Farmers don’t know they’re growing unhealthy food, and people don’t know they are eating it.

29 Nov 2019

The Future of Food in Africa will be shaped not by one but by many. One of these many is Elphas Masanga, a young Kenyan participating in Shaping the Future of Food in Africa: an advocacy workshop for future food leaders from the Indigenous Terra Madre and the Slow Food Youth Networks (SFYN), which will take place from December 3rd-7th in Nakuru, Kenya.

SFYN member Anna Messerschmidt sat down with Elphas—virtually—to talk to him about his work and the power of passionate people to kickstart ideas into reality.

Anna: You are a delegate for “Shaping the Future of Food in Africa”. What are your expectations for this event?

Elphas: To build a strong network with a lot of new people. You see, at the 7th Slow Food International Congress in Chengdu, coordinators and delegates representing the Slow Food Youth Network (SFYN) in African countries were elected. SFYN Africa has been flourishing since then, and the representation of African countries in World Disco Soup Day activities has also been growing as network expands. The “Shaping the Future of Food in Africa” workshop will have people from many African countries working together, organizing campaigns and strategies to establish plans for a sustainable food system Africa-wide.

This event rooted in an idea back at Terra Madre in 2018. What were the first steps?

At Terra Madre in Turin, the general idea was to bring together the Indigenous Terra Madre Network (ITM) and youth in Africa. One of the issues that I suggested we focus on during the workshop was to see how could we involve the youth more in agriculture in general. Agriculture and farming are mostly seen as an old people’s job, a job with no career opportunities. So there’s a widespread under-involvement of  the youth in agriculture. And a reversal in this trend this is one of the changes we need to enact in the food system.

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Elphas Masanga in his vegetable garden. Photo: Elphas Masanga

What other urgent changes do we need to make to the food system?

In my work, one of the biggest issues I am dealing with is seeds. I am working with a local NGO, the Seed Savers Network, which we will visit as part of the workshop in December.

The issue is not seeds in general, but seeds from multinational companies. They promise farmers higher-yields crops and security with their hybrid seeds, but they mostly just use the right words to convince people to buy their seeds. It’s marketing. As you probably know, those seeds also need a lot of chemicals, and you can’t use them again in following years to plant your crops; you have to buy another bag of seeds from the company. This way farmers spend a lot of money on using seeds that don’t really belong to them.

We also have the issue of diseases related to the chemicals being used to grow these crops, and a loss of biodiversity because of the companies’ seeds being used instead of the vast variety of different, local seeds which offer a much wider range of foods and tastes.

Farmers often don’t know they’re growing unhealthy food, people don’t know they are eating it, and the laws we have in place have been dictated by the same multinational companies who profit from the situation. That is what we need to change.

What do you and others need in order to make these changes to the food system a reality?

The question is why have we not changed it already, when it does so much harm? Because many don’t know about the issues, and others don’t have the resources to change. We need people to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves and we need to multiply the people advocating. We need the right tools and communication for this wide-scale effort. Education around the food system and agriculture is one thing. NGOs and others need to use different kinds of media to communicate what’s happening to the people so they understand. This is what we are going to do at the workshop in December. And this is why the workshop is so important.

Elphas Masanga was born in Kenya and works as an Agricultural Extension officer for the Seed Savers Network. Within the Slow Food Youth Network, he is the coordinator of SFYN Kenya, does communication work for SFYN Africa and is part of the international SFYN communication team. He is a farmer too, last year cultivating Kibuu Beans that he has recently nominated to the Ark of Taste.

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