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Challenges and strategies for improving the marketing of indigenous leafy

vegetables in Nigeria

Article · December 2011


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Ikechi Agbugba
Fort Hare University


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Challenges and Strategies for Improving the Marketing of
Indigenous Leafy Vegetables in Nigeria


Agbugba, I. K.
Dept of Agricultural Economics
University of Nigeria, Nsukka
Tel: 08036483852,

Okechukwu, F. O.
Dept of Home Science, Nutrition and Dietetics
University of Nigeria, Nsukka
Tel: 08069627637


Solomon, R. J.
Dept of Home Economics
School of Vocational Teacher Education
Federal College of Education
PMB 2041 Katsina
Tel: 08065519475

Agbugba, I. K., Okechukwu, F.O. and Solomon, R.J. (2011) Challenges and Strategies for improving
the Marketing of Indigenous Leaf Vegetables in Nigeria. Journal of Home Economics Association of
Nigeria (HERAN), Vol.15, pp11-20

This paper highlights description of indigenous leafy vegetables; economic importance; components
of marketing of indigenous leafy vegetable; marketing channels for indigenous leafy vegetable;
challenges of marketing indigenous leafy vegetable; improving of indigenous leafy vegetable
marketing; conclusion and recommendations.
Keywords: indigenous, leafy, vegetables, marketing


There is increasing awareness in recent years of the health promoting and protecting properties of non-

nutrient bioactive compounds found in indigenous leafy vegetables. This has resulted in increased

attention to leafy vegetables as vital components of daily diets (Smith and Eyzaguirre, 2007). For

populations in Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, this attention on leafy

vegetables as vital dietary components reinforces the significant roles that indigenous leafy vegetables

have as important components especially in their diets (Chweya and Eyzaguirre, 1999).

Indigenous Leafy Vegetables (ILVs) thus, have a pivotal role in the success within Nigeria, other sub-

Saharan African countries, and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global initiative on increased

consumption of vegetables. The joint FAO/WHO 2003 Consultation on Diet, Nutrition and the

Prevention of Chronic Diseases recommended a minimum daily intake of 400g of fruits and

vegetables (WHO, 2003).

WHO in 2004 again drew attention to this recommendation through its Global Strategy on Diet,

Physical Activity and Health. At the joint Kobe workshop on vegetables and fruits for health, the

WHO and FAO developed a framework that proposes ways to promote increased production,

availability and access, and a greater consumption of vegetables, especially indigenous leafy

vegetables (FAO/WHO, 2004).

Indigenous leafy vegetables (ILVs) have long been regarded as minor crops and thus, have attracted

little marketing attention, in favor of major crops and cash crops. This paper therefore, itemizes

discussions on the description of ILVs; economic importance of ILVs; components of marketing

ILVs; marketing channels for ILVs; challenges of ILVs marketing; improving marketing of ILVs;

recommendations and conclusion.

Description of Indigenous Leafy Vegetables (ILVs)

There are several varieties of these leafy vegetables either in the wild or under cultivation in the rural

areas. The word ‘indigenous’ has been used in generic form to accommodate those crop species,

though not native to the area, but have been produced over years for the enhancement of high value of

nutritious leafy vegetable. They have been part of the food systems in Nigeria and other SSA countries

for generations (Lyatuum, Msuta, Sakala, Marope, Safi, and Lebotse, 2009). ILVs are those that have their

natural habitat in Nigeria. There is now recognition that indigenous leafy vegetables are important

foods and their production, marketing and processing are significant contributors to income.

Marketing of ILVs has become increasingly an important source of income for most small scale

farmers in Nigeria (especially women), who cannot get employment in the formal sector. The Plant

Resources of Tropical Africa – PROTA, reported an estimated 6,376 useful indigenous African plants

of which 397 are vegetables. In the same volume, it is indicated that information is available on

cultivation practices for 280 indigenous African leafy vegetables (PROTA, 2004).

There has been a resurgence of interest in the ILVs during the past decade with several studies

reporting on their regional availability and use (Opabode and Adegbooye, 2005). The Spore in April

4th 2005 observed that African “leafy vegetables are everywhere and nowhere, in books and on the

internet there is a great deal of information on tropical green vegetables, but it is often scattered like

leaves in the wind” (Spore, 2005). Some popular specie examples of ILVs familiar to Nigeria and

other sub Saharan African countries include: “ugu” (Telfairia occidentalis), water leaf, bitter leaf,

green and “ukazi” (Gnetum africanum).

