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Environmental Sciences and Development



The research focus of the Morogo Research Programme (MRP) is aptly described by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) definition of household food security: “food adequacy complying with nutrient and safety requirements as well as cultural preferences”.      

The Republic of South Africa has an estimated population of about 47 million with over 21.5 % living with HIV and approximately 40.5 % rural with restricted or no household income and limited access to commercial food markets. With reference to the southern African situation, the 2003 report of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) on HIV/AIDS and Food Security in Africa stated that “afflicted agrarian households do not cope but struggle and commonly dissolve entirely as a result of compound stresses of drought and HIV/AIDS on livelihoods”. Besides immense human suffering caused by the pandemic, HIV/AIDS impacts on family and community structures in a manner that threatens the continuation of indigenous knowledge that forms the basis of sustainable subsistence food production. In current situation of rural south African, the cumulative result of reduced dietary diversity, poor nutritional status, decreased human resistance to infections, increased risk for chronic diseases and higher mortality rates “condemns the worst afflicted sectors of society to a downward spiral with no obvious end point save utter destitution and household dissolution (DFID, 2003)”. With reference to the global phenomenon of food shortages in societies of low socio-economic status, former Italian Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Mr Giani Allemanno made the following meaningful remark: “It is not an issue of increased agricultural production, but rather of allowing people who suffer from hunger to be in a better position to get, in whole or in part, their own food”. Goals of the MRP are based on this approach.
Traditional leafy vegetables, collectively referred to in Setswana as morogo, have been demonstrated to possess dietary qualities that balance traditional grain-based staples of rural subsistence households with phytoproteins, minerals and vitamins. As these traditional food plants are well adapted to local growing conditions, many of them are heat-loving and drought resistant and their cropping has modest requirements for water and agrochemical application - an important advantage for resource-limited households who are largely dependent on subsistence food production. Utilisation of traditional legumes, tubers and leaf vegetables is deeply imbedded in African indigenous knowledge of an unique food culture that has survived the ages. Morogo vegetables have been shown to be good sources of essential dietary constituents and contain compounds with health-protective and immune strengthening properties. However, growing in the proximity of maize in rural subsistence settings, these vegetables apparently are not exempted from mycological risks typically associated with maize ecosystems. The occurrence of maize-associated mycotic and mycotoxigenic fungi in subsistence agro-environments implies health risks that would enhance AIDS-related disease outcomes in affected individuals thus augmenting the burden of disease in rural communities.

Economically-marginalised rural  and urban communities could derive long-term benefits from research and actions that advance the cultivation and consumption of traditional crops. In view of the alarming increase in so-called lifestyle diseases (diabetes type 2, hypertension and vascular disease) the stigma that morogo is “food for the poor” should be removed and utilisation of such vegetables should be widely encouraged in all levels of society. Supplying urban markets with traditional vegetables could have the additional advantage of providing rural farmers with a sustainable income and creating employment opportunities. At all times, morogo production, processing and storage should be carefully managed to minimise mycological risks for consumer populations



Based at the School of Environmental Sciences and Development, North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus), the Morogo Research Programme (MRP) represents transdisciplinary research on the nutritional value, health-related benefits and dietary risks associated with traditional morogo. Goals of the MRP include:
• To promote the utilisation of traditional morogo and preserve indigenous knowledge of their  utilisation;
• To develop a database on health benefits related to morogo consumption;
• To reduce dietary risks related to toxigenic fungi in the subsistence agro-environment;
• To engage in community projects aimed at diminishing food insecurity and hunger through home- and school gardens;
• To develop novel urban food markets for traditional African vegetables

Collaborating / cooperating research groups:
• Subject-group Nutrition, School of Health Sciences, North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus)
• Subject-group Physiology, School of Health Sciences, North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus)
• Subject-group Social Work, School of Phsyco-Social Behavorial Sciences, North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus);
• Agricultural Research Council Plant Protection Research Institute (ARC-PPRI), Biosystematics Division
• Agricultural Research Council Vegetable and Ornamental Plant Institute (ARC-VOPI)


Dr. Retha van der Walt
Morogo Research Programme (MRP)
School of Environmental Sciences and Development
North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus)
Private Bag X6001
Potchefstroom, 2520
E-mail: retha.vanderwalt@nwu.co.za




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