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Midlands foodies ‘go slow’ in Kenya

Representing the KZN Midlands are two well-known food producers

Young food producers from seven African countries gathered last month in Kenya, to attend a slow food conference, share ideas and absorb knowledge about food production, particularly indigenous food systems.

Representing the KZN Midlands were two well-known food producers, Kaitlynn Kauerauf of Bramleigh Farm (above right), who will be well-known to those who attend Reko markets in Hilton, Howick and Nottingham Road; and Pha Mabaso (above left), who runs his own company, Emphare Organics, and is passionate about sharing with people in his community, Mpophomeni, the virtues of organic-grown food and healthy eating.

They were the only South Africans to attend the conference, along with representatives from the DRC, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya and Malawi. Pha and Kaitlynn were nominated by Nikki Brighton, well-known area co-ordinator for Slow Food in the Midlands.

A field trip in Nakuru area to learn about indigenous food production. Picture: Kaitlynn Kauerauf.

All those attending had to be between the ages of 18 and 32, involved in a slow food group and active in food advocacy or promotion.

Slow food networks

Titled “Shaping the Future of Food in Africa”, under the banner, Terra Madre Slow Food Youth and Indigenous Networks, the week-long programme of events was held in Nakuru, a city in the west of the East African country.

The programme for the conference included discussions and workshops, field visits, opportunities for sharing and storytelling, a visit to a seed savers network and practical tasks, which included each country’s team formulating an action plan for advocacy. Spreading the lessons learnt upon returning home was a key goal of the conference.

“A week of training and establishing action plans for our communities culminated in a Terra Madre Day event and presentation of these actions plans by each respective country to an audience of local slow food supporters, as well as various stakeholders,” Kaitlynn wrote on a blog on Bramleigh Farm’s website.

The South Africans got to taste traditional Kenyan food and the foods from the other five participating countries. Picture: Pha Mabaso

In an interview with The Meander Chronicle, Kaitlynn, who is a small-scale farmer and teacher, said the chief focus of the conference was advocacy. The organisers wanted people who would be active in shaping the food system in their area.

“Our slow food group had only very recently been formed, so I was very keen to learn more about slow food – what it is, what the networking opportunities are and the advocacy possibilities.”

Change the food system

For Pha’s part, he said: “As we all know, not many blacks (in townships, generally speaking) are conscious about what they eat. I saw this as an opportunity to gain skills to change the food system for them in general, and I wanted to personally understand the slow food movement and what it can offer to black communities.

Seed savers show some of the seeds to Pha Mabaso, front right. Picture: Pha Mabaso

“I aimed to establish relationships with the SA government Agribusiness Development Agency so we can spread the slow food philosophy around KZN, making it a ‘slow province’.”

Kaitlynn said the diversity made for an interesting learning experience. “Each country had at least one indigenous representative and so it was interesting to see the issues faced by the indigenous and non-indigenous youth from each of the different countries. There were country differences, but at the same time there were commonalities in some of the challenges faced.”

Stirring soup with a stick. Maasai red sheep served in the traditional manner. Picture: Pha Mabaso

When asked if there was anything new she would grow and take away from a food perspective, Kaitlynn said the food was “very interesting, very traditional” and provided a lot of ideas. The tools for advocacy were extremely useful.

Among the sessions at the conference were:
*Tools for advocacy;
*Exchanges on the field – field visits;
*Slow food youth and indigenous networks, and slow food communities;
*Gender;
*Drafting an action plan for advocacy;
*Resource mobilisation;
*Climate change and indigenous people’s food systems;
*Protecting food culture and biodiversity through the ark of taste;
*Sustainable management of ecosystems and opportunities for youth;

I asked Pha if any of the sessions, in particular, struck a chord with him:

“I was inspired by the session of presenting an action plan for our communities and the field visit … it was inspiring to see that the native people of Kenya are still farming their own food.

Food forests

“Most of the rural countryside was farming organic food, which made it clear that black people don’t have any food system that they are running themselves. So (taking this to a local context) this led to me proposing that more food forests need to be established within Mpophomeni, involving the youth and schools, so that the school feeding schemes can be supplied with local vegetables and menus can be improved. Also, the gardens would support a slow food restaurant that I proposed, so that Mpophomeni can have something like Dovehouse Organics, where they can have access to clean, fair food.”

Kaitlynn noted part of the action plan was to develop an agroecology course, networking township farmers and rural small-scale farmers within the Midlands.

Lots of new friendships were forged. Picture: Pha Mabaso

The pair got to try some delicious indigenous fare while in Kenya. Their hotel’s kitchen was headed by a member of the Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance and they got to try ugali (ground maize), mokimo (potato and stinging nettle mashed together), sweet potato, arrow root, githeri (beans and corn), spinach, matoke (plantain banana stew) and chapati. Tea time treats were usually mandazi (little baked squares that taste like a small unglazed doughnut), samoosas and sweet potato.

Food for thought

I asked Kaitlynn about some of the “food for thought” she took away from the trip: “The focus of the course was advocacy – promoting and preserving traditional, indigenous ways associated with food, at a practical and policy level, while encouraging intercultural knowledge sharing. Food is politics. Through decentralising and empowering local communities, training youth and building networks, large-scale change can take place.

“One of the criteria of selection to attend was for women, and trying to support women in agriculture, and it was very interesting to hear some of the challenges women are facing in agriculture; that maybe in South Africa we don’t experience the same way or, coming from my specific background, I don’t experience the same way.”

Maasai women getting ready for lunch. Picture: Pha Mabaso

She said the advocacy tools were extremely useful and she looked forward to being able to apply them in life, in her teaching and on the farm.

Pha, who was elected as the spokesperson for the region at the conference, felt what he learned had allowed him to polish and reflect on some of the skills he already had and was implementing in his business. “I adopted the slow food concept so that my business could have a positive impact within my community and, being the spokesperson of the committee of the whole southern region of Africa, puts a little bit of pressure on me to lead by example.”

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And there is still a lot of sharing of knowledge and advice going on among those who attended the conference, mainly through WhatsApp.

“We made some really beautiful, solid friendships and we are still talking on the WhatsApp group, sharing experiences and advice,” said Kaitlynn. “It’s so nice to be supported by others who are experiencing similar things. In the evenings we would have storytelling sessions, where people would talk about their lives and it was so good to get to know about them and their families.” – Article by Garth Johnstone

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