Our Food, Our Heritage, Our Future

Posted on 30 April 2019 by Makhosi Mahlangu

African foods have had little research and development since the industrialization of food industries. From indigenous fruits to indigenous animal species to insects, there has been very little research on indigenous food products. The bioactive compounds and the mechanization of indigenous food products still remain in its infancy. Only a few food products have attained commercial status such as mopane worms and matemba fish to name a few. The indigenous African food sector offers one of the most unique and undeveloped sectors in modern culinary trends. The mopane worm industry is estimated to be worth US$85million but the custodians of this valuable protein source still do not see the potential optimum value.

Traditional food has inherent nutritional value and is highly recommended for a healthy lifestyle. Contemporary society has however seen the emergence of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) which have been largely condemned by many African countries. Urban communities across Africa have gradually lost knowledge and skills in preparing traditional foods. This has also been coupled by a lack of access to traditional crops as there is limited agricultural activity in urban communities. While there are market places which sell traditional crops, some homesteads have limited knowledge and skill of preparing various dishes. African dishes have had limited success in the mainstream culinary industry, even considering the surge in the global organic movement. A few meals have made it mainstream such as the mopane worms from Zimbabwe, Akyeke from Cote d’Ivoire, Jollof rice from West Africa, Egusi soup from Nigeria and bitter leaf from Cameroon to mention a few.

The summer and cropping season presents an opportunity for exploration of the various types of dishes that can be derived from cereals, insects, legumes and novel animal products. The ravages of climate change have seen villagers in rural communities harvesting fewer crops and perpetually exposed to hunger. There has been limited community education on climate change mitigation and in particular the need to embrace drought resistant small grain varieties.

It is important to gather and document the lost food treasures from Africa and the only encyclopedias that are still available are the grandfathers and grandmothers in the villages who still have so much undocumented material.