Economic Importance of Indigenous Leafy Vegetable

Women are key players in the production, processing and marketing (mainly retailing) of indigenous

leafy vegetables. It was discovered from a study conducted in a West African city that in 14 satellite
markets, about 1,000 women were engaged in selling indigenous leafy vegetables. For these women

and their families, the meagre revenues earned are of utmost importance. In time past, an average

Nigerian rural dweller depended on subsistence farming in which he cultivated ILV crops at least for

his immediate family consumption (Berinyuy, 1998). Their importance includes:

• Income Generation and Subsistence: Research surveys carried out by the Natural Institute in

Cameroon and Uganda provided evidence that vegetables offer a significant opportunity for the

poorest people to earn a living, as producers and/or traders, without requiring large capital

investments. They are important commodities for poor households, because their prices are

highly affordable when compared to other food items (Schippers, 2000).

• Employment Opportunities: Indigenous leafy vegetables ILV production provides jobs,

thereby creating employment opportunities (Juroszek, Lumpkin and Palada, 2003). They are

important source of employment for those outside the informal sector in peri-urban areas of

many African cities because of their generally short, labour-intensive production systems, low-

levels of purchased input use and high levels. The production of these vegetables is

increasingly targeted as a livelihood strategy as the level of urban unemployment rises (Smith

and Eyzaguirre, 2007).

• Nutrition: Many vegetable crops particularly the indigenous leafy vegetables are mainly

consumed for their nutritional values without much consideration for their medicinal

importance (Ayodele, 2005). It is often said that the nutritional security of a country can be

achieved only when enough vegetables are consumed (Pasquini and Young, 2008). They

contribute to a more balanced diet for many people and a significant improvement in food

security for the community at large (Berinyuy, 1998). The high protein and vitamin content in

these vegetables can eliminate deficiencies amongst children, pregnant women and poor people

living in rural areas. ILVs can thus, replace meat in the diets of those who cannot afford to buy

meat as the vegetables are cheaper than meat. For instance, Amaranthus leaves are rich in
calcium, iron and vitamins A, B and C. Spider plants leaves are mildly bitter taste and contain

5% protein, 6% carbohydrates and are high in vitamins A and C, calcium, phosphorus and iron.

Cowpea leaves have high vitamin and protein contents, as well as fixing nitrogen in Soil.

Nightshade leaves provides good levels of protein, iron, vitamin A, iodine, zinc, and selenium.

Sweet potato leaves are rich in protein (Smith and Eyzaguirre, 2007).

• Health: Medicine constitutes one of the many resources of the forest on which the health of the

average African population depended since the time of creation. Herbs have usually served as

the repository of healing materials and have been acknowledged to be generally safe without or

with minimum side effects. Quite a large number of indigenous leafy vegetables have long

been known and reported to have health protecting properties and importance (Okeno, Chebet

and Mathenge, 2003). Several of these indigenous leafy vegetables are used for prophylactic and

therapeutic purposes by rural communities. This indigenous knowledge of the health

promoting and protecting attributes of ILVs is clearly linked to their nutritional and non-

nutrient bioactive properties (Mulokozi, Hedren and Svanberg, 2004). Due to the medicinal

value, people suffering from diseases such as high blood pressure, HIV/AIDS, cancer,

hypertension have been advised to consume indigenous leafy vegetables (Lyatuum et al, 2009).

• Ceremonial Role: In the humid lowland areas of Nigeria and in hot dry regions of West

Africa, as well as other parts of the continent, exotic vegetables cannot grow well. Wide

varieties of ILVs are grown in these areas. African indigenous leafy vegetables remain popular

in rural areas, where they are often considered to be more tasty and nutritious than exotic

vegetables. They often play a ceremonial role and are essential ingredients in traditional dishes

(Schippers, 2000).

Components of Marketing of Indigenous Leafy Vegetable

Marketing is defined as all processes involved from the production of a commodity until it gets to the

final consumer. These processes ensure that the right product (form utility) is available at the right
place (place utility), at the right price (possession utility) and at the right time (time utility) to fully

satisfy the consumer (Okoh, Ugwumba and Elue, 2008). The relevance of indigenous leafy vegetable

marketing is to ensure the flow of the vegetable produce from the farmer or producer to the consumer

in the form, time and place of need.

