Harare’s Good Food and Seed Festival 2023 Celebrates Agricultural Creativity
The Harare National Good Food and Seed Festival 2023 was a celebration of African agricultural creativity, diversity, and the resilience of smallholder farmers. This event showcased millet varieties, indigenous foods, and diverse cultures. Shean Mukocheya Simango, Founder and Director ZIVA Kwawakabva Trust Member of PELUM Zimbabwe narrates the events at the festival.
“My Family, Good Food and Seed Festival is hot!” “Creativity is mastery in Agroecology, Agroecology is Art!!!” “The Festival is getting better and better every year.” These words struck a chord with all festivalgoers.
We cannot emphasize enough how meaningful it was to participate in the Harare National Good Food and Seed Festival on September 29-30, 2023. The festival took place at the picturesque Harare Botanical Gardens in Zimbabwe and was jointly organized by PELUM Zimbabwe and Bio Innovation Zimbabwe. Representing the African Biodiversity Network (ABN) were four members, two females, and two males: Shean Mukocheya from Ziva Kwawakabva – Zimbabwe, Charity Kabongo from RESCOPE – Zambia, Arnold Okkers from South Africa, and CAPS Msukwa from Technical Assistance Services in Malawi.
The Good Food and Seed Festival serves as a remarkable crossroads where countries like Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and many other African nations rediscover traces of their own cultures in food, seeds, and traditions. At the same time, they encounter aspects of their culture that are entirely new to them. Farmers continue their journey of recognizing, rediscovering, and reclaiming their seeds, food, cultural expressions, and traditional custodianship. Despite the challenges posed by unsuitable national, regional, and global policies and the predatory practices of multinational corporations, their resilience is growing, fuelled by creativity.
“Increasingly, there are more ears now listening to farmers’ voices.” The Good Food and Seed Festival, along with similar community and national initiatives, is playing a crucial role in dismantling “dominant identities” and helping to restore the African identity and cultural values expressed through traditional foods, native seeds, songs, dances, and attire.
Over 300 exhibits from across Zimbabwe showcased their food recipes, seeds, processed products, art, music, and traditional dances. The festival attracted over 2,000 participants, including partners from the SADC region and PELUM representatives from East and Southern Africa. The festival’s primary objectives were to improve the well-being of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe through participatory ecological land use planning and management and to promote organic farming, processing, and marketing of their produce. The guest of honour, Manditsvara Hilda, Chief Crop Production Specialist, the PELUM Zimbabwe Coordinator, and the SADC delegate, all echoed the same sentiments, emphasizing the program’s role in assisting small-scale farmers in preserving and propagating their traditional seeds passed down through generations.
Highlights of successful aspects
The Year of the Millers: The festival showcased a wide variety of millet seeds, including finger millets, pearl millets, svoboda, and sorghums, unlike previous years. Similarly, there was a diverse range of millet products, such as flours, meali-meal, maheu, and cookies. The revival of Svoboda, a lost millet variety, was a significant milestone. The display of various seed types indicated progress in restoring lost seed diversity, in stark contrast to South Africa, where farmers largely rely on commercial seed systems.
Organized and Inclusive: The festival was well-organized, attracting people of all ages, cultural backgrounds, and involved in various socio-economic activities. Each group had its dedicated space, from face-painting at the children’s play area to cultural dances, traditional mbira music, gazebos showcasing a wide array of food products, and, notably, seed displays. The collaborative spirit among various stakeholders was inspiring, integrating university/academics, civil society organizations/NGOs, the private sector, and more.
Improved Processing and Packaging: Farmers have made substantial strides in processing and packaging their products. There was a noticeable increase in the variety of processed products. Unlike previous festivals, millets took precedence over maize, and legumes were abundant. Indigenous foods prepared by farmers quickly disappeared, as more people appreciated millet-based dishes. Youth participation also highlighted creative processing.
Indigenous knowledge systems and recommendations
The festival aimed to promote indigenous foods, celebrating the diverse culinary heritage of our ancestors and ancestresses.
One participant stressed the need to revive traditional recipes and the importance of family meals, given the time constraints of modern life. Teaching women how to prepare quick, homemade meals can help reduce the reliance on fast food and junk food.
Supporting capacity building in production is crucial. The question of whether products should be packaged in small amounts or if customers should bring their containers needs consideration. Encouraging creativity and simple packaging to cater to diverse populations is important
The preservation of baobab trees is essential, emphasizing the traditional practice of taking bark while ensuring the tree’s regeneration, as our elders did.
Questions to ponder
The rise in plastic usage is a concerning issue, particularly in packaging and storage. Finding ways to guarantee organic products are packed in non-toxic containers and reducing plastic use is a critical challenge.
It is worth considering how similar fairs and initiatives can be promoted at various levels, from the community to districts, countries, and regions.