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Published: 1996-10-19


ECHO'S INVENTORY OF TROPICAL VEGETABLES. How many kinds of vegetables did God create? You can count the hundreds in this 157-page publication by Dr. Frank Martin, Victor Doku and Ruth Ruberte. Plants are considered in alphabetical order by family, with good indices for genus and common names. Within each family the "major" vegetables, if any, are described by a paragraph with standardized format, while the hundreds of minor vegetables receive only a single line (scientific and common names, type of growth, country of origin, plant part eaten, and whether cultivated or wild). The uses, and any poisonous properties, are noted when known. Thumbing through the book is the best way to find vegetables of a particular country. A very complete bibliography lists the most important sources of further information. Remember that this is an inventory, not a detailed description of everything you might want to know about the plants.

This may be the most complete listing of tropical vegetables ever developed. Because we did not consider the "market" large enough to pay printing costs, we have "published" it as a xeroxed copy in a binder. While most valuable in libraries, many will want a copy on their own desks. At US$20 ($15 for private voluntary organizations) plus postage it is a bargain considering the years of work that went into the book, and the difficulty of getting the information elsewhere. Available from ECHO. 

EDIBLE LEAVES OF THE TROPICS (about 240 pp.) by Franklin W. Martin and Ruth M. Rubert‚ discusses the value of leaves in the diet and describes hundreds of edible leaves. Green leafy vegetables, common weeds, tropical trees, spices and teas, and temperate vegetables in the tropics are included. There is some information on toxic leaves and the culture of green-leaved vegetables. This book has been out of print since the early 1980s, but is in the process of being reprinted by A2Z2 04ECHO. It will probably be available in late 1996. Write for details. 

GROWING VEGETABLES IN FIJI AVAILABLE FROM ECHO. ECHO receives letters every month from individuals who did not grow up in the tropics, but who now find themselves called upon to do vegetable gardening under tropical conditions. Some have not had previous gardening experience in any climate. Now they may even be expected to teach the subject. Kirk Dahlgren authored this helpful, concise book while working as a Peace Corps director in Fiji. He discusses both tropical vegetables and techniques for growing temperate vegetables for which there may be considerable demand (and potential profit) in the tropics. We found it so useful both in teaching basic gardening techniques and in bridging the gap between temperate experience and tropical realities that we reprinted it. Growing Vegetables in Fiji costs US$5 plus postage ($2.25 N. Am.; $3.50 S. Am.; $5 elsewhere).

We find that people moving to the tropics make two opposite mistakes. One is to assume that in the tropics they will easily be able to grow the kind of vegetables they knew from temperate climates. The other is to assume too quickly that it cannot be done. While many temperate vegetables will not grow in most tropical locations, every so often we find someone succeeding with a vegetable we might have urged them not even to try. Experiments in your garden will cost little and may yield big rewards! 

ECONOMIC PLANTS OF IMPORTANCE IN HAITI (44 pp.) is a very helpful book by Dr. Terry Berke. "When I was teaching at the American University in Les Cayes I often had only the Creole name of a plant. Once I had the scientific name I could usually find information about it in my reference books."

The book is not exactly a bilingual dictionary, but it can be used that way. A large table lists the names of a great many plants and the family to which they belong. Trees, vegetables, wild plants, and fruits are all listed. English, Creole and scientific names are alphabetized together. You then turn to the body of the book where each family is discussed. In that discussion the scientific, English and Creole names of the family members are listed along with a very brief discussion of each plant and its uses. This book was extremely helpful on a trip to Haiti. Often we were given the Creole name and had no idea what the plant was--until we checked it out in this book.

For easy reference to more common plants, the book includes one page of scientific names of common vegetables, followed by the English and Creole names. Another page does the same for fruit and multi-purpose trees. ECHO is publishing the book in-house as needed. The price is $3.50 plus postage. 

SEVERAL AGRICULTURAL BOOKS IN SPANISH. Dr. Keith Andrews, director of the Panamerican School of Agriculture in Zamorano, Honduras, sent several of their agricultural books for ECHO's library. The books and their prices appear below. Write for ordering information to the bookstore at Zamorano, P.O. Box 93, Tegucigalpa, HONDURAS, Central America. (This well-known school is oriented towards hands-on, practical agriculture. After a guided tour by one of their students, I was envious of the practical experience their graduates receive. As I recall, students work half a day in the area they are currently studying. If studying animal science, then they may rotate through raising animals, butchering, making cheese, processing milk, etc. If studying horticulture, then caring for vegetables, harvesting fruit, selling in the fresh produce store, etc.)

The books include: Cebolla, ajo y puerro (47 pp., $8); Cultivo de la soya (61, $8); Gu¡a practica para el manejo de malezas (222, $18), Horticultura manual de practicas de campo (180, $10); Manejo integrado de plagas insectiles en la agricultura (623, $30); Ordenes y familias de insectos de Centroamerica (179, $10); Principios y practicas de mejoramiento de plantas (119, $8); Produccion de cabras y ovejas en el tropico (174, $15).

