News / Africa

NGO tries to ‘Rediscover’ Traditional African Food

International NGO Slow Food embarks on major project to get Africans to farm and eat more local produce

Darren Taylor

This is Part 4 of a 5-part series: Innovations in African Farming
Continue to Part:  1 / 2 / 3 /4 /5


Production of local kinds of crops and breeds of animals is severely threatened in Africa, says Serena Milano, a food biodiversity expert at Slow Food International.

The Rome-based NGO is fighting a global battle to save local food traditions and to get people to develop healthier eating habits. Food produced locally is better than food brought in from elsewhere, it says.

An international food NGO is warning that indigenous animal breeds around the world, such as these Ethiopian cattle, are dying out … largely as a result of the world’s increasingly industrialized food production system
An international food NGO is warning that indigenous animal breeds around the world, such as these Ethiopian cattle, are dying out … largely as a result of the world’s increasingly industrialized food production system

“Over the last century over three-quarters of the genetic diversity in crop varieties has been lost. A third of [the world’s native] sheep and pig breeds are extinct or dying out,” said Milano. “The same thing is happening in cheese, wine and meat, and many other foods.”

Slow Food International says indigenous types of grain are also threatened with extinction
Slow Food International says indigenous types of grain are also threatened with extinction

She explained that in contrast to mass produced food that isn’t indigenous, locally grown crops don’t have to be grown with the use of chemical pesticides, and locally bred stock animals don’t have to be treated with antibiotics to protect them against local diseases.

“Local plant varieties and local breeds of animals have been selected by farmers through the centuries to adapt to specific areas and specific climates,” Milano said. “This adaptation protects them against illness.”

But she added that large-scale industrial agricultural production is “breaking this delicate balance” and the results include “pollution, water conflicts, obesity in the northern hemisphere and hunger in the developing countries.”

Rice loss

As an example of the dangers facing local food types, Milano cited rice in Guinea Bissau. This small country once fed itself and its West African neighbors with surplus rice of “many traditional varieties,” she said.

But now, Milano explained, Guinea Bissau is importing cheap, mass produced rice from Thailand. “The national production [of rice] has declined and a lot of traditional varieties and a lot of traditional techniques have been abandoned,” she said. “This is happening in many African countries, in Senegal too, in Mali too.”

A boy works in a rice field in Madagascar. Cheap rice imports from Asia threaten traditional African rice varieties
A boy works in a rice field in Madagascar. Cheap rice imports from Asia threaten traditional African rice varieties

Most African governments, Milano said, are “fixated” on growing export crops to earn foreign currency and are “not interested” in safeguarding local food. Thus, they often ignore the welfare of their people.

“In Ethiopia, for example, the government is giving hundreds of thousands of hectares of land to Saudi Arabia and India. These countries are using the land to grow crops to export food,” she pointed out. “So one of the poorest countries in the world is giving away land and food. African governments are selling fishing licenses to European fleets and so the local fishermen cannot work anymore.”

Milano commented that throughout Africa farmers are rejecting traditional food varieties to grow “foreign” export crops such as cashew nuts and palm oil. To cultivate these in Africa, she said, “widespread use” of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is necessary, thus reducing biodiversity.

A fishing port in Mauritania … Slow Food says the world’s attempts to harvest as much food as possible as fast as possible is also placing the livelihoods of African fishermen in jeopardy
A fishing port in Mauritania … Slow Food says the world’s attempts to harvest as much food as possible as fast as possible is also placing the livelihoods of African fishermen in jeopardy


“This is a model of agriculture that has a big cost. An economic cost, because farmers are obliged to buy all these expensive things like pesticides. And an environmental cost, because the chemical products destroy the fertility of the soil,” Milano said.



No local food available

These days, she said, it’s extremely rare to find local food on most African supermarket shelves, for several reasons. “Imported products cost less. Secondly, local communities don’t have the resources to transport, package and distribute food. In Africa most people travel by foot or use donkeys or bicycles, so it’s very difficult to distribute food.

