From March 28 to April 6, Slow Food president Carlo Petrini traveled across Kenya and Uganda to visit local projects of the Slow Food and Terra Madre network: community and school gardens, Presidia, food communities and some of the many convivia bringing the network to life in this part of East Africa. Along the way he was able to give lectures at universities and conferences and meet with the press.
This series of journal entries by Carlo Bogliotti and Franceso Impallomeni, who accompanied Petrini, reveal some of the local initiatives and warm welcomes they encountered along the way. As Slow Food prepares for its sixth International Congress (Turin, October 25-29), which will bring together representatives from 150 countries and focus on “the right to food”, they offer an insight into our activities in East Africa.
April 1 – From Nakuru to Kitale
After a dawn visit to the spectacular Lake Nakuru National Reserve, famous for the masses of pink flamingos that flock here and rich diversity of fauna, the group set out on a long drive to Kitale. Along the way they cross the equator, make a detour to see the Slow Food office in Molo and stop for lunch in Eldoret. The rough roads make for difficult travel, and torrential rain throughout the day does not make progress easier although it is a blessing for local farmers.
The group reaches Kitale, at the foot of Mount Elgon, in the evening and is welcomed into Jack Wafula’s home – brother of Peter Namianya who graduated from the Slow Food founded University of Gastronomic Sciences a few years ago. Both are committed members of Slow Food in Kenya and their family garden is an explosion of local biodiversity and a perfect example of the huge potential of the sustainable farming techniques promoted by the Thousand Gardens in Africa project. Later over dinner, the female members of the family explain how the crops grown support the continuation of their gastronomic and medicinal traditions.
April 2 – The Pokot regions
This last day of the trip in Kenya starts with a visit to Galip Litey Primary School, in the western area of the Pokot region, where the students’ festive welcome includes songs and dancing before an enthusiastic tour of their school garden. Petrini speaks passionately to them about the important work they are doing for the future before local dishes, like millet ugali and chapatti, are served. Ugali is a delicious porridge similar to polenta, but made with indigenous cereals rather than corn. Corn cultivation is now widespread across Kenya, however the huge amounts of water it requires make it unsustainable and unable to provide food security given the increasing impacts of climate changes the spread of dry lands. The Indians who came to build a railway between Uganda and Kenya in the 19th century introduced chapati flatbread to the Kenyan diet. The railroad is now virtually unusable, but large Indian communities remain in both countries as well as a strong gastronomic legacy.
At midday, while the rain starts to fall again, the group reaches Tarsoi, where they are welcomed by members of the Pokot Ash Yoghurt Presidium in their traditional attire, with fascinating dances and songs. The yoghurt, made with the milk of cows (crosses between local breeds and zebus) or goats, is mixed with the ashes of cromwo – an indigenous tree. Ash yoghurt has been extremely important in the diet of the Pokot community, and was one of the staple foods for herdsmen looking for pasture. However, livestock farming is now practiced much less and there is less milk available, so there has been a significant reduction in the production of the yoghurt. During the celebrations and lunch held to welcome the Slow Food delegation, Petrini gave two of the community’s shepherds a symbolic gift of two suitcases. Grace Kapserum and Ambrose Kakuko were stopped last year in Paris by immigration officers while travelling to Bilbao to attend a Slow Food event, and this small gift expresses the movement’s support for their right to participate in international projects and dialogue.
The journey continues! Stay tuned for Part 4 next week…