Yes, you can earn from growing Managu

Mr Henry Kinuthia on his farm. Nothing can convince this farmer to get any other job. PHOTO|WAIKWA MAINA

Many people who grew up upcountry always knew ‘managu’ as among traditional vegetables that grew on farms with careless abandon and the abundance of weeds. No one gave the vegetables such as managu (African nightshade), terere (amaranth), sagek or sagaa (spider plant) among others, much thought – they were just there and would be weeded out in time for planting ‘the real crops’.
Most farmers did not mind them much because, ‘these weeds’ also served as backup vegetables for when the home was out of the more trendy cabbages, spinach and sukuma wiki.
But little did anyone imagine that the little regarded and ignored vegetables would one day get the tag: super something. Now they are being viewed as super foods. Sample this headline: Forget kale, try slimy jute mallow or the spider plant! Scientists hail African vegetables as the new superfoods.
This was a headline in the Daily Mail, a UK paper, last year. The article was on how scientists have discovered that African plants such as managu have more nutrients than other vegetables.
Another article headlined, ‘The rise of Africa’s super vegetables’, went on to say how these vegetables, which have for long be ignored even by Africans, are now capturing attention for their nutritional and environmental benefits. This one appeared in Nature, an international weekly journal of science.
And there is certainly cause for this new thinking. While these vegetables are being celebrated for their hardiness and ability to grow in a wide range of soils, they are also said to be highly nutritious. The African nightshade (managu) and the others are an excellent source of proteins, iron, vitamin A, iodine, and zinc.
“The high nutritional value makes African nightshade, especially important for poor people, as well as helping people suffering from HIV/Aids get better nutrition,” says WorldWatch Institute in a supplement on Africa’s traditional vegetables. It adds that nightshades are traditionally used worldwide as medicinal plants, especially for stomach ailments.
“Leaf extracts from African nightshade are used to treat diarrhoea, eye infections, and jaundice. The raw fruit is sometimes chewed to treat stomach ulcers or stomachaches,” it says, adding that it is also used as fodder for cattle and goats. “Dye can be made from both the leaves and the fruit.”
But for Mr Henry Kinuthia there are even more benefits from the nightshades – they are also good for the pocket. That is why, if you want to entice this farmer out of growing his managu for business, you should be ready to pay him a million shillings a month, he says. The vegetable, whose local names include mnavu for the Swahili community, managu in Gikuyu, namasaka for the Abaluhya, osuga in Luo, sojek in Kalenjin, kitulu, among the Kamba, ormomoi in Maasai and ndunda in Taita, brings him good returns.
A 40ft x 100ft piece of land under this vegetable, he adds, can earn an income of Sh36,000 a month. “I am currently in my fourth year of growing only managu on an acre. That means that in a month, I rake in Ksh144,000,” says the farmer.
They say that once bitten twice shy. This reminiscent of what Mr Kinuthia has been through and he does not have much love for white collar employment: “I would like my fellow youth in jobs outside political offices to be very honest with me and tell me whether they can get an employer willing to pay them such an amount.” After graduating from an electrical wiring course, with high hope of getting a job, he ended up doing menial jobs.
“By 2011, it was apparent that I was doomed. No one was willing to give me a permanent job. It was a low moment for me, when out of frustration I got myself into Marigiti Market in Nairobi, where I worked as a cargo hauler, carrying 120kg sacks of potatoes from lorries,” he says.
On a good day, he would offload about 2,400 kilos and get paid Ksh400. “In a week, I was able to make Ksh2,000 or Sh8,000 a month. My monthly expenses in Nairobi totalled to Ksh12,000. I realised that I was not only living a lie that I was making a living, but I was also torturing my body and soul,” he says.
In 2012, he decided to retreat to his Kamungu Village in Murang’a County, where he started small-scale farming.
“I knew from Marigiti that managu was a vegetable in demand. I decided to grow it and since then, I am comfortable. My wallet can match those of people in the upper middle level income brackets,” he says.
A 40ft x 100ft piece of land(quarter acre) under managu will yield about 300 kilos a week. “The farm gate price per kilo is Ksh30.
In a week, he can make a clean Ksh9,000. My acre gives me Ksh36,000 a week or Sh144,000 a month.