Indigenous leafy vegetables are usually more difficult to market than to produce. However, according

to Kumar (2009), when marketing indigenous leafy vegetables, the following issues are highlighted:

(i) There is good communication network between the producer and consumer or the farmer and buyer

is essential in order to ensure efficient transaction in the marketing system.

(ii) An efficient indigenous leafy vegetable marketing system plays a dynamic role of stimulating

vegetable output and consumption in the vegetable market.

(iii) More importantly, there are, generally speaking, a substantial number of marketing participants in

each vegetable market.

(iv) Also, there seem to be integration existing in the vegetable market. This implies that there will be

competitive behaviour, as well as collusive behaviour amongst the participants in the vegetable

markets (Agbugba and Nwagbo, 2006).

It has been discovered that the market potential of indigenous leafy vegetables is very large and has

not been exploited. Current economic situation in Nigeria provides opportunities for an expansion of

ILVs marketing to enhance increased income of small scale farmers (Smith and Eyzaguirre, 2007).

Marketing Channels for Indigenous Leafy Vegetable

The marketing channel of indigenous leafy vegetable crops is an important part of its cost, and the

location and extent of production may shorten the path of distribution from producers to consumers

(Egbuna, 2009). Efficiency in the marketing of vegetables is borne on the platter of an efficient market

information provision. In the marketing of vegetable, farmers as well as marketers determine the flow

of information from the farm to the market place. A study conducted by Agbugba (2003) on
indigenous leafy vegetable production and marketing in a South Eastern town of Nigeria indicated the

marketing channel as shown in the figure below:

Fig 2.1 Indigenous Leafy Vegetable Marketing Channel in Nigeria

Vegetable Producers (farmers)

Wholesale Dealers (in the market)

Retail Dealers (E.g. small retail-shops)

Consumers (Households, hotel; cooks etc.)

Source: Agbugba (2003)

The farmer can use either of the following channels of marketing to sell their indigenous leafy
vegetables (ILVs) namely:
• They sell directly to consumers-at farm gate or at market place;
• They sell to a wholesaler through a broker;
• They sell directly to a restaurant/hotel/supermarkets;
• They sell to an exporting company;
• They sell to the retailer directly.
By understanding the above marketing channels, a farmer is able to increase efficiency in business

hence raise the total generated income and improve the competence thereby, increase the market share.

There are two main types of markets where ILVs could be marketed, formal and informal. Formal

markets are a specialized form of market such as supermarkets, wholesale markets, free markets and

retail shops. Informal market include door to door and road side markets (Germain, 2008).

In the developing ILVs world, small-scale farmers produce most of the indigenous leafy vegetable

supply to the market, but production periods are relatively short and productivity per unit area is low.

Low income farmers face difficulties to be self-dependent on supply of indigenous leafy vegetables to

the market (Sanyang, Kao and Huang, 2009).

Challenges of Marketing Indigenous Leafy Vegetable

Although favourable geography and climate in Nigeria, partner countries have played a major role in

the expansion of Indigenous leafy vegetables (ILVs) production; market, policy, and institutional

conditions are critical in realizing such growth. According to Lyatuum, et al (2009) indigenous leafy

vegetables (ILVs) marketing is characterized by inadequate government intervention. Generally the

following issues have been identified:

* Lack of reliable market information to both farmers and market advisory service providers.

* Lack of mechanism to set price. ILVs are sold by farmers mostly on the basis of “cost of living”

rather than considering the cost of production, supply and demand conditions.

* High perishability of ILVs poses major challenges in distribution and marketing. ILVs are mainly

abundant during the rainy season.

* Poor roads, which are inaccessible during the rain seasons hinders timely transportation of ILVs to

the market.

* Low level of ILVs productivity is partly due to inadequate investment in business and insufficient

seed production and supply.

* Inadequate market linkages and market extension support to foster multiplicity of technology

transfer systems.

* Inadequate network as most of the resource poor farmers are not adequately covered.

* Technical capacity within the extension system, capacity building for farmers as well as Research-

Extension-Farmer-Market Linkages is weak, and operating resources are inadequate.

