There is a great need for South Africa’s food systems to embrace indigenous plants. Achieving this transformation requires the safeguarding of traditional knowledge and practices, and fostering a culture of knowledge exchange.
Vuyolwethu Zicina-Dyubele, nursery manager at the Sustainability Institute, believes certain indigenous plants possess qualities that are beneficial for soil health.
Zicina-Dyubele participated in a roundtable discussion in Salt River, Cape Town, focusing on indigenous foods. During the discussion, she proposed that specific plants could function as efficient windbreakers and ground coverings, effectively reducing soil erosion.
“Indigenous plants are our best hope for producing medicines and remedies to heal and control some diseases,” Zicina-Dyubele said.
She stressed that these plants represent the future and, therefore, it is essential to take care of these plants for future generations.
Normalise it by talking about it
The event was joined by various interested groups and members of the Local Wild Food hub community of practice Research project. Together, they explored and exchanged ideas on indigenous food systems, governance, ethics, and the preservation of traditional knowledge.
Tapiwa Guzha, the owner of Tapi Tapi in Observatory, Cape Town emphasised that indigenous species are integral to the environment and hold substantial importance in everyday experiences.
For him, the inclusion of indigenous foods is more than just about representation but also a way to celebrate identities and build a sense of community among people.
“Passing knowledge along starts by making practice in ways that are visible, how indigenous knowledge can be accessed without making a special point of saying ‘OK, I wanna introduce something indigenous,” he said.
Rhandzu Marivate, a practitioner in regenerative food systems from the Sustainability Institute, said knowledge and information sharing should be prioritised.
“It is important that we learn and understand the context in which this knowledge is used to respect the cultural and traditional practices it is embedded in before we engage with it.”
WILD Food Hub: why food matters
Loubie Rusch, food innovator, activist, author and programme coordinator of the Local Wild Food Hub at the Sustainability Institute emphasised that the diversity of locally adaptive indigenous edibles, standing at around 1 700 plant foods, have become underutilised and absent in contemporary local economies and food culture.
She added that they are often regarded as poverty foods where fragments of traditional knowledge still persist. The magnitude of this loss and neglect represents an enormous opportunity to achieve landscape, economic and societal regeneration by bringing them back into widespread use.
“Foodways refer to the social, cultural, ecological and economic practices of producing, procuring and consuming food.”
Rusch stated that the Cape Floristic Region has supported local people for centuries through wild harvesting, despite being the world’s smallest yet most biodiverse hotspot.
Unlike the indigenous plant foods of Southern Africa’s summer rainfall regions, which have been cultivated for generations, the Cape Floristic Region’s winter rainfall foods were never farmed and have been replaced by non-native foods and harmful agricultural practices that have developed in the post-colonial era, she said.
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