Jollof rice with chicken (Photo: Google)
‘Our food is identity, heritage and culture and anything that threatens this must not be allowed to thrive’
By Kome Odhomor
Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), in collaboration with A Growing Culture, organized the “My Food is African” digital campaign to spotlight and promote local foods, reject the hijack of our food systems by foreign corporations and stand in resistance to the onslaught of genetically modified organisms into our markets and onto our plates.
As part of a larger campaign led by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSAfrica), Africa’s largest civil society group for food sovereignty and agroecology, the campaign stood against furthering the legacies of industrial agriculture and fought for a Nigeria where local farmers, not corporations, are prioritized.
With several social media posts that culminated in a webinar, the campaign promoted the understanding that our food is identity, heritage and culture and anything that threatens this must not be allowed to thrive.
The webinar was moderated by Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, Coordinator of Friends of the Earth Africa’s Food Sovereignty Programme.
Nnimmo Bassey, the executive director of HOMEF, gave the opening keynote. He emphasized the need to decolonize our thinking and reevaluate how we think about our food, seeds, and food systems.
His words: “We need to revive our memories and recollect who we are and ought to be.
“We need to liberate our tongues to regain the tastes that we have lost due to the prevalence of monocultures and junk food.
“Resilience is important but saying, ‘My Food is African’ is more than resilience. It is also about resistance – resistance to Gentically Modified Organisms (GMOs), to the erasure of our food systems, to overly processed foods. Beyond resilience and resistance, there is defense.
“We must stand together in defense.”
Our history shows that our farmers have always lived in harmony with the environment.
Farmers are knowledge holders. The farm is a living laboratory, and our farmers have this knowledge. There is a need to listen to, learn from and support these farmers.
Following the opening keynote was the panel session. On the panel was Yemi Amu, Founder and Director of Oko Farms; Lovelyn Ejim, Farmer and Director of Network of Women and Youth in Agriculture; Ikenna Bobmanuel, Chef and Contributor at the Ghana Food Movement; and Joyce Brown, HOMEF’s Project Lead on Hunger Politics.
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The ensuing discussion was insightful, informative, interactive, and eye-opening. Yemi Amu sees food as a connector. She says we think western food is better because of ignorance.
Going forward, it is important for us to change how we think about our food, to learn about the ancestral legacy of our foods and to look at our foods wholistically – as nutrition, as medicine, as a connector and a spiritual component of our lives.
Yemi’s journey into farming started with asking questions.
“It didn’t make sense to me to plant kale and other things I didn’t grow up eating, things I have no connection with. I started to ask myself:
How do I show up authentically? How can I learn more about myself as a Yoruba person? How can I build pride in myself and in my roots? What I’m doing with my work is just demonstrating that our food is nutritious and versatile and can be grown. I do think if more of us are farming it,
talking about it, feeding our children with it, it will help more people embrace their indigenous foods. Young people like to look good and so, we can link it to better skin and hair health, etc. Also, lots of people care about the environment and we can link to that too.” – Yemi Amu.
For Ikenna Bobmanuel, it is important to look inwards. At culinary school, he was taught about French and Italian Cuisines.
“I began to wonder, ‘What about African cuisine?’ What’s the future of our food? There’s a prevalent western perspective on African food that’s thriving because Africans are not in the space to tell their story. We need to talk more and push our own narrative about our foods. It is expedient that we change this narrative, and we must use the media.” – Ikenna Bobmanuel.
Joyce Brown spoke on the many challenges associated with genetic modification.
The results of this manipulation are not completely known; but so far, they have been linked to cancers, diseases, allergies, and all sorts of health challenges. They also come with environmental
implications because of their dependency on toxic pesticides and the destruction of biodiversity and ancestral diversity.
“We don’t need GMOs to feed our population. We can’t have Africans in control of African foods when we have genetic modification. Instead, what we will have is modified genes taking over indigenous seeds because they cannot co-exist.” – Joyce Brown Lovelyn Ejim believes it is important for farmers to also speak in a united voice.
She insists that allowing GMO lovers take over our food system is like going back to slavery.
“We should not allow the big guys to use unfounded English and unrealistic promises to derail us.
“Working with farmers is not easy; but the interesting thing is that whenever you make them understand any coming danger, they do everything possible to avoid it.” – Lovelyn Ejim
To promote change and this movement for healthier food, Yemi believes it
is important to go back to farmers. They carry knowledge that no one respects, and we need to change that by listening to them, supporting them, and standing in solidarity with them.
Ikenna believes that to aid the reclamation of our indigenous foods, we need to create a global cuisine from the lens of indigenous African ingredients.
Africa has been so separated by borders and to close the knowledge gap, African cuisine needs to be seen from a borderless perspective.
“Chefs across Africa should push boundaries about exploring diversity in food. Even restaurants should buy into this ideology of sourcing locally and patronizing local farmers. The government needs to put embargos on certain imported food and encourage youths in agribusiness and
agri-processing instead of supporting all these big brands.” – Ikenna Bobmanuel
The webinar ended with a Q and A session where participants asked questions on seeds, agroecology, farming, cassava processing and the revival of cultural celebrations that used to be a way for us to celebrate our foods. Panelists also shared some of their best memories of indigenous food whilst encouraging attendees to keep the conversation going. It is our call to decide what we want to eat, how we want to grow it and how we want to eat it, and no one should be allowed to take that away from us. Watch the full webinar here.
.Odhomor is the
Media /Communication Lead, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF),
Ugbowo, Benin City, Nigeria.