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

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora