Traditional cuisine highlights nutrition across afro-descendant communities

Written by: Marian Amaka Odenigbo

Traditional cooking goes beyond preserving traditional values. “Traditional cooking brings togetherness, it connects people, love, different food patterns, recipes, dishes and cuisine” said Mrs Zulia Mena the Vice Minister of Culture of Colombia during her opening remark at an event organized jointly last month by  International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Afro-descendants Cultural Assets (ACUA) Foundation.

The event focused on exchange of traditional cuisine, culture and knowledge in Buenaventura, the first "African city" of Colombia. This event was the result of a broad partnership between the Ministry of Culture, the Valle del Cauca regional administration, the ACUA Foundation, IFAD, the Joint Fund for the Promotion of Culture and Arts of the Valle del Cauca region, the Foundation “Escuela Taller” of Buenaventura, and the Foundation “Artesanías de Colombia”.

Vice minister of Culture Zulia Mena opening the event.
©IFAD/M. Odenigbo
The event was organised to highlight South-South cooperation and the benefits of traditional cuisine exchange between afro-descendant communities of the Colombian Pacific coast and African countries.

Four African women who are beneficiaries of IFAD grants in the African countries -Senegal, Benin and Zambia were invited to share their respective experiences and techniques of traditional recipes, biodiversity and local products. Over 80 participants attended, including representatives from the afro-latino communities from cities like Guapí, Tumaco, Buenaventura and Quibdó and indigenous communities supported by Artesanías de Colombia.

Traditional cuisine and rural development 

IFAD’s Special Adviser on Nutrition, Marian Amaka Odenigbo described the linkage of the Fund’s work on biodiversity, nutrition and climate to sustainable agriculture, nutrition and traditional diets. Key discussion points were: how do we promote and protect local seeds; how have traditional dishes been influenced by colonial powers; how do we create awareness on nutritional value of traditional foods; how can we develop value addition to traditional cuisine; how do we attract the younger generation who are deviating from traditional food culture and how do we help them see the connection between food and climate change? She further illustrated the effort on climate smart agriculture through IFAD’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP) and the Recipes for Change initiative.  She showed examples of traditional dishes from East and Southern Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean regions.

The participant from Zambia, Kalongo Chitengi presented IFAD’s work on the traditional vegetable called  “Amaranthas” leaves through a grant in Zambia (Strengthening capacity of local actors on nutrition-sensitive agri-food value chain in Zambia). She mentioned that the local vegetable is grown naturally without need for inputs such as fertilizer. Interestingly, this vegetable is also used to determine the fertility of soil because it only grows in nutrient dense soil. She further noted that the project focus is to address poor nutrition, dietary diversity, and women participation in the agricultural value chain.

According to Kalongo, the challenges that this project is trying to solve is similar to what Afro-descendant communities in Colombia are experiencing: A decrease in use and poor consumption of  local traditional foods in local communities. The community members tend to sell rather than consume at home. Emphasis was made on the integration of innovation and research in traditional cuisine to maximise the nutritional benefits. Traditional cuisine are essentially comprised of less processed staple foods which are rich in fibre and grown in natural or organic state implying less pesticides and chemicals for general health of the community.

Kalongo Chitengi cooking demonstration of a staple dish from Zambia.
See video.
©IFAD/M. Odenigbo

Women’s role

Sofia Betancurth a member of the Chiyangua foundation, Colombia shared how they are working on recovering lost tradition through rural development by linking biodiversity to education, health and agriculture. A typical example is the practice of traditional medicine as opposed to conventional medicine.

On the other hand, Ndeye Marie Seydi shared the African experiences on how women empowerment has contributed to poverty alleviation in Senegal. She outlined the work of the IFAD grant PADAER in Senegal on food production, varieties of vegetables and capacity building of women, which has resulted in increased income and food security for the communities.

Ndeye Marie Seydi presenting
project in Senegal.
©IFAD/M. Odenigbo
The women group from Guapi community presented a traditional plant and its medicinal effects (like Anten, Verdolaga, Sueldaconsuelda, Paico, Poleo, Sauco, and Mata de chivo for example). This women group explained their approach adopted in promoting this plant, which is a major source of their income.  This activity has given the women voice, and promoted income and improved livelihood. The plant leaf is used in preparation of a variety of dishes, cake and sweet.

Demonstration and exhibition of traditional cuisine 

ACUA foundation in collaboration with the Colombian Ministry of Culture support many women groups on promoting traditional cuisine in Colombia. The Afro-descendant groups showcased vast traditional dishes with ingredients rich in nutritional value. The delegates from Africa also demonstrated traditional recipes from Benin, Senegal and Zambia. Blandine Montcho, from Benin, showcased the pasteurization process in preserving juices and for conservation of nutritional properties without using any additive or chemical substance.The ingredients used in their cooking were found similar to the local foods within the Afro-descendant food system.

Live cooking performance of the Quibdó community. ©IFAD/M. Odenigbo

Exclusive market and restaurants for local foods and traditional dishes

The participants visited a local market where varieties of traditional foods are sold. The market also has restaurants for traditional cuisine. The restaurants are run by the women group “Asociación de Sabedoras de la plaza de mercado José Hilario López de Pueblo Nuevo de Buenaventura”, supported by the ACUA Foundation and Ministry of Culture. The women confirmed that the traditional cuisine is a family custom and a way of retaining their cultural value.

Blandine montcho, from Benin, visiting the Buenaventura Market place. ©IFAD/M. Odenigbo

According to Yesid Ome, director of the Buenaventura School Foundation, the presence of African women is an opportunity to rediscover our African, Afro-Colombian roots and to analyze how to maintain commonalities.

Participants at event. ©IFAD/M. Odenigbo