 

A woman carries fresh produce on her head through the streets of Accra … African farmers don’t have the resources to rapidly transport local food to markets, and so indigenous food types are replaced by imported food in most African supermarkets
A woman carries fresh produce on her head through the streets of Accra … African farmers don’t have the resources to rapidly transport local food to markets, and so indigenous food types are replaced by imported food in most African supermarkets

Also, there’s often no electricity and therefore no fridges to keep food fresh in Africa. Staple food like corn is often flown thousands of miles into Africa from the United States, Milano said. “People in African cities are now used to imported foods and they are suspicious of local foods,” Milano said. However, she added, local traditional food is “almost always” healthier.

To ease this “crisis,” she said, Slow Food is working with “many schools and children and parents” in Africa “to promote traditional products and recipes and to explain that traditional products are better from a nutritional point of view.”

Milano said her NGO is “creating 1,000 gardens in 20 [African] countries, in schools, in communities. We are working with hundreds of local people to create very special gardens. In these kinds of gardens we will only use local crop varieties. We will not grow with help of any chemicals, but only compost.

Attempts are underway to teach African children the value of growing local food
Attempts are underway to teach African children the value of growing local food

Scientific research has revealed that African vegetables are rich in vitamins and natural mineral salts. “For example, fruit from the baobab tree contains more calcium than milk,” said Milano, and African free range beef is some of the best in the world, with the most vitamins and the least fat when compared to beef from other regions.

“Meanwhile poor quality, imported, processed foods [contain high quantities of] salt, fat and sugar and they often are responsible for malnutrition within communities,” she added.

Dogon of Mali and their unique seasonings

In Mali, Milano said, the Dogon people are “specialists” in collecting wild herbs, seeds, flowers and plants. From these, Dogon women produce many unique seasonings, called some.

“They produce seasonings with dried okra – that’s a local vegetable; with baobab leaves; with different varieties of local peppers; with different varieties of local onions,” she explained. In the past, some was a basic ingredient in most Dogon cuisine. But in recent times the people have abandoned their traditional food in favor of cheap and convenient imported stock cubes “full of unhealthy preservatives,” said Milano.

Slow Food International wants Africans to eat more local food, such as these indigenous Tanzanian tomatoes
Slow Food International wants Africans to eat more local food, such as these indigenous Tanzanian tomatoes

Slow Food has now launched a project to “rediscover” some, to get the Dogon and other Malians to eat healthy foods again, she said.

“We are working with 60 Dogon women to promote their special seasonings. Later this year we will create a small laboratory to package the different seasonings and we will try to sell them all over the country, in all the main cities in Mali,” Milano told VOA.

The Dogon also plan to sell their seasonings at food fairs in Europe, supported by some top European chefs.

Ethiopian coffee to follow example of wine

Milano said increasing numbers of Africans, like the coffee farmers of Ethiopia’s southern highlands, are dedicated to reinvigorating neglected local, traditional produce.

“Ethiopia is the only place in the world where you find wild coffee plants and very high quality coffee,” she said. But the producers of the southern highlands are isolated. They pick the coffee cherries and sell them at very low prices to traders. “This forces them to focus on quantity rather than the quality processing that could allow them get a higher price at market,” Milano explained.

 

The NGO is helping Ethiopian farmers to grow better quality coffee, and so get higher prices for their produce
The NGO is helping Ethiopian farmers to grow better quality coffee, and so get higher prices for their produce

Slow Food has now organized 700 coffee farmers into an association. “We are trying to work with them to improve the quality [of their coffee] and [for them] to sell directly to the roasters in Europe and the US,” she said.

The farmers are learning how to protect their plants, to fertilize them with organic compost, “and process them to retain the qualities savored by coffee drinkers,” said Milano.

Her group trains communities to pick the berries only when ripe and to dry them carefully, using frames made from locally available materials. “These sorts of innovations not only make coffee taste better, they help farmers earn more,” Milano explained, adding that the farmers’ coffee has “a lot of potential.”

Slow Food is developing a system to label their different coffee varieties, in much the same way different types of wines are labeled throughout the world.

Milano said a “new day is dawning” in African agriculture – one that will enable traditional food to take its “rightful place” in the continent’s supermarkets and to compete with, and hopefully replace, imported mass produced ingredients.

You May Like

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video US Landmark Pushes Endangered Species

People gathered in streets, on rooftops in Manhattan to see image highlights that covered 33 floors of Empire State Building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs