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Amaranth can help reduce national dependency on maize crop

Mathew Ndung’u @PeopleDailyKe

The unreliability of maize crop in the Kenyan market has spiked an escalation of prices of basic food commodities in recent years, forcing Kenyans to seek alternatives. This could be the start of a new era for use of other products probably even more nutritious than the maize itself. Amaranth is one of the crops, which can be used to close the maize deficit: it can be consumed as a grain, grounded into flour or as a vegetable.

Amaranthus, collectively known as amaranth, is a cosmopolitan genus of annual or short-lived perennial plants. Some amaranth species are cultivated as leaf vegetables, pseudocereals or ornamental plants. 

Davison Mwangi, a specialist in amaranth research who doubles as a farmer in Kambiti village in Makuyu, Murang’a county, has explored the crop for years. The researcher, who has taught all over the world about the benefits of amaranth, says the crop could help mitigate the food deficit in the country.

Mwangi worked at the University of Nairobi’s biotechnology section where he lectured for 32 years. He participated in global competitions in biotechnology research and presented a research on how to store amaranth flour and how to make it sour in eight hours.

His research project once saw him earn a $1,000 (Sh100,000) prize money. He has worked and taught on the product in Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Rwanda Malawi, Kenya and in some Asian and American countries.

He says given adequate rain, maize takes three months to mature. In contrast, amaranth takes about two months and requires little rain, hence the crop can perform well even during dry seasons.

“Amaranth grows as easily as its weedy relatives and the quality of food it offers surpasses that of our common grains. The traditional hand-harvesting methods could obtain bounteous harvests in all seasons,” he explains.

Although amaranth is treated as a grain, it has broad leaves, unlike the true grains and corn, which are grasses. The crop can be pounded into flour that makes tasty chapatti, doughnuts, uji (porridge) and ugali, which has a distinctive sweet but peppery taste and superior nutritional value.

Amaranth is a  fruit of that contains more complete protein than other traditional grains. “It is rich in iron, magnesium, and calcium  and can help keep anaemia and osteoporosis at bay. It excels as a source of fibre, mostly insoluble, which is of help in reducing the risk of a variety of diseases, including heart disease, certain cancer and digestive-tract condition,” Mwangi said. “Even weevils don’t infest amaranth grain,” he added.

Mwangi owns a five-acre amaranth farm at Kambiti, Murang’a county.  He employs five workers and produces over 15,000kg of amaranth grains. He urges Kenyans to go back to their roots, embrace traditional foods that use less chemicals, nutritious and could serve as herbs for various diseases.

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