First SFYN inter school: co-creating a better food system in Kenya

“In 2017, the African continent had a total yearly deficit of 41 billions USD. The capital entering African countries accounted for 162 billions USD but the outflows were 203 billion of dollars,” is the astonishing data provided by Prof. Gabriele Volpato, during his lecture on Land and water grabbing in Africa. 

Prof. Volpato – ecologist, researcher and teacher at the University of Gastronomic Sciences UNISG based in Bra, Italy – has been one of the scholars lecturing during the first edition of the Winter School in “Agri-food choices: from field to plate, for the planet: building a better food system environment ” held in Kenya from the 19th to the 29th January 2020. On this occasion, participants from Kenya, Italy and Germany, together with Italian and Kenyan scholars and experts, had the chance to learn about the Kenyan agricultural sector and specific local study-cases. 

The participants of the Winter School, representing a variety of backgrounds ranging from anthropology over psychology, to gastronomy and sustainable agriculture, got to explore issues like biodiversity protection in the gastronomic heritage, sustainable and organic farming, transformation and distribution chains, vis a vis regular exploitation mechanisms toward the country. With the academic coordination of the University of Milan Bicocca – UNIMIB, the general coordination by Slow Food Youth Network – SFYN and the partnership of Slow Food Kenya, the first Winter School on “Agri-Food choices” was hosted by Baraka Agricultural College.

“Baraka”, which means blessing in Swahili, has fulfilled this meaning in every sense for the participants, creating a home away from home.

The program led the participants through theoretical analysis, field visits and practical applications. The combination of different nationalities and professional backgrounds, in lecturers and participants, turned this “Agri-food choices” Winter School into an intercultural and interdisciplinary think tank. Many topics were covered offering the possibility to better understand how the economy of an agricultural country such as Kenya remains subjected to international interests. 

The participants had the chance to visit two indigenous communities and Slow Food Presidia, working to either protect indigenous food traditions or promoting biodiversity: the honey of the Ogiek in Mau Forest and the Red Maasai Sheep.

Another visit was organised to the small-scale tea producers in Olenguruone (in a country ranking 4th tea producer worldwide). These were occasions providing a detailed understanding of what “Good, clean and fair” means when applied to practical projects. By visiting the sites as well as getting theoretical inputs on different topics around the creation of sustainable food systems, the participants and supervisors worked together with local representatives, on solving threatening issues in the respective communities. 

The suggestion of the Winter school students to women empowerment in the Ogiek community of Marioshoni is to work with their knowledge on medicinal plants.

Fostering plants production and consumption, as well as their medicinal use and the role in honey production, would enhance women’s economic autonomy. Whilst the group dealing with the reintroduction of local breed of Red Maasai Sheep, came up with a more technical proposal. Their project was based on the students’ idea to develop an application to facilitate interaction between different livestock keepers, to increase the chance of a successful re-entry of the breed. A third group dealt with the challenges to deepen the small-scale tea farmers knowledge on tea processing in the region of Olenguruone. Tea was not a traditional Kenyan crop but rather a good introduction at the time of the British colonial regime. 

Thus, the small producers, unable to transform their crop, end up in buying their own product at a very high cost after being processed by the local tea industry.

To circumvent this, the members of the Winter School proposed to establish a new Slow Food community of small-scale tea farmers, with the goal of exchanging knowledge, as well as creating a farmers association to increase the bargaining power of the farmers. A fourth and last group designed a project about the Borana community, which is located in the northern part of Kenya. This community is known for keeping the traditional pastoral way of camel and livestock farming. 

Nowadays, it faces many different problems concerning droughts due to climate change as well as market access issues, education, unemployment and vanishing tribal identity.

To try and tackle the issues in the community, the members of the team designed an entrepreneurial skills lab, fostering the bottom-up approach, to educate youth in the community and to give them the opportunity to solve their problems. Together with the excursions, the Winter School offered the opportunity to enjoy gastronomic experiences and events. The activities around food preparation ranged from learning how to cook traditional Kenyan food – with the Slow Food cook’s alliance member Ezekiel Manyara – to presenting own traditional foodstuffs – on an intercultural eat-in at Baraka Agricultural College streamed online on the Slow Food Youth Network Instagram. 

Throughout all the excursions the participants had the opportunity to eat traditional Kenyan dishes always prepared in an artisanal way by the community members, such as Ogiek Honey, Mursik, Nyama Choma, Ugali, Mukimo, Chapati…

This ensured delicious meals and contributed to learning and enjoying the hospitality and friendship of the hosts. The first Winter School of SFYN, Slow Food Kenya and UNIMIB set the basis to make a true difference. It firstly educated the participants and lecturers on everyone’s responsibility to change the food system. Consumer decisions in Europe, shape the food system in Kenya. Seeing the success of the first winter school, the Slow Food Youth Network has decided to offer further intercultural and interdisciplinary think tanks.

The next experience will be a Summer School in Mexico, taking place in the first two weeks of July (for more information contact valentina@slowfoodyouthnetwork.org). If you are curious to know more about the Winter School Agri-Food-Choices, about the participants, the lectures as well as a recall of the daily activities, you can read the students’ blog. 

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