ResearchInnovationFood Security

Chaya Project - Improving Food and Nutrition in Africa

22 February 2017

Africa University launched the Chaya Plant Project in Chivi, one of Zimbabwe’s driest areas, on 16 February at Chivi Growth Point. Through the Chaya Project, Africa University aims to reduce the effects of poverty and human vulnerability in the face of climate change while improving and promoting public health in Africa.

Chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa), commonly known as tree spinach, is a large, fast-growing leafy perennial shrub originating from South America. Its leaves which are available 10 months of the year, can be used as a fresh vegetable. Chaya contains twice the protein, iron and calcium of spinach and six times Vitamin A of spinach. Chivi District, was selected for the pilot planting project due to its climatic and edaphic characteristics comprised of severe dry spells during the rainy season, frequently seasonal droughts and sandy soils unsuitable for dryland cropping. The project will benefit drought stricken communities across Africa where the drought-resistant plant thrives in.

The Chaya project, funded by Dr John Huie and spearheaded by Mrs Margaret Tagwira who is an Africa University researcher, contributes to improving livelihoods of rural women through:

  1. Reducing the amount of time women labour to ensure availability of vegetable foods at family level;
  2. Reducing maternal and infant mortality in drought-prone areas of Zimbabwe and other countries through ensuring access to a vegetable that is high in protein, iron, vitamin A and other vitamins and
  3. Help women in waiting at hospitals have access to nutritious vegetables.

Mrs Tagwira, through her understanding and thorough research of the climate change induced hardships experienced in Chivi District, was deeply motived to empower the community with Chaya.

I know the burden of food provision falls on the woman and she has to work twice as hard to put food on the table. Chaya will lessen the burden of women having to travel long distances to fetch water for their plants and it will go a long way in restoring the health of women having lost a lot of blood during the birthing process.” she said.

Speaking at the launch, the Guest of Honour - Dr. Killer Zivhu who is the Chivi Rural District Council Chairman commended the efforts of Mrs Tagwira and her team and added that the project is very promising as it caters to the nutritional needs of Africa. “We are grateful to be pioneers of the project. Our women have since started selling their first harvest and there is already great demand for the Chaya. We will be taking the project to all hospitals and prisons and allocating more land to Chaya farmers,” he said.

AU staff posing with Guest of Honour and Keynote Speaker at Chivi Growth Point (L-R) Mr G. Miti, Rev. Dr. P. Chikafu, Dr. K. Zivhu(Guest of Honour), Mrs. M. Tagwira, Dr. R. A. Kangwende, Prof. P. Machakanja


To date, more than 10 000 cuttings to be used as planting materials of the Chaya plant have been planted by 49 selected farmers across Zimbabwe notably in Nyadire, Zvishavane and Chiredzi catchment areas. Currently Chaya is being planted at mission hospitals in these locations and there are plans to expand it to more hospitals, schools and orphanages.

By AU Correspondent

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