Madhumbe growing in a wetland

Wetlands are rapidly declining in most parts of Mutare district in Manicaland province, threatening crops such as magogoya or madhumbe, are a delicacy in Manicaland and have been part of breakfast for farmers in the eastern highlands for years. As such these crops have become synonymous with the province having been grown there for centuries. However, as the climate in Manicaland is becoming hotter, the rainy season is becoming shorter and more unpredictable; many wetlands are drying up as are areas which used to be suitable for growing them.

Magogoya and madhumbe are varieties of the species Colocasia esculenta. Although these crops are called yams locally they are in fact not true yams at all. Colocasia esculenta (also known as taro, eddoe and dasheen) is likely to have originated in South East Asia about 5000 years ago and has spread across the tropics from Asia to the Caribbean, across Africa and South America. The crop is a perennial cultivated for its large, edible corms which grow underground. When you ask Zimbabweans what the difference is between madhumbe and magogoya they will tell you it is all about size and taste. Magogoya are larger than madhumbe and seem to have a firmer texture. Madhumbe tend to have a nuttier flavour.

Honde Valley in Mutasa district, an area north of Mutare remains one of the areas in the province where madhumbe and magogoya are still grown in abundance. Most of the farmers supply buyers from the city of Mutare and as far afield as Harare. Murara Business Centre in Honde Valley is the epicentre for yam trade in the Manicaland.

Madhumbe plants in a wetland field
Madhumbe plants in a wetland field

In Mutare district, the growing areas for these crops are dwindling with each passing season but a small farming community in Mpudzi Resettlement Scheme still has some areas where madhumbe and magogoya can be cultivated. “Yes the weather is changing and becoming hotter but there are still some areas in Mpudzi Resettlement Scheme that are good for growing madhumbe and magogoya. We are lucky to have one such wetland to our village. I have planted a quarter of hectare of the crop” Elliot Nzarayebani from Village F in Mpudzi Resettlement said.

“We sell some too and they are a source of income. They are in great demand here. We normally start harvest around April up to August… as farmers we are jealously looking after our wetlands and other sources of water as our source of livelihood,” he added.

Nzarayebani said madhumbe and magogoya were popular because they can be eaten as a substitute for bread. “We rarely buy bread here but we eat madhumbe”.

According to www.nutritionandyou.com , taro are a good source of energy with 100g providing 118 calories. They have a crunchy centre chiefly composed of complex carbohydrates and soluble dietary fibre. The tuber is an excellent source of B-complex group of vitamins. However, unlike sweet potatoes, yams should never be eaten raw since they contain naturally occurring plant toxins. As such they must be peeled and cooked to remove these bitter proteins. Another way to treat them is to soak them in cold water overnight before cooking them.

Despite their nutritional value yams are shunned by young people in Mutare. A village elder from Zimunya in Mutare district, Nicholas Mukwindidza said “They are good for our health but many young people are no longer interested in yams. I don’t know why, But we should encourage our children eat such healthy food stuffs,” Mukwindidza said.

The market for madhumbe and magogoya has certainly increased in other places. Five years ago they could only be bought in mbare market where as today both madhumbe and magogoya are available on the shelves in most supermarkets showing that middle class urban Zimbabweans have developed a taste for them. It is hopeful that this trend will encourage increased production of this nutritious crop as well as conservation of the wetlands on which they depend. See our recipe section for some exciting new ways to cook with madhumbe and magogoya.

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Andrew Mambondiyani

Andrew Mambondiyani is an award winning independent journalist based in Zimbabwe with more than 10 years journalism and media consultancy experience. Between 2010 and 2011 he served as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at Massachusetts institute of Technology (USA). In 2008 he served as a Middlebury Environment Journalism Fellow in USA.
His journalism work has appeared in various local and international media organisations including Thomson Reuters Foundation (UK), BBC (UK), Yale E360 (USA), Think Africa Press (UK), SciDev.net (UK), Centrepoint Now (USA) and Opendemocracy.net (UK) among others. He has a special interest in climate change, agriculture, sustainable development and the environment in general.