In pursuit of disappearing foods
Two varieties of lima bean are successfully being revived by ABN partner Maendeleo Endelevu Action Program (MEAP) in Kenya’s Nakuru County and Molo Sub-county. This is part of a collaboration with four other partners across Africa which is working to connect seeds, culture and nature and to strengthen agroecological practices and food sovereignty.
Of the two varieties (local names Noe dune and Noe njeru which literally mean one is white and the other is red), both require a trellis since they grow very tall. The red variety is very prolific. It keeps flowering and producing more pods as it grows tall. If well managed the broad beans have potential to ensure household and community food security. The beans require very small space to produce enough for the family. Community members involved in this seed revival are very happy and look forward to getting significant supply of the broad bean seeds locally.
This collaborative project seeks to strengthen agroecological practice and community food sovereignty by weaving relationships between seeds and natural world and traditional practices.
Another of the activities being implemented as part of the project is the conducting of community dialogues and community research on indigenous seeds and related knowledge as well as traditional practices. These dialogues identified a research team to help in exploring the priority food crops that are disappearing and need to be restored. During the dialogues, participants committed to promote indigenous foods, herbs and conservation of biodiversity as they share with their respective neighbours and community.
As well as these lima beans, other crops have been identified as disappearing and needing revival. These include various pumpkin varieties, sweet potato, amaranth, black night shade, spider plant and vine spinach. Restoring sweet potatoes, lima beans and pumpkins has progressed well. The other crops are being restored as well and, with time, seeds will be available in the community to ensure more families grow them on a regular basis.
The role of elders has been vital in this process. Their knowledge has informed the local community about these food crops and they are helping to map the disappearing crops. They know where the crops can be found in other parts of the country and have also shared different recipes made from the crops as well as their cultural significance in the community. The sharing of knowledge with the youth has increased their interest in these traditions.
This is all despite the impact of COVID 19. The pandemic has shown how necessary it is for farmers to multiplying their seeds with a view of getting enough supply for growing in every season as well as sharing some with their neighbors. Traditionally, seeds were shared to ensure availability even when disaster emerge like drought or prolonged famine since community members could retrace where they had shared the seeds and borrow them. The systematic promotion of exotic hybrid crops by the government extension agents eroded this practice and has contributed to the disappearance of indigenous seeds and the knowledge communities had of them. MEAP says only a few leaders now have the knowledge on these indigenous foods. The organisation hopes to turn this around through the implementation of this and similar projects in the future.
Other partners involved in the work include Biowatch/SKI Southern Africa; Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement (JVE), Togo; Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity (TABIO); and the Global Initiative for Environment and Reconciliation (GER), Rwanda. It is supported by the AgroEcology Fund.