formed part of the research received rainfall of an average 1000mm, were said to be capable of affording farmers an average 177 leaves per square meter.

Dr. Chirambu notes that the plant has enormous potential for combating ‘hidden hunger’ caused by micronutrients (vitamin and minerals) deficiencies, while it helps minimize the adverse effects of climate change.

Other researchers have also pointed at its seeds’capacity to produce oil, as 35 per cent of its seed contains oil that can support combustion.

By Anne Sabuni

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