Other books, which I have not seen, which might be of interest: Cana de azucar (104 pp., $5); Guia practica de cultivo de hortalizas (81, $12); Manual de laboratorio nutricion animal (110, $8); Manual de Laboratorio de introduccion a suelos (81, $5); Microbiologia ($15); Practica de campo muestreo de nematodos (11, $3); Principios practicos para la produccion de cultivos (119, $10).

THE ASIAN VEGETABLE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT CENTER conducts research, crop improvement, and offers seed for research and many publications on tropical vegetables. Write to Office of Publications and Communications, AVRDC, Box 42, Shanhua Tainan 741, Taiwan ROC; phone 8866 583 7801; fax 8866 583 0009; e-mail opc@netra.avrdc.org.tw; http://www.avrdc.org.tw.

"I WANT TO TEACH HOME VEGETABLE GARDENING" is one of the most frequent requests ECHO receives from people in the field. Small, biointensive household vegetable gardens can supply the vitamins and minerals often lacking in the diet of rural families. For this reason, most rural development groups have promoted home gardens at one time or another, and some have met with acceptance and enthusiasm.

Many more of these educational efforts, however, have been discontinued once the development staff have left the community. It is worthwhile to encourage people to grow and eat fresh fruits and vegetables, so promoting home gardens seems a simple and effective step in that direction. But the fact that gardening projects all around the world often fail to achieve permanence should make us especially cautious to launch such a program. Some guidelines are given below to help you evaluate the need for gardening education in your area and to identify some limitations to gardening.A2Z2 05

If you are new to an area, your first step should be to observe the current growing practices and diet in the region. It could be that you see people growing vegetables for the market, but they do not eat them at home; in that case, simply growing more vegetables will not improve the diversity in their diets. Or it could be that you do not recognize gardening activities, but people eat many vegetables--for example, wild greens which they gather or perennial plants that are not obviously cultivated. If people are already gardening, you do not need to teach them, but it might be appropriate to examine more productive techniques or evaluate some new plants which could be added to their system. If they are not gardening, there is probably a whole complex of reasons why they are not, and it would be wise to consider the limiting factors before beginning a promotional program. As always, the goal should be discovering the most appropriate way to meet the needs in the community, rather than introducing any particular system. Keep in mind that a truly appropriate technique may spread by itself. My [LSM] observations from one area highlight a few reasons people may not garden.

In the Andean region of Ecuador, much effort has been poured into "teaching" various methods of vegetable gardening with little long-term adoption of the practice. Most people do not grow their own produce. The most common reasons farmers give include the following: seed supply is erratic and of varying quality (especially seeds distributed free often had poor germination), necessary vegetables could be easily and economically purchased in the market, lack of a regular water source for irrigation, lack of motivation to grow vegetables, difficulty of protecting the garden from free-ranging animals ("neighbors' chickens" are a serious problem), no market for their products, and dislike of vegetables. Pest problems are not reported as a serious limiting factor, and the Andean climate favors the production of a wide variety of vegetable crops.

The primary limitations to home gardening are related to food habits/values and farming systems. Vegetables have low priority in the Andean diet. For example, traditional Andean foods contain little if any vegetable portion: drinks are grain-based, and meat (cuy [guinea pig], beef, chicken, etc.) and starches (potato and many other native root/tuber crops) are often served without the complement of vegetables. A few green peas or carrots are tossed into the soup, onion is used to flavor meats and soups, some beets or radishes may top the rice, and hot peppers and tomatoes are used in hot sauce, but vegetables make few other appearances on the Andean table. As in much of Latin America--unlike tropical regions of Africa and Asia--leafy greens are viewed as animal food rather than important in human nutrition. People gather some wild greens to add to soups in times of food scarcity, but these foods have a poor reputation and they are not cultivated or preferred.

Chickens, and to a lesser extent other animals, are a primary reason that people are unable to grow vegetables. Chickens are rarely confined, and their scavenging of insects and scraps around the house makes important contributions at little cost. However, their scratching quickly destroys garden beds and seedlings, and the necessary fences may be too expensive or difficult for people to construct before they begin a garden. Some people said that for this reason, communal gardens met with greater success than individual gardens--only one tall fence had to be constructed to protect everyone's crops together. People who did have gardens were often ingenious in the construction of their fences--using a variety of materials such as scrap wood, old plastic, shrubs, etc. Another important factor to understand is the key role played by the animals raised around the home, especially cuyes and pigs. Some people fed their garden vegetables to their animals, so it was clear that animal production was more important to the families than eating the vegetables.

I occasionally noticed one house which had extensive vegetable plantings in an otherwise gardenless community. When asked how they had such a nice garden, the families' most common responses related to health or economic benefits. People who maintained gardens on their own knew about the nutritional value of the vegetables, often explaining some specific improvement in the health of their children, such as their teeth or energy level. Others noted the extra income from selling their vegetables. People who found a market and made money from their gardens tended to have large, well-tended gardens which produced continuously with irrigation. These benefits made gardening worthwhile, even for people who did not grow vegetables simply because they liked them.