Fluted pumpkin occurs in the forest zone of West and Central Africa, most frequently in Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon. It is a popular vegetable all over Nigeria. It is rare in Uganda, and absent in the rest of East Africa. It has been suggested that it originated in south-east Nigeria and was distributed by the Igbos, who have cultivated this crop since time immemorial. It is, however, equally possible that fluted pumpkin was originally wild throughout its current range, but that wild plants have been harvested to local extinction and are now replaced by cultivated forms. The crop is drought tolerant and can survive in a wide range of agroecological zones provided it has adequate moisture, nutrient supply and favourable climate. Common names for the plant are fluted gourd, fluted pumpkin and ugu. The fruits are not edible but seeds produced by the gourd are high in protein and fat meaning that they can be included in the dishes to make a well-balanced diet.
Production and International Trade
Fluted pumpkin leaves are common in the markets of lowland areas in Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon. During the dry season in Nigeria intensive trade develops in areas along river banks for sale to urban areas where major food-crop markets develop. It is estimated that the leaves are consumed by over 40 million people daily, thereby making it one of the most consumed vegetable in Nigeria.
In Nigeria the leaves are also transported from the south over a long distance to the big cities in the North zones. The cultivation of fluted pumpkin is developing around cities through irrigation and potted planting methods as a way of reducing the high transportation costs. No statistical data are available on the total production. In Nigeria demand from different parts of the country has raised the price of the leaves and fruits. The average price per fruit in Nigeria is US$ 0.30–1.00 based on the market location.
The main use of Telfairia occidentalis is as a leaf and seed vegetable. The tender shoots, succulent leaves and immature seeds are cooked and consumed as a vegetable. The leaves are used alone or together with Okra, Egusi, Dika nut (draw soup).
As a result of haematinic properties of the fluted pumpkin leaves, liquid extracts from the leaves can be used in the treatment of anaemia because of the high levels of protein and iron in the plant.
The plant contains high amounts of phosphorus making it useful for keeping off onset of kidney diseases like kidney stone.
Fluted pumpkin seed oil contain high amounts of anti-oxidative properties such as oleic acid, vitamin A, alkaloids, tannins and linoleic acid which makes it capable of treating infertility in males by boosting the functionality of the testicles for an increased sperm count.
Additionally, the seed has been highly recommended for nursing mothers due to its lactating properties.
Propagation and Planting
Select a good site that is well drained and has rich topsoil; in the absence of humus you can add organic manure or other farm yard manure to enrich the soil. Check the soil pH (5.5-7.5) range is suitable for fluted pumpkin cultivation.
Fluted pumpkin seeds are viviparous (germinating in the fruit). Since seeds are recalcitrant they cannot be stored for more than 3 days once they are extracted from the fruit.
The critical seed moisture content below which seeds cannot recover from desiccation is 40–60%. Fluted pumpkin is often grown as a crop in homesteads where it is intercropped with other vegetables and food crops such as cassava, yams and maize, or planted against fences. Commercially it is grown as a sole crop. The conventional method of propagation is by seed, sown directly at a rate of 30,000–70,000 seeds/ha and spaced at 0.3–1 m × 0.3–1 m. Densely spaced stands are best for leaf production, while the wider spacing is best for fruit production when staked. Depending on the soil type, rainfall and cropping pattern, fluted pumpkin can be planted on the flat, or on ridges or mounds.
Agronomic and Management Practices
During the rainy season, staking is commonly practised to reduce disease infection. Plants are staked individually or, for fruit production, with bamboo trellis. During the dry season staking is not needed for crops for leaf production because there is less disease attack. Staking does not have a significant effect on the yield of leaves. Because of the prolific nature of the plant, weeds are not troublesome once canopy is established 4-6weeks after planting.
Planting on flat land is the best method of weed suppression. Three weeding may be required in a staked crop during the rainy season. During the dry season when plants are not staked, two weeding are needed before the leaf canopy smothers most weeds. Mulching can be used as a method of weed control and to retain soil moisture. The first pruning is 4 weeks after emergence to stimulate branching and increase the growth.
Irrigation is necessary for high leaf or fruit production especially under sole cropping in the dry season. Watering is done once every 3 days.
Organic manure or inorganic fertilizers are used in traditional systems, but for an optimal leaf yield the recommended fertilizer application is 100 kg K2O and 50 kg P2O5 per ha. In southern Nigeria application of P was found to be especially important, as N and K only increased yields in combination with application of P.
Female plants are more vigorous than male ones and produce higher vegetative yields. A high proportion of female plants by removal of a part of the male plants are desirable for high leaf and fruit yields
Disease can be controlled by foliar application of organic pesticides (neem oil) or Dithane M-45 at a concentration of 500 ppm
Leaf harvesting begins 4-6 weeks after emergence and is continued at 3–4-week intervals. The best method of harvesting is by pruning, i.e. by cutting beneath the lowest acceptable leaf. The harvest interval has no effect on the longevity of the crop and, depending on the irrigation facilities, 4–6 harvests or more are expected. Fruits are harvested 9 weeks after fruit set.
The fresh shoot yield can be as low as 500–1000 kg/ha, but it can also reach 3–10 t/ha. Under good management one plant occupying 3 m staking can produced 2 kg young leaves per m in the rainy season and 500 g in the dry season without irrigation. The seed yield can reach 1.9 t/ha, derived from 3000 fruits.
Cost Benefit Analysis
You can start with as little as 100,000 and still make reasonable returns on investment. It is important to measure the size of the land to enable you estimate the cost of required input per production cycle.
An estimate for a plot of land (558.15m2)
A pent bucket of seeds (over 300 seeds) = ₦6500
1 bag of fertilizer (20:10:10) =₦ 6500
Labour (land preparation, weeding, fertilizer application, harvesting) =₦25,000
Logistics = ₦10,000
Total = ₦48,000
Expected yield (under good management) = 450kg
1kg of fluted pumpkin sells within the range of ₦150-200 in dry season
Under that assumption you are expected to make ₦90,000 on sells of leaves alone
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