Nairobi — Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) is gearing up to host the African Indigenous Food System Expo, a groundbreaking event aimed at marketing the presence of indigenous foods in Kenya and across the African continent.
In collaboration with the African Union, this initiative represents a significant effort to celebrate and restore the heritage of traditional African foods that have been overshadowed by modern exotic alternatives like cabbage and spinach.
The expo, the first of its kind in Africa, is scheduled to take place from November 21 to November 26, 2023, in Muguga, Kenya. The event has garnered participation from six other African countries, each of which will present their indigenous foods, along with scientists who will provide insights into these foods. The participating countries include Burundi, Zambia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Ghana, and South Africa.
Dr. Njoki Mitugo, an African indigenous food systems specialist and scientist with KALRO, emphasized that this expo is about Africans taking charge of their food heritage. She stated, “The expo and the program are like food liberation for Africa by Africans.”
The primary objective of the event is to revive indigenous foods, which are grown using organic and natural methods, in contrast to the exotic modern foods associated with health concerns and the emergence of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and hypertension due to the consumption of chemically treated produce.
Dr. Mitugo explained, “Our food has been classified as ‘weeds,’ and Africans tend to consume exotic foods, leading to the rise of new diseases without indigenous names, unlike other recognized diseases.”
To promote indigenous foods, KALRO has established demonstration farms showcasing a variety of indigenous foods, including fruits like cactus and Mac Donald’s eye, tuber crops such as indigenous sweet potatoes and arrowroots, cereals like indigenous sorghum, maize, and millet, as well as indigenous pastures and legumes.
The expo will feature three components. The first, a demonstration farm, will educate people about exotic foods and how to cultivate them. The second is a conference where participants will learn about the role of scientists in developing indigenous plants. The third is an expo village open to businesses to showcase their products.
KALRO aims to address the challenge of food security in Kenya and Africa, with over 75% of household income typically spent on food. The institution believes that every home can grow its own food, reducing reliance on expensive alternatives. This year’s theme, “Restoring Granary in African Homes,” underscores KALRO’s commitment to this endeavor.
The organization is determined to change the perception that exotic foods are considered “rich” while indigenous foods are seen as “poor.” KALRO is taking steps to inspire people to return to their roots and embrace the rich culinary heritage of Africa.