Pumpkin Leaves Make a Tasty Meal
By Moses Oketch, a 35-year-old key farmer in the Pumpkins in Africa project.
KOLE DISTRICT, UGANDA – I live in Obwal village with my wife and our four children. Early this year, during the first season of production, we were struck by a long dry spell that saw most of our crops dry up in the garden.
I worried about how I could provide for my family, as almost all our beans were affected. From an acre of beans, which is the main source of food in my household, I harvested only three basins of beans. I immediately realized that hunger would strike my family sooner or later.
One afternoon, a friend of mine in the neighboring sub-county invited me for a training that he told me was organized by a foundation promoting pumpkin growing. I had a lot of time, as we barely had anything in the field to take care of, so I didn’t hesitate to go.
During that training, I encountered East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation (EWS-KT) and, for lack of another option, requested the staff to enroll me as a key farmer for the next season. This decision was also because I could see that my friend not only had plenty of nutritious food but also seemed more knowledgeable about what he was doing.
“My wife liked the pumpkin because of the taste and the short time it took to cook, and also because it was soft enough to be eaten by the little ones.”
At the end of the training, my friend offered me three pieces of pumpkin to take home. My wife liked the pumpkin because of the taste and the short time it took to cook, and also because it was soft enough to be eaten by the little ones.
The next season, I was enrolled as a key farmer, and I am happy to share that it’s been barely 2 months and I already have alternative food for my family. These are the pumpkin leaves, and not only is my household consuming them, but I am also selling them to some community members to acquire small basic needs like soap and paraffin.
For every five leaves, my wife receives 200 Ugandan shillings (US$0.55), but we make sure not to sell a lot so that our household can eat some, and also so that the fruits will come out well. I can’t wait to harvest the fruits too, because each time I visit my field, I find more new fruits.
Indeed this pumpkin has surprised me with its fast growth, and if you taste the leaves once, you never get enough of them. I have to remind my wife not to overharvest the leaves, so that we can have a good yield of the fruits. We only sell the leaves in case of need.
I am glad that amidst the changing weather, we still have options for growing fast-maturing foods like these pumpkins.
Pumpkins in Africa: Catalyzing Opportunity for Farmers and Consumers aims to accelerate the growth of the pumpkin sector in Africa by developing a hub of expertise and knowledge in Uganda, which can then drive growth in neighboring markets. While the pumpkin is of high nutritional value, has a long shelf life, and is relatively easy to grow, there is little pumpkin production for markets in East Africa. The Pumpkins in Africa project is implemented by EWS-KT and is funded by East-West Seed founder Simon N. Groot from his 2019 World Food Prize award money.