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Mutava's work will benefit his fellow Kenyans

By Sally Jongsma

Raymond Mutava’s senior research project was more than an interesting experiment. His work with amaranth will benefit people from his community in Kenya after he finishes writing a manual that describes how to grow the grain.

Mutava worked as a CRWRC (Christian Reformed World Relief Committee) partner in Kenya before enrolling at Dordt College. In his role as a food security coordinator for the Anglican Church in his country, Mutava was part of an effort to help Kenyan farmers cultivate amaranth. Amaranth, a grain that is high in nutritional value and one that grows quickly and with little water, is a good cash crop for poor farmers and a good way to add nutrients to their diets.

Raymond Mutava, a student from Kenya, left his wife and two daughters in Africa to study agriculture at a Christian institution.

Raymond Mutava, a student from Kenya, left his wife and two daughters in Africa to study agriculture at a Christian institution.

“Children who are being fed amaranth seem to be better nourished,” says Mutava. He adds that amaranth is being purchased by most hospitals to improve their patients’ diets. Amaranth is high in lysine, an amino acid in short supply in most grains. For poor farmers dependent on grain, amaranth boosts the amount of useable protein in their diet. Amaranth comes in both grain and vegetable varieties, although the leaves of the grain variety can also be harvested and eaten like spinach. Flour comes from milling the seeds after the pods ripen. While amaranth is already being grown in some places and has great potential, a small problem has developed in marketing the seed. The variety that has been planted for the past three years has begun cross pollinating with an indigenous wild variety of the plant, making the seeds black instead of white. The nutritional value does not seem to be compromised, but the black seed does not bring the same price as the white.

Mutava originally hoped to focus part of his attention on the cross pollination between wild and cultivated varieties, but some of his seeds would not germinate properly. In the end, he spent the summer documenting the growth cycle of the plants for the manual he plans to make available.

“At this point farmers may have to save seeds for only two years and then purchase new seed the third year to prevent too much cross pollination,” he says.

Buying seed is expensive for poor farmers, but the availability of seed is growing.

“Before, one person had a monopoly, selling it for the equivalent of $5 a kilogram and buying back for only $.25. Now there are more sources, and farmers are working together to get better prices,” says Mutava.

Mutava has been eating some of the amaranth he has grown this summer. He picks the leaves, cooking it like spinach.

“It has a unique taste, but it is good,” he says. The seeds can also be combined with other grains like corn and used in porridge or they can be ground and used as flour. “It is a crop worth growing,” he adds.