At first sight, a small patch of land at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) Hotel School grounds does not seem striking, and yet this modest little garden has become a centre for reviving traditional culinary tastes in Namibia.
It is the experimental site of the Mutete crop Hibiscus sabdariffa (also known as Roselle). Mutete has traditionally earned its reputation amongst rural populations in Africa. Not only are the leaves of the plant eaten as wild spinach, but it is also known to lower blood pressure.
In September 2022 Mutete was selected for an intercropping experiment at the Namibian pilot site for the DIVAGRI project. The project seeks to contribute to sustainable livelihoods in rural areas of Africa through the improvement of domestic agri-food systems. Intercropping is an agricultural practice that involves growing two or more crops close together to improve soil health and manage pests, amongst other benefits.
The Mutete in Rukwangali language (Omutete in Oshiwambo or Mundambi in Silozi) is a leafy green vegetable traditionally grown in the north of Namibia from Rundu going up through the Kavango to the Zambezi region.
It is cultivated mainly for its leaves. The seeds are sown in September and the plant is harvested from April. Mutete leaves are eaten as a wild spinach. It is cooked fresh in season and dried to be consumed for months after harvest. The vibrant red calyxes are used for making tea, juice, or jams.
“What makes this plant so versatile is that it grows in poor soil with only the annual rains providing the water needed to grow,” says Liesl Liebenberg, NUST Hotel School manager.
Being a local plant, the potential exists to create a value chain for it through the hospitality industry in the form of tea, juice, and jam. A proper value chain has the potential of creating opportunities for people living in rural areas. This could result in a Mutete Growers Organisation which could assist in managing and promoting this project.
When Mutete was introduced to the DIVAGRI Consortium during a visit in May 2023, it proved to be a great success. The jam, juice, and Mutete cocktail was enjoyed by all with the residing hotel guests enjoying the fresh Mutate juice served at breakfast.
The DIVAGRI research project will explore and facilitate such value addition and income generation from farmer crop diversification as well as from other revenue pathways enabled through the project’s bio-based technologies and solutions.
The project ‘Revenue diversification pathways in Africa through bio-based and circular agricultural innovations’ (DIVAGRI) has received funding from the European Union Horizon 2020 programme under grant number 101000348