By Venter Mwongera
FAO Project OSRO/NER/605/ EC: Assistance to improve food security of vulnerable households in Niger – The project aims at improving food security and nutrition of 32, 100 households through agro-pastoral production activities (agriculture and small livestock). These endeavors will contribute towards diversification and improvement of nutritional levels of undernourished children by way of protein and caloric intake and reinforcing purchasing power to each household.
Food sovereignty is the right of people to determine their own food and agricultural policies, systems, and practices that are ecologically sustainable, socially just, and culturally appropriate. It is a fundamental human right that is essential for achieving food security, biodiversity conservation, and social justice.
However, the current food systems in Africa are characterised by dependence on external inputs, market-driven production, and monoculture practices, which are undermining the resilience of ecosystems, communities, and cultures.
To achieve food sovereignty, there is a need to protect and promote the cultural and ecological heritage that sustains traditional food systems and practices. This opinion piece highlights the significance of protecting cultural and ecological heritage for food sovereign communities in Africa and suggests practical measures that can be taken to achieve this goal.
Protecting cultural and ecological heritage can enhance food security and nutrition
Traditional food systems and practices are often based on the knowledge, skills, and resources that are locally available and adapted to the local environment and culture. They are characterised by diverse crop varieties, animal breeds, fishing techniques, and processing methods that ensure a varied and balanced diet.
Moreover, traditional food systems are embedded in cultural and spiritual values that guide the use and management of natural resources, and promote conservation and regeneration. However, these systems are under threat from various factors, including climate change, land degradation, and market liberalisation, which are eroding the diversity and resilience of food systems (FAO, 2019).
By protecting and promoting cultural and ecological heritage, communities can maintain, enhance their traditional food systems and practices besides improving their food security and nutrition. For example, the Bagungu and Kivaa communities working with the AFRICE in Uganda and ICE in Kenya respectively.
Protecting cultural and ecological heritage can foster biodiversity conservation and ecosystem resilience
Traditional food systems and practices are closely linked to the diversity and resilience of ecosystems. They are based on the use and management of locally adapted crops, livestock, fish, and wild foods, which are often threatened by the encroachment of industrial agriculture and extractive industries (Altieri & Nicholls, 2005).
Moreover, traditional food systems often involve agroecological practices, such as crop rotation, intercropping, and natural pest control, which enhance the health and resilience of ecosystems. By protecting and promoting cultural and ecological heritage, communities can conserve biodiversity, ecosystems, and enhance their resilience to the impacts of climate change and other stresses.
Protecting cultural and ecological heritage can strengthen cultural identity and social cohesion
Traditional food systems and practices are significant sources of cultural identity, memory, and meaning for communities. They are often associated with particular rituals, celebrations, taboos that reinforce social bonds and relationships while promoting respect for nature and humanity (Mol, 2014). However, the rapid modernisation, globalisation, and urbanisation that are sweeping across Africa are eroding traditional practices and values while fragmenting communities.
Therefore, it is crucial to safeguard, revitalise cultural and ecological heritage as a means of preserving, promoting cultural identity and social cohesion. For example, the Slow Food movement in Africa aims to promote traditional food systems and practices, and to support small-scale farmers and food producers (Slow Food, 2021). By protecting and promoting cultural and ecological heritage, communities can maintain their unique identities and cultural diversity while resisting the homogenising forces of globalisation.
Protecting cultural and ecological heritage is vital for achieving food sovereignty in Africa
This can enhance food security and nutrition, foster biodiversity conservation and ecosystem resilience, strengthen cultural identity plus social cohesion. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to adopt integrated approaches that involve the participation of local communities, government agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders.
Such approaches should recognise and respect the rights, needs, and priorities of local communities, and promote the equitable distribution of benefits and responsibilities. They should also support the development of appropriate policies, laws, and regulations that promote agroecological practices, traditional knowledge, and local food systems. Furthermore, they should encourage the development of markets and value chains that are based on fair trade, social justice, and ecological sustainability.
Finally, they should provide the necessary financial and technical resources, monitor and evaluate progress using appropriate indicators and tools. By protecting and promoting cultural and ecological heritage, Africa can achieve food sovereignty that is ecologically sustainable, socially just, culturally appropriate and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The author is a Communications and Advocacy Specialist at African Biodiversity Network, a mentor at African Women Leaders in Agroecology-Initiative, Chairperson of National and International Engagements at Inter Sectoral Forum on Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology (ISFAA) and Treasurer of the Board at the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK).