Safeguarding Local Food Biodiversity in Africa

Discussion in 'News from around the damp planet' started by Michaelangelica, May 19, 2011.

  1. Michaelangelica

    Michaelangelica Junior Member

    May 2, 2006
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    Safeguarding Local Food Biodiversity in Africa
    Senegal - 21 Jan 11 - Serena Milano
    Guinea-Bissau means rice. On average, people there eat half a kilogram apiece of rice a day, and if they have not eaten rice, they will tell you they haven’t eaten. Until the 1960s, this small country in western Africa between Senegal and Guinea-Conakry produced enough rice to export the surplus to its neighbors. Many different traditional varieties were cultivated. Some, selected by the Balanta, the country’s main ethnic group, were (and still are) grown in salty water using a very sophisticated technique called arroz de bolagna. The Balanta regulated the inland waterways, which look like rivers but are actually deep marine inlets, by building earth-and-mangrove dikes and letting the seawater gradually run out from the basins through drainage canals (made by positioning dugouts on the dike) and then filling them with rainwater.i

    Today the number of traditional rice varieties has declined and, more significantly, so has national production. Too little rice is grown in Guinea to meet even domestic demand. The deficit is covered by cheap rice imported from Asia, particularly Thailand, which has replaced local rice in people’s food preferences. The rice is brought back by the ships that travel to the coasts of Asia with over 100,000 tons of Guinean cashews a year. Since the mid-1980s Guinea has focused on this crop while neglecting most others, undermining its food self-sufficiency. The cashew is now the country’s real currency. Along Guinea-Bissau’s roads there are only endless lines of these trees. From May onward, everyone in the community picks the nuts, with women even abandoning the village vegetable gardens to help with the harvest. Cashew wine is made in every village and has brought with it a plague of alcoholism, common even among children.

    The case of Guinea is emblematic of what is happening in many other countries in Africa. Over the past few decades, traditional agriculture based on local diversity has given way to monoculture crops destined for export, including cashews, palm oil, and peanuts, and to more widespread use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This typically reduces biodiversity, threatens local economies, and undermines the autonomy and cultural identity of communities. Many farmers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and scientists are questioning and resisting this trend, however. They are finding ways to restore both agricultural and cultural biodiversity in the field, at the market, and on dinner tables in Guinea-Bissau and all over Africa.

    Preserving Wild Resources
    Agriculture is linked to the environment. It

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