Our food, our identity: Promoting indigenous food crops

Wednesday October 29 2014

Members of the Ugandan delegation arrange items on their stall at the Terra Madre in Turin, Italy.

Members of the Ugandan delegation arrange items on their stall at the Terra Madre in Turin, Italy. Photo by Michael J Ssali. 

By Michael J Ssali

Three thousand delegates from 150 countries gathered in Turin, Italy, from October 21-27, to exhibit their traditional food and demonstrate how it is prepared. The show goers had the opportunity to taste some of these foods.

The exhibition, known as Salone del Gusto e Terra Madre, was hosted by Slow Food, an international organisation that, among other things, advocates for growing, preserving and consuming of traditional food crops.

At the opening ceremony, delegates were requested to wear traditional attire and to carry their flags into the conference hall. Musicians from different countries, also clad in their traditional attire, entertained the mammoth crowd. It was by all means a cultural event. In all, there were 1,000 exhibitors and the function opened with a massive conference during which several speakers made presentations.

Preserve traditions
Director general, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Jose Graziano da Silva, was present. He made an appeal to the farmers to promote and preserve agricultural biodiversity which, according to Slow Food, includes a heritage of fruits, vegetables, grain, legumes, animal breeds, cheeses, breads, meats and sweets.

In a video communication, Michelle Obama, US first lady, said: “I want to say thank you [for promoting] healthy eating and good nutrition in our families and communities and thank you for your work to raise awareness of these issues across the globe...So your effort to preserve regional traditions and local flavours is making a difference for people all around the world. I am particularly excited about your 10,000 Food Gardens in Africa initiative. I know how important it is to produce healthy food right in our own communities.”

Uganda’s representatives exhibited bananas, vanilla and coffee. Eddie Mukiibi, a Ugandan agronomist who is also Vice President of Slow Food International, spoke of the many successes of young people engaged in farming.
This includes food gardens in schools and communities in 30 countries in Africa where Slow Food has established over 10,000 of them.

“Slow Food is not simply creating a series of gardens in Africa; it is also promoting an idea of agriculture based on knowledge of the terrain, and respect for biodiversity and local cultures. It is an agriculture that is capable of feeding African communities and enrich their history and knowledge,” he said.

Slow Food president, Carlo Petrini, who opened the conference, talked about how creating a garden in Africa is a political act. He pointed out the historical moment that the continent is experiencing with the phenomenon of land grabbing, that is the sale of fertile land to foreign interests at rock bottom prices.

“Our civilisation first implemented slavery, then colonialism, now neo-colonialism with land grabbing… I urge African delegates to take up this challenge. When a country has even just a few gardens, maybe politicians will understand they can’t give away the land to foreigners. African land belongs to Africans! The time of missionaries is over. I put my trust in young Africans. They must take destiny into their own hands,” he called.

More important
Ibrahim Mansaray, an agronomist from Cote d’Ivoire, speaking on behalf of two representatives from Sierra Leone who were both unable to attend due to the current Ebola crisis in West Africa, told the assembly how the Slow Food gardens in his country were “more important than ever” and how “many communities are now surviving thanks to the food from these gardens”.

At one of the stalls, Italians exhibited the Regina tomato, grown in the Dune Costiere Regional Park.
The farmers tie the pinnacles together on a cotton string and hang bunches of the tomatoes in a dry environment and they may remain fresh for several months (up to six months) after harvest. Alice Fabienne Basga from Mali demonstrated to show goers how the Katta di Kumbuctu (a local yam) is grown.
The show attracted several thousand visitors every day.

Uganda showcases indigenous foods in exhibition

A one-day exhibition to celebrate Uganda’s indigenous foods was held in Kampala on October 25, under the theme, Indigenous Foods and Family Farming: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth.

Organised by Pelum Uganda, the food fair drew more than 40 exhibitors, especially farmers, who displayed a variety of indigenous foods from all over Uganda. Stella Lutalo, the country coordinator, said the event was meant to promote traditional foods, sustainable agriculture and cultural diversity. It was also to show the public the multiple uses of food. “We want people to appreciate and consume our food because it is healthy since we use minimum chemicals in producing them,” she said. “These foods also describe our traditions and cultural identity.”

Massimo Castiello, deputy country representative, FAO, who officiated at the food fair, remarked, “Food that feeds the world is largely produced by family farmers. FAO has made concerted efforts to encourage family farmers to feed the world through producing fresh foods.”

Responding to farmers’ fears that indigenous foods have less output as compared to hybrids and genetically modified ones, Joshua Aijuka, programme officer, Pelum Uganda, said that output is largely determined by the agronomic practices one uses.

The Uganda Census of Agriculture of 2008/2009 revealed that very few farmers use inorganic fertilisers. To allay this situation, Aijuka said his organisation holds regular trainings for farmers on seed management and how to integrate modern farming practices to increase output.

“We are not against the new varieties especially those that can be replanted but against genetically modified ones because they will make us seed dependents,” he said.

Public opinion over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Uganda is divided with some in support while others are against them.

The National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill, which covers the issue of GMOs and GM products, is before parliament but debate on it has been deferred after sharp disagreements among scientists, parliamentarians and the academia on the proposed legislation.

Additional reporting by Lydia Ainomugisha