* Financial sustainability as well as high interests charged by financial institutions when farmers take


* Lastly, poor handling (sorting, grading and packaging) at the farm gate or village level, as a result

of which some vegetables are lost before reaching the market poses another threat.
A study conducted by Okunlola (2009) in a south western state of Nigeria showed that Fadama farms

which cultivate mostly leafy vegetables discovered that the marketers sell their products at the farm,

the village market or the urban market as the case may be. They experienced the following constraints

in the marketing of their products viz: lack of standard measure/pricing, lack of market, problem or

inadequate storage and high transportation costs. It was discovered that Fadama products were of high

demand because the crops produced during the off season (dry season), when leafy vegetable supply

was low, despite high demand (Okunlola, 2009).

Improving Marketing of Indigenous Leafy Vegetable

There has been concern over the years regarding the efficiency of marketing indigenous leafy

vegetable. Nwachukwu and Onyenweaku (2005) noted that economic efficiency depends on the

market forces which in turn are influenced by the sectoral and marketing polices of a country like

Nigeria. The marketing of indigenous leafy vegetable is complex due to its perishable and seasonal

nature as well as its bulkiness. Indigenous leafy vegetable marketing is a very vital component of the

vegetable industry and there is therefore, a need to move from the passive marketing of indigenous

leafy vegetables to produce in bulk and of variable specification to active marketing of products grown

to specified requirements of variety, size, colour, flavour, moisture content, packaging and seasonality

(Spore, 1993).

Value Addition: The marketing process of indigenous leafy vegetables has great potential for value

addition to give a boost to food industry, create employment opportunities and better returns to the

farmers. When values are added to vegetables, they are washed and packaged in plantain or banana

leaves to make it marketable (Sethi, Sethi, Deka and Meena, 2005; Arene and Mbata, 2008). Produce

storage, quality control, processing, drying and packaging are all involved in value addition in the

process of marketing of indigenous leafy vegetables. These particular features take place during

marketing of vegetables and sometimes evolve rapidly determining its complexity (Gandhi and

Namboodiri, 2007).
Development of Indigenous Leafy Vegetable Marketing System: Due to the important role

indigenous leafy vegetables play in the human diet, economy and environment, there is universal

recognition to develop the marketing system in Nigeria. The marketing of indigenous leafy vegetables

is gradually developing as many youths develop interest and become marketers, helping the process of

distribution. This will ensure efficient supply of these vegetables from the producers to where they are

marketed until it reaches the final consumer (Agbugba, 2003).

Vegetable Marketing Channel Adjustment: The marketing channel of vegetables is an important part

of its cost, and the location, as well as the extent of production may shorten the path of distribution

from producers to consumers (Egbuna, 2009).

Marketing of indigenous leafy vegetables begins in the farm when the vegetable farmer plans his

production to meet up the specific demands and market prospects. The products, when harvested

cannot usually go directly to the consumer. Firstly, it is likely to be located some distances from the

place of consumption. Thus, transport is required to bring the product to the right place. Secondly,

vegetable production is generally seasonal, while their consumption is regular and continuous

throughout the year. Thus, storage is requiring adjusting supply and demand. Thirdly, vegetables when

variously cleaned must be presented to the consumer in convenient quantities and qualities for sale.

The vegetable farmer finally expects payment to be made for all the various stages of production until

the retailer sells the product to the final consumer.


Policy: Policy makers should support the promotion effort to create awareness in terms of education,

training, nutrition information, curriculum, certification of seed particular for ILVs, and support

infrastructures in terms of irrigation system, rain water harvest, roads. Programs should be put in place

to show the usefulness of ILVs in the mitigation of HIVAIDS. Policy should direct the financial

institutions in such a way that apart from the business they should focus also on helping farmers.
Market Players: There is a need of market research on internal weaknesses and strengths and look for

opportunities (SWOT analysis) to look on possibilities of producing seeds for ILVs.

Support Services: There is need for support services in terms of seeds supply, training, input supply,

area of preservation, improved recipes and market information, as well as for promotion of ILVs.

Research and Extension: Researchers should continue with research in terms of collection and

documentation of the ILVs and seed improvement. Extension should be strengthened with emphasis

on linkage with research. Dissemination and sharing of available information through demonstration

plots, agriculture shows, networking between institution, radio and magazine is essential.

Farmers: Farmers need information in order to make informed decision before investment to prevent

unforeseen losses and disturbances from the unstable market. Farmers Support Units provide an

opportunity for easy access and dissemination of information and knowledge to the relevant groups.

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