Back to the roots: Latin America and Africa share cooking experiences

Many people of African origin arrived in the Americas with the Spanish and Portuguese in the 15th and 16th centuries. Those who were directly from West Africa mostly arrived in Latin America as part of the Atlantic slave trade, as agricultural, domestic, and menial labourers and as mineworkers. The connection between Africans in the Americas and the Africans that were scattered abroad during the slave trade is ever evident in the underlying cultures and traditions that were passed down from generation to generation in the form of music, dance and fashion, but most noticeably in cuisine. Derivatives of African cuisine have been preserved, yet modified due to the conditions of slavery. Often the leftover/waste foods from the plantation were forced upon slaves, causing them to make do with the ingredients at hand. However, during this Diaspora, what remained whole were the techniques, methods and many of the spices and ingredients used in African cooking.

The Colombian Ministry of Culture acknowledges the cultural, social, economic and environmental importance of traditional cuisine in its Traditional Cuisines Public Policy. With support from IFAD and the ACUA Foundation, the Ministry therefore organised a learning event to exchange knowledge and experiences related to traditional cuisine between Colombia and West and Central Africa in Buenaventura, Colombia, from 26 to 30 October 2016. The aim of the event was to promote identity-based  territorial development. The event brought together a number of diverse participants:

  • Representatives from Colombian and international institutions (Ministry of Culture, ACUA Foundation, local government and IFAD)
  • Representatives from Colombian community-based organisations
  • Beneficiaries from IFAD-supported projects in West Africa and the representative of Self Help Africa, an African NGO

In the two years running up to the event, research was carried out on local ancestral know-how and traditions from various communities in the regions of Quibdó, Guapi, Buenaventura and Tumaco, in Southern Colombia. This resulted in the publication of two books and a documentary, which were presented at the annual book fair of Bogotá and the during meetings on local food and cooking practices in Quibdó, Guapi, Buenaventura and Tumaco.

The event offered numerous opportunities for the participants to share knowledge and experiences: presentations, live cooking performances, a cocktail workshop with local drinks from the pacific region,  cooking experience with the women working at the Buenaventura market place, a visit to the village “La Gloria” where women are running a collective farm, an exhibition of traditional cooking utensils and tools and cultural and musical nights.

The three beneficiaries from IFAD-supported projects in West Africa were Ms Aissatou Cissé and Ms Ndeye Marie Seydi from Senegal and Ms Blandine Montcho from Benin. Ms Aissatou Cissé is a beneficiary of the Agricultural Value Chains Support Project in Senegal. Local ingredients are the secret to success in her restaurant business. She received training and support in restaurant management and food processing through the Project. Today, in her restaurant, she offer Senegalese and European dishes made of locally-grown products and earns a good living.

Ms Ndeye Marie Seydi is a beneficiary of the Support to Agricultural Development and Rural Entrepreneurship Programme in Senegal. She is a young entrepreneur and runs an agricultural and processing company in the Kolda region and has been focusing, although not exclusively, on fonio, the oldest cereal in West Africa. It is a kind of millet that has a nutty flavor – a cross between couscous and quinoa in both appearance and texture. Fonio has been cultivated in West Africa for thousands of years, and is a favorite in salads, stews, porridges and even ground into flour. It’s gluten-free and nutritious because of two amino acids, cystine and methionine, which make it a favorite to be baked into bread for diabetics, those who are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease. Until recently, the fact that processing operations were small- scale, time-consuming and difficult meant that there was no future for the crop. However, with support from the Project, Ms Ndeye Marie Seydi is now applying new producing and processing technologies  operations and modernizing drying, which has sparked s renewed interest in fonio and new export chains are developing around innovative products. She is currently leading a network of 150 women that are producing and processing fonio.

Ms Blandine Montcho is a beneficiary of the Rural Economic Growth Support Project in Benin. She is the owner of small processing enterprise that turns tropical fruit into organic juices. Although she focuses mainly on pineapple, her company also makes organic tamarind, baobab fruit and ginger juices.

Overall, the event showed that when products are used that have been grown organically and/or responsibly, traditional cuisine allows local communities to have access to the required nutrients for a healthy life. Traditional cuisine can also contribute to preserving biodiversity and the environment.  for environmental and biodiversity protection projects. Furthermore, it can be used for nutrition education to facilitate voluntary adoption of food choices and other food- and nutrition-related behaviours conducive to health and well-being. Finally, traditional cuisine is of great economic and social value as it can help to create employment in rural communities and help to build networks, especially between women.



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