Jacques Kikuni Kokonyange | October 13, 2014
After a long day under the hot sun, farmer Miriam Mutokambali walks home from the field with her children. Everyone carries a heavy bundle of green cassava leaves, or sombe.
Mrs. Mutokambali will sell the leaves in the market in Butembo, one of the main cities in North Kivu Province, where the vegetable is very popular.
Like many cassava farmers, Mrs. Mutokambali is pursuing this small but flourishing trade. She explains, “The war ruined our sources of income. By selling cassava leaves, we can survive until we can harvest our other crops.”
Until recently, people living near Butembo did not think of cassava leaves as a staple food. It was difficult to buy cassava leaves in the market. Vendors gave them away free, stuffed inside bags of cassava tubers.
But in recent times, life has been precarious. Many villagers have been displaced by conflicts. They have been forced to turn to foods they previously ignored, such as cassava leaves.
A woman trader at Butembo’s market explains, “Two years ago, we couldn’t give the leaves away. But today we can’t meet the demand.”
The leaves are affordable, even for those with few resources. It costs only 300 Congolese francs (32 U.S. cents) for enough leaves to feed a family of five. Many families not only survive on the leaves, but sell them to restaurant owners.
Angèl Nyirabitaro is a medical doctor. He says cassava leaves are a good source of protein. They are also a rich source of minerals, including iron, which is essential for good health and producing red blood cells.
Nutritionist Musubao Katembo recommends that cassava leaves be included in meals at least three times a week.
Mrs. Mutokambali is delighted to use this information as she travels door-to-door selling the leaves. She makes a good profit. She is able to promote the leaves to potential customers by saying, “You are safe to eat them at every meal!”