Unlike other varieties in Africa, Bambara groundnuts are an ancient type of Uganda grain legume. The edible part, the nut—which can be reddish, brownish, cream-coloured or burgundy—is protected by a skin similar to that of peanuts, light purple in colour, and the seeds ripen underground for about 3-4 months before they can be harvested. The plant’s leaves are so long that they often nearly fall to the ground.
Bambara groundnuts are particularly well-suited to rocky soil, where they are planted like peanuts, with two seeds per hole. The holes are not too deep, and are dug at regular distances, about 60 cm between one another. After harvest, which takes place when the plants are wilting, the nuts are laid out to dry in the sun, then steamed (the shells are usually used as fuel) or boiled, until they are soft enough to eat.
In spite of their importance, Bambara groundnuts are an endangered species. Locally, the risk of extinction is explained through a proverb that says that, once planted, Bambara groundnuts would attract thunderstorms that are so violent that they can destroy other crops in the community. Therefore, they are often planted in hidden and sheltered locations. Another local proverb says: mpande emu eyiwa ekisero, which means that if a nut falls from someone’s basket, and that person stops to pick it up, the whole basket’s contents could pour to the ground. The proverb warns people that, in their desire for something, they risk losing everything.