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

South Korea Divided on Response to North’s Cyber Attack

In past five years, officials in Seoul have accused Pyongyang of hacking into banks, government websites, causing chaos and inflicting millions of dollars in damages More

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Bentiu

Residents have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy, but planning for the future remains uncertain as fear of attacks looms More

2015 Could Be Watershed for Syria Conflict

Republican control of US Senate in January could lead to more aggressive policy against IS militants in Syria - and against regime of Bashar al-Assad 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.
Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil Wari
X
Adam Bailes
December 22, 2014 3:45 PM
In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil War

In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Jane Monheit Christmas Special

Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Town of Bentiu

Six months ago, Bentiu was a ghost town. The capital of northern Unity State, near South Sudan’s important oil fields, had changed hands several times in fighting between government forces and rebels. Calm returned in November and since then, residents of Bentiu have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy. Bentiu’s market has reopened there are plans to start school again. But fears of new attacks hang heavy, as Benno Muchler reports from Bentiu.
Video

Video US Business Groups Press for Greater Access to Cuba

President Barack Obama's decision to do all he can to ease restrictions on U.S. trade, travel and financial activities with Cuba has drawn criticism from some conservatives and Republicans. People who bring tourists to the island and farmers who want to sell more food to Cuba, however, think they can do a lot more business with Cuba. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.

All About America

AppleAndroid