Traditional, Indigenous, or Leafy? A Definition, Typology, and Way Forward for African Vegetables

  • Alexandra M. TownsEmail author
  • Charlie Shackleton


Traditional, Indigenous, or Leafy? A Definition, Typology, and Way Forward for African Vegetables. Around 1000 different species of indigenous and naturalized vegetables contribute to the dietary diversity, food security, and livelihoods of populations across sub-Saharan Africa. These foods are also a part of alimentary traditions and cultural identity, but have suffered as neglected and underutilized species. Slowly, African vegetables are beginning to gain the attention of universities, research centers, and development organizations; however, the terminology used to describe the plants is characterized by widespread disagreement and redundancy. Key terms and concepts used such as indigenous, traditional, and leafy have different interpretations and are used interchangeably, creating a challenge for coordinated research and extension efforts. Through analyzing a broad set of peer-reviewed journal articles on African vegetables, we (1) provide an overview with respect to definitions and terms used in the literature, (2) propose a definition of the term traditional African vegetable (TAV), (3) create a typology to classify the main groups of African vegetables, and (4) identify trends and gaps for further research and extension on African vegetables. We propose not only a unified way to categorize these vegetables but also a way for a more holistic and interdisciplinary systems approach to further the research agenda and practical management of African vegetables.

Key Words

African indigenous vegetables Leafy vegetables Traditional vegetables Neglected and underutilized species Systems approach Terminology Livelihoods Ethnobotany 



CS contribution was sponsored by the South African Research Chairs Initiative of the Dept. of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation of South Africa (grant 84379). Any opinion, finding, conclusion, or recommendation expressed in this material is that of the authors and the NRF does not accept any liability in this regard.

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Towson Honors CollegeTowson UniversityTowsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental ScienceRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa

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