Africa, more than any other continent, represents the biggest contractions in the current food production model. It is here that Slow Food finds its greatest challenge and the reason why this conference is amongst the most important of those held over the five days of Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre. With these sentiments, Serena Milano, General Secretary of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, opened the conference, 10,000 Gardens for Africa’s Future, which welcomed a panel of local coordinators of the project along with key Slow Food leaders.
“Creating a garden is a political act,” said Slow Food President Carlo Petrini, who opened the discussion. He spoke about the historic moment that the continent is experiencing with the phenomenon of land grabbing–the sale of fertile land to foreign interests at rock bottom prices. “Our civilization first implemented slavery, then colonialism, now neocolonialism with land grabbing…I urge African delegates to take up this challenge. When a country has even just a few gardens, maybe politicians will understand they can’t give away the land to foreigners. African land belongs to Africans! The time of missionaries is over. I put my trust in young Africans. They must take destiny into their own hands.”
Petrini was followed by John Kariuki, 27-year-old Kenyan Vice-President of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, who spoke about the exponential growth of Slow Food in Africa over the past five years. The gardens and everything they entail, he said, such as the free sharing of knowledge, networking, saving seeds, preserving local products and intergenerational exchange, is the only way to save Africa.
Mohahed Abdikadir Hassan, national coordinator of the 10,000 Gardens project in Somalia, spoke about the difficult historical context of the country, marked by dictatorship, anarchy, civil war, inter-clan fighting and displacement. Dounia Bennani, chef and member of the Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance in Morocco recounted her experiences of sourcing products from local Presidia, gardens, small-scale producers and cooperatives. Themba Austin Chauke, South African student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences spoke about the difficulties black South Africans face in access to land.
From Zimbabwe, Gladman Chibememe told the auditorium how the gardens project has allowed local communities to grow their own food, but stressed the importance of ensuring that they are community owned and led. “This is important because it ensures sustainability. We want these gardens to continue operating forever. Once they are owned and managed by the community, it becomes more sustainable.”
Lapo Pistelli, vice-minister of the Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, emphasized the importance of the initiative for its community dimension. “The gardens don’t just feed people, but support a social cohesion model in a continent that suffers a wide variety of conflicts. One of the ways to diffuse conflict is to keep people together and establish social cohesion.”
The conference was closed by the inspiring words of Slow Food’s Vice President, Ugandan Edie Mukiibi. “We are a continent of young people with energy and fresh ideas. We have better access to communication and education than our grandparents. We have a responsibility to lift Africa up from where it is.”
“When we were first starting out, I told my grandfather about the gardens, and I told him that it was only a small project. He said to me, ‘You don’t need to show your work to a lot of people. Flowers blossom in the wild where nobody sees them, but they never stop.’”