Like your maize boiled or roasted? Reflections on climate change adaptability from Kusi Festival

Raymond Mujuni

What you need to know:

  • It started out as an innocent poll to identify how people loved their maize cooked but by the time the poll neared its closing; it had become a typical African election. The roasted maize people, who’d been neck to neck started to see an upcoming loss when Boiled Maize in the last hour put up a 1% lead.

A friend [Solomon King] put up a poll early in the week on which one; of boiled or roasted maize was the better option to have.

It started out as an innocent poll to identify how people loved their maize cooked but by the time the poll neared its closing; it had become a typical African election. The roasted maize people, who’d been neck to neck started to see an upcoming loss when Boiled Maize in the last hour put up a 1% lead.

There were all attempts to meddle with the outcome. People called on relatives, enemies, overdue landlords and exes to cast their ballots before the poll closed and some sent Solomon [The Electoral commission] all manner of threats to get him to tinker with the result.

Inevitably, boiled maize – which I also voted for – won the poll, with only a slim margin.

It wasn’t so much the win though; it was how the poll had drawn out numbers. Nearly 6,000 people took part in the poll and in the hour following the poll’s closure, the debate got so heated, it got the word ‘maize’ to trend on the internet.

From Kenya to West Africa, down to Rwanda and South Sudan, tweeps were weighing in on how they liked their maize cooked.

Solomon who was overwhelmed by the comments and attraction he had drawn to maize wondered why attention had been drawn to the poll.

East Africa, if I could hazard an explanation, is a unique region. Maize is the most common staple food for many Ethnic groups that inhabit the region. It is also a transcendent crop. It is able to grow across seasons, in almost all kinds of soils.

Soil, few people study this, is an important factor in the integration of society. Alluvial soils, where they are found, encourage settling and banding. So many clans turned tribes, turned nations and now states, inevitably got into a marriage of convenience over the use of alluvial soils and water resources. Alluvial soil types are prominent in valleys and near water sources [All East African cities are in valleys].

The second important part is that maize has a short gestation period; 30-40 days. It is the carbohydrate of choice for communities that are still engaged in physical and manual labour which dominates the majority of East African markets and commerce.

It is also capable of consumption without sophisticated technology. Wheat – from which Chapattis are made – would give maize a run for its money if it didn’t require technology – which requires money and innovation – to turn into food for consumption.

As I arrived in Nairobi this week to attend Kusi Ideas Festival, I kept pondering what adaptation and resilience will mean for communities in this neck of the woods where the vagaries of climate change are ripping through communities; and one of the hopeful parts is, we shall grow our maize and eat it either boiled or roasted – somehow, we shall survive to see another generation with our culture. Now if only people could learn from us and not increase carbon emissions by turning maize into cornflakes on an industrial scale!

Mujuni Raymond is a Ugandan Investigative Journalist

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