Morogo wa dinawa is a preserved product made from the dried leaves of the cowpea plant (Vigna unguiculata). Cowpea is cultivated throughout sub-Saharan Africa for its protein-rich seeds, and its leaves are also often consumed, or used as fodder for animals. The leaves have been used as a key ingredient in the cuisine of Botswana for many centuries.
Cowpea is an annual legume and, because it fixes nitrogen in the soil, is ideal for intercropping. It has compound leaves with three leaflets and can grow as a bush or a vine. The local varieties of cowpea used to make morogo wa dinawa are well-adapted to the marginal soils and erratic rainfall characteristic of much of Botswana, and will continue to produce leaves even under stressful conditions. Leaves are harvested from wild or spontaneous (as well as cultivated) plants between November and April, while still tender and fresh (4-6 weeks after germination).
Morogo is a Setswana word that refers to many kinds of green, leafy vegetable. Dried vegetable balls can be made from the leaves of various plants, and morogo wa dinawa (dinawa means “beans”) is made specifically with the iron-rich leaves of the cowpea plant. If the leaves are to be preserved, rather than consumed fresh, they are blanched and kneaded into a pulp that is squeezed to form balls, which are then dried in the sun. The dried leaf balls are stored in bags or in clay pots and have a long shelf life. Before consumption, the dried morogo wa dinawa is softened in water and then stirred into dishes like porridge or eaten as a leaf stew, in which case it is simply called “morogo wa dinawa”—this is a popular dish in Botswana. Once rehydrated, morogo wa dinawa tastes similar to spinach. Rich in protein, fibre, iron, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc, morogo wa dinawa is typically eaten during winter when many leafy vegetables are scarce.
The consumption of cowpea leaves and other wild-harvested local vegetables is in decline in Botswana’s rural areas, partially because many of these local vegetables are looked down on. In addition, the numerous local cowpea varieties used to make traditional morogo wa dinawa are under threat: The seeds are only found in small quantities (usually saved from one season to the next) and the market is being flooded with improved varieties. Morogo wa dinawa is an important product in rural areas due to its transportability, long shelf life, pleasant flavor, versatility as an ingredient, and richness in vitamins, and it should be protected and promoted.