Vegetable consumption is a common meal on the table of many people. The types of vegetables seen in a particular region vary. Generally, crop-plants have favourable and eco-friendly conditions that can promote their abundance. On the average, African countries consume a reasonable variety of vegetables when compared to other continents. Worldwide, the mean vegetable consumption, including legumes, was 208.8 g/day with less variation, approximately 3.4-fold when compared with fruits across the highest (294.4 g/day) to the lowest (86.1 g/day) regions.
Vegetables can be taken alone, garnished or spiced with a variety of fishes, animal skin or taken with food commonly regarded as ‘swallow’. In the Nigerian context, ‘swallow’ refers to meals like Pounded Yam, Eba, Amala, Fufu, Semovita, and Tuwo. It is believed that youths prefer to consume grains like rice and junks foods rather than settling for ‘swallow’ meals. Preparing ‘swallow’ also takes more time that a restless youth is unwilling to wait for. Not only that, the process is considered stressful and time-consuming. The major component of vegetables are vitamins, which help in the proper functioning of the body, improve blood pressure, ease food digestion, protect eye tumors, improve skin smoothness, reduce risk of heart disease, slow down cancer, keep brain active, and improve immune system.
It is also perceived that the majority of rural dwellers are mainly farmers, irrespective of the gender. Women residing in countryside do not have access to much land due to the land tenure system and other cultural constraints and because of this, vegetable business is usually practiced by old and rural women for it is less energetic when compared to arable crop farming, which is more tedious. Furthermore, little capital is required and vegetable plots are usually close to the house such that engaging in vegetable production will not hinder or prevent a woman from carrying out other home responsibilities.
Vegetable cultivation can be combined with other businesses at the same time such as processing of farm produce. For example, oil palm production, Shea butter making, and basket weaving that can be successfully combined with vegetable farming to augment family finances. Vegetables can be categorised into leafy, Cruciferous, marrow, root, and allium, but the main focus of this article will be on leafy vegetables. Leafy vegetables can be cultivated within a residential backyard meaning that it does not require a large expanse of land. Vast knowledge about the identification and usage of vegetable is a source of livelihood for some sects in African countries for their expertise had brought food to the table. People in the southern part of Nigeria are said to take more of leafy vegetables when compared to their northern counterparts; the reason for this could be linked to the abundance of many vegetables in the southern part of the country.
In Nigeria, about 4,600 plant species are said to be endangered while some hundreds of both plants and animal species have since gone into extinction due to loss of habitat occasioned by environmental degradation and climate change (Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals, 2006). Some years back, there were many vegetable types for consumption by the people, but presently, this is not so. Some vegetables are common and readily available while some are not. The less common vegetables include Wild lettuce (Efo yanri), Lagos spinach (Shokoyokoto), Malabar spinach (Amunututu), Yoruba bologi (Ebolo), Black nightshade (Efo odu), and Tree spinach (Efo Iyana Ipaja). On the other hand, the more available leafy vegetables are Jute (Ewedu), Water leafy (Gbure), Bitter leaf (Ewuro), and African spinach (Efo tete), among others.
A survey conducted by Raaijmakers et al (2018), involving 1,220 women respondents in Lagos and Ibadan, Southwest, Nigeria, who were selected from different socio-economic class, showed that about 2.6% of the respondents consume vegetables on a daily basis and most of the vegetables were bought at the open and traditional markets. The study further revealed that vegetable consumption do not have cultural or religious restrictions. It is instructive to state that medical practitioners usually recommend vegetable consumption for all, especially old adults (Age 50+) and less consumption of animal products such as beef, mutton, chevon, and pork for excessive consumption of animal products that can lead to an increase in zoonotic diseases.
In Nigeria, it has been observed that when people’s income increases, or there is a boost in the economic status of families, there tend to be sudden change in the pattern of food consumed such that people consume junks more and consume little of vegetables. A random interview recently conducted by the author within the Ilorin metropolis, Southwest, Nigeria, revealed that Jute (Ewedu) was the most consumed leafy vegetable. This result was similar to the earlier one obtained from Ibadan and Abeokuta. It is believed that the reason for this could be attributed to the comparative advantage of the vegetable over others when it comes to being easy to prepare. Jute is seen as delicious and can equally accompany most ‘swallows’ when eaten. Another point to mention, as far as vegetable production is concerned, is preservation. This is because all the harvested vegetables cannot be consumed or sold at once, there is need to have a solid preservation mechanism in place to prevent spoilage, especially for highly-perishable farm produce like vegetables.
To reduce food spoilage and scarcity, better preservation mechanisms must be put in place to make more vegetables available for the people. In addition, there should be specialised markets where only vegetables will be sold in order to increase access to the commodity. This will also give buyers and consumers ample opportunities to purchase a variety of fresh vegetables at pocket-friendly prices and bring more sales to farmers. This arrangement helps in the sense that once farmers know that there market is ready available, it will reduce the tendency of producing in excess that can turn to a waste. Creating a vegetable market will create job opportunities for our youths by enabling them develop interest in the cultivation of vegetables. Furthermore, the government should provide interest-free loans, farm inputs, and irrigation facilities that will encourage more farmers and intending farmers to go into vegetable production.