columnBy Annie Sampa
Ndola — IT is likely that this farming season, 2007/2008, some parts of Zambia will experience food deficiency as a result of too much rain that has hit the country.
This is so because, some fields have been washed away by floods, whereas crops that have survived are becoming yellow and others are destroyed due to water logging and weeds, leaving farmers helpless with nowhere to turn.
This development has negatively affected the anticipated bumper harvest, as a result agriculturists have advised farmers to diversify into vegetable production which can be grown throughout the year as a way of sustaining their livelihoods.
Today's vegetables are more palatable, and yet paradoxically, we eat very few plants as part of our daily diet.
The major contribution of vegetables to human health has always been the large amounts of Vitamin A, the folic acid and Vitamin C they contain as well as some minerals.
It is becoming clear now that there are many plant chemicals that act together to protect the human body from the onset of various diseases.
Very little is known about the health benefits of the wide range of plants we eat, as a result, scientists are still studying them so that their vitamin content and antioxidant and health protective effects are well known.
The most powerful protective domesticated vegetables that we are likely to eat are spinach, garlic, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, sweet potato, red pepper, winter squash, and frozen peas.
Why do we eat vegetables?
This is a question that would never be asked of fruit. Fruit is sweet. We love sweet things. But apart from carrots and sweet potatoes, vegetables are generally not sweet.
Plants are 'powerhouses' of many and complex life enhancing compounds, and it is a well known fact that we need them because they are good for body efficiency.
Vegetables are an important part in that the reliable carbohydrate source of bulbs and roots and certain seeds act as insurance against failure in the high value. More so, humans need far more energy to fuel the brains, around 300 kcal when at rest, and it has to be in the form of glucose, because that is the fuel the brain runs on.
What are vegetables?
A vegetable is basically any part of a plant that can be eaten. Plants, naturally, are not too keen on being eaten, and have devised various methods of dissuading us from eating them.
As a result, we have been able to eat other different parts of selected plants that is flowers, flower buds, leaves (lettuce), leaf buds (Brussels sprouts), shoots (asparagus), shoot buds (cabbage), stems (celtuce), flower stem (broccoli), pollen (bulrush), immature seed pods (green beans), fruit (chayote) and immature seeds (broad bean).
The fact that we eat such a small range of vegetables is a matter of culture not because these are the only vegetables one can get at the supermarket.
Today, we have just narrowed vegetables to rape, cabbage and Chinese cabbage but if we compare with what scientists and historical observers have recorded as being eaten by people in Africa, it is recorded that 83 plants are known to be used as vegetables in Zimbabwe; another record 40 different leaves used as greens in one small part of South Africa and more than 120 plants were used as vegetables.
For instance, the young shoots of trees are very rarely eaten in the West, yet some are highly nutritious. An Ethiopian tree, Moringa stenopetala, has leaves that are very nutritious, edible flowers, pods, seeds and the bark can be used as a hot condiment whereas Moringa oleifera, has the highest calcium levels and Vitamin C other than any tropical vegetable, beside being the source of a very stable edible oil, with antibiotic properties in the seed.
Vegetables also contain compounds that are valuable antioxidants and protectants. Most vegetables are a good source of thiamine (B1) for example, potatoes and green leafy vegetables are rated a good source of riboflavin (B2), and potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes are a good source of pantothenic acid (B5). Pyridoxine (B6) is important in brain functioning , immune system function and as a precursor to several important hormones.
The vegetables that are frozen or canned may still be important sources of vitamins and minerals.
The roots, tubers, leaves, flowers, buds, corms, gums and bulbs are barely processed in many cases.
Alternatively, deciding what to grow is the best thing about vegetable growing, but it is imperative to choose vegetables carefully. This will ensure that you have a ready supply of delicious vegetables throughout the growing season.
The production of vegetable crops is a highly specialised operation, requiring knowledge and skill.
Seed production of certain vegetables such as bean, peas, lettuce, okra, chillies, and cucurbits is comparatively easy and has been successful in Zambia.
As a farmer you have an option because vegetables can be grown throughout the year. The fact that vegetable growing does not need huge capital investment, small scale vegetable production and marketing has proved in many areas as important employment creators for disadvantaged groups in society, particularly youths and women.
The country's sub- tropical climate and its large portion of abundant soil nutrients permit a year-round production of a wide range of vegetable species.
Additionally, the fact that growers are assured of a ready market for produce should be a motivation for them to diversify into the production of the crop. Vegetables may be produced for the export market, fresh market or for consumption at home.
When produced timely, vegetables can provide a reliable and regular source of income to growers.
Vegetable family include; cabbage, amaranth, carrots, chinese cabbage, cleome, corchorus, cucumber, eggplants, french beans, edible gourds, lettuce, okra, onions, peas, hot pepper (paprika and green pepper), pumpkins, rape, tomatoes, water melons and wild yam.
Among companies supplying vegetable seeds to farmers are Panner Quality Seed, Amiran and Zambia Seed Company (Zamseed).
Seeing that Zambia may experience food scarcity because of too much rain that has hit most parts of the country, it is wise for growers to venture into vegetable production so as to ensure sustainability and food security at household level.
Vegetables to be planted in February
Amaranthus 5kg per Hactare
Green beans 60kg
Green and hot pepper 500kg
Irish potato 2metric tonnes
Water Melon 3kg