South Africa’s indigenous food heritage has huge social and commercial potential, but it will require a “food revolution” involving chefs, farmers, researchers and government to bear fruit.
Several speakers at the “101 reasons to eat local” webinar, presented by VKB and Food For Mzansi on Tuesday evening, agreed that Mzansi is lagging behind in realising the nutritional and agricultural value of our African vegetables.
If you missed this week’s Power Talk, you can view the recording by clicking here.
The indigenous food revolution
One of the speakers, the award-wining chef and cookbook author Nompumelelo Mqwebu, said that the power to create this indigenous food revolution lies in the people, reports Noluthando Ngcakani.
Mqwebu, who strongly advocates for the inclusion of African gastronomy into the culinary sphere, shared her insights on bringing indigenous foods to the centre stage.
Bridging the gap in the inclusion of indigenous foods and the celebration thereof would be made possible when farmers and chefs work in unison to make the stigmatised foods palatable to a broader population, she said.
“No-one is going to do it without the other. I cannot cook food without the farmers. This talks to the need for us to work together and to realise that we need each other, no matter where you are. Whether you are a researcher in the agriculture sciences, a chefs or a producer – everybody along this value chain needs one other.”
African food is being celebrated globally, she said. However, South Africa is playing a game of catch–up.
“It is up to the people to revolutionise indigenous food. The sooner we realise the value in the agriculture value chain, the more people will begin to cook these foods.”
African foods belong in curriculum
Duncan Masiwa reports that Prof Albert Modi, deputy vice–chancellor and head of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said that indigenous foods should be included in school curriculums to raise awareness around them.
“One of the reasons why indigenous crops have been left out is because our school and university curriculums have been excluding them,” he said.
“When people talk about indigenous foods and indigenous crops, they must remember there are things called indigenous knowledge systems. Can we include it as part of our education system when we decolonise the curriculum?
Then you are saying, ‘I am going to be proud to produce knowledge that is coming from Africa’ and combine it with knowledge that is coming from anywhere in the world,” Modi said.
Qinisani Qwabe, a researcher at the Mangosuthu University of Technology’s Institute for Rural Development and Community Engagement, said there are several social and economic benefits to the production and use of indigenous crops.
He said that indigenous vegetables play a very important nutritional role in rural areas where unemployment is rife and education levels are low.
The cultivation of African crops can also increase employment levels in communities and households, especially in disadvantaged rural areas. In many cases the input costs in the production of these crops are lower compared to other vegetables. They are often also more drought resistant and adaptive to marginal areas, Qwabe said.
Indigenous veg can fight malnutrition
Dr Willem Jansen Van Rensburg, vegetable and ornamental plant researcher with the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), said the perception of indigenous foods as “poverty food” is fast changing, reports Kobus Louwrens.
“People now see it as part of their heritage. Grandmother told them she ate it and that it is healthy. People now want to go back to their roots.”
The ARC has been conducting research into indigenous vegetables, including amaranth, spider flower and jutes mallow, since the year 2000.
African vegetables can have a significant impact on malnutrition in the South Africa, said Jansen Van Rensburg.
Some of the most popular indigenous leafy vegetables include significant amounts of micronutrients. A portion of these veg can include as much as half of the daily nutritional requirement of iron and vitamin A for children between the ages of four and eight as well as for women between 19 and 30 years of age. This is significant, because these nutrients are two of the most prevalent in malnutrition in South Africa, said Jansen Van Rensburg.
He also agrees with Mqwebu that South Africa is playing catch-up when it comes to our indigenous vegetable resources.
“Many African countries long ago realized the potential of their indigenous vegetables and commercialised it. There was a huge input from those governments to promote indigenous vegetables.
“(African veg) is not a poverty food. It is a very nutritional and a very functional food,” he said.
Register now for ‘youth in agriculture’ webinar
The panellists for next Tuesday’s Power Talk webinar presented by VKB and Food For Mzansi include livestock farmer and youth chairperson of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa), Keatlegile Mnguni, project coordinator at the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Melvin Swartz, and the managing director of Booysen’s Tunnel Farming, Byron Booysen.
The interactive panel discussion led by Food For Mzansi editor Dawn Noemdoe will address the role of youth in agriculture. Besides engaging in the industry as mostly seasonal agricultural workers, how can young people create a genuine connection to food production? And if new technologies are the answer to change the face of agriculture, how do we open up the industry for new entrants into farming and agro-processing?
To experience the discussion and contribute your own questions and remarks, register for free by clicking here.