No ordinary pot of tea was brewing when the founding members of the Regent Estate Senior Women’s Organisation (RESEWO) decided to challenge health issues facing their community in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania through supporting the cultivation of indigenous leafy vegetables. Urban areas in Tanzania have particularly low levels of vegetable consumption, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 2010-2012 reports the prevalence of under nourishment, when a person’s food intake is regularly less than their minimum energy requirement, to be 39% in Tanzania. This means that 18 million people out of Tanzania’s total population of 46.2 million people are undernourished.
It was Blackjack (Bidens pilosa,) infusing in the pot when RESEWO was founded. Blackjack grows so abundantly even where it is not deliberately planted that it is described as a weedy species. But this weed has benefits; it is used in local medicine and provides high levels of essential nutrients including Vitamins A and C, iron and protein. Its negative reputation as a famine food has been countered by RESEWO’s work promoting the benefits of a food that is cheap to buy and easy to cultivate.
Freda Chale, one of RESEWO’s founding members and their Executive Chairperson, says that Blackjack tea tastes like Chinese geen tea, and they drink it mixed with lemongrass, ginger and lemon. Blackjack has become the group’s symbol. It is not only a tasty tea but also can be processed into a flour that can be used as a nutritious food additive and has medicinal properties valued by members and customers.
Since the group was founded they have published two volumes of recipe books on Tanzanian traditional foods: ’Cooking with Traditional Green Leafy Vegetables’ and ‘Indigenous Plants in Tanzania’s Kitchen‘. RESEWO is also part of Slowfood’s ‘1000’ Gardens in Africa’, and has set up 10 primary school gardens, 5 community gardens, 5 institution gardens and over 60 home gardens.
RESEWO’s work to improve access to nutritional food faces a few challenges. Like many organisations RESEWO’s financial resources constrain operations. The group has younger women volunteers but capacity is restricted by the members’ age. The group is keen to train and mentor more young women to ensure that their work continues in the future. Future plans include expanding gardens and outreach work, recruiting more members and producing more books.