Inviting people to participate in advocacy for change in the food system can seem unrealistic: how can we advocate if we don’t go out and learn from the virtuous examples that exist around us? That’s why today, the delegates of “Shaping the Future of Food in Africa” as well as the Hivos and Slow Food teams went to three different institutions based in Kenya to get a first-hand experience of the future of food in the local area.
A few expensive seeds or a vast variety cared for by different communities?
The Seed Savers Network is an organization safeguarding plant genetic materials for agro-biodiversity conservation. Through grassroots mobilization it advocates for food and seed sovereignty, encouraging farmers to boycott multinational seed companies. Commercial seeds are very expensive, and the market is dominated by a few corporations. Additionally, to be legally allowed to plant, sell and use new varieties, farmers have to overcome cost- and time-intensive procedure. The Seeds Savers Network is carrying out advocacy activities for an open source system without patents and intellectual property claims. They organize food and seed fairs to exchange local varieties, as well as organizing and implementing seed banks in the communities to ensure biodiversity and food security. The group who went to the city of Gilgil, where one such seed bank is based, was invited to have lunch with women from a group that has recently joined the network. They arrived when the women was selecting which bean seeds to sell and which were to distribute among themselves. Serving traditional dishes, they enjoyed typical Kenyan food and sang together.
Agroecology on a voluntary basis
The second group of delegates went to Karirikania village to get to know how the residents run the Karirikania Community Garden and benefit from the availability of communal produce. The garden is run on a voluntary basis and ensures its members access to a wide variety of healthy foods made using environmentally-friendly techniques. When it comes to pesticides, for example, people who are conscious about good, clean and fair food, turn up their noses. But what if you meet a woman who not only make her own natural pesticides, but ensures you they are safe—even edible? As was explained, you can make natural pesticides from almost any organic material with a strong smell. Honey, chili, whatever you may find. A lot of questions were asked, and the discussion went on through lunch, which consisted solely of vegetables and plants from the community garden. One of the most important aspects of the garden is that local families have extra income: through selling tea made out of nettles which they dry, crush and package themselves—using traditional techniques—they preserve part of their ancestral culture and enjoy increased financial stability.
The connection between honey and land rights
The Ogiek, an indigenous community, have lived in Kenya’s Mau Forest since time immemorial. Here, they harvest the golden liquid of the bees—honey—using hives they construct themselves. In order to fabricate what basically is a hollow trunk, they cut down a branch, saw it in half and carve it out into two hollow semi-circle tubes. The two pieces are then joined back together with plant-based ropes. One man climbs up the tree and places the trunk as high as possible. The higher the trunk is placed, the better protected the honey is from others who might steal it, and so over time a tradition has developed whereby the highest climbers are praised by the community. Even though the Ogiek have rights to their ancestral homeland in the Mau Forest, the government continues to sell more and more of it for the development of hotels, farmland and other. As well as the physical displacement of the Ogiek people, this also contributes to the destruction of natural habitats, biodiversity and a series of other environmental problems whose consequences will be felt for generations to come.
by Anna Messerschmidt