They came, over 200 of them. Children, parents, teachers, farmers, beekeepers. Many of them had walked for hours, but on Friday April 1, they were ready punctually at 8 am for the celebrations to inaugurate the new food garden in Msindo, a tiny village in southern Tanzania not far from the Mozambican border.
A remote place, ignored by tourists as well as most Tanzanians, Msindo is a 16-hour drive from Dar Es Salaam. The last stretch of road is unpaved and often impassable during the rainy season.
And yet they all came. There's no internet here. Instead, they had received a letter, delivered by hand to the school or village. Rumors had spread about something new going on in Msindo. And they came to find out what it was.
As the people gathered, a group of students distributed brochures in Swahili, explaining Slow Food and the Thousand Gardens in Africa project.
The children's school uniforms were especially neat, and food producers had brought honey, moringa leaves and seeds, cassava flour and baskets to make a small display area. A representative arrived from the province of Namtumbo.
Then, in single file, the 200 visitors walked towards the garden.
In the midst of the miombo forest, characterized by the dominance of leguminous trees, a steep path lined with fruit trees led to the bustani ya Slow Food, the Slow Food garden: a plot of around a third of a hectare, bounded by a fence made of wood and bamboo canes.
The Msindo garden is part of a sustainable agricultural training center set up by CO.P.E., an Italian NGO, five years ago. Planted with incredible care, it features only traditional plants: some products from the forest (mlenda, mapwete, masuku trees), different types of amaranth, black-eyed peas, bambarà beans, okra, sorghum... The seeds had been gathered from communities in nearby villages, after interviews mostly with women and the elderly.
In the midst of the vegetables were some banana trees, while around the fence climbing potatoes, taro and yam had been planted. All around the perimeter outside the fence stood fruit trees (mango, papaya, orange, lemon, guava, karangamiti) and medicinal trees like neem and Moringa oleifera. The garden was also home to a plant nursery, a chicken coop and a small traditional house made of wood, mud and straw.
The ribbon was cut and the celebrations began. Teachers and representatives from Slow Food and CO.P.E. spoke, followed by the local authorities. Between each speech, women, men and children danced and sang. At the end, the women offered traditional foods: millet and cassava ugali with different vegetable, bean and peanut sauces.
This pilot food garden, the result of a collaboration between Slow Food and CO.P.E., was set up by two teachers from the center, Joseph Kapungo and Makrina Komba, and Sandra Gasbarri from CO.P.E. It will be used to train young people at the center and serve as a model for all the schools and communities who will join the Thousand Gardens in Africa project.
The Msindo food garden is the second to be established in Tanzania. Just over a week before, a small project had been launched at the Mikocheni primary school in Dar Es Salaam.
Run by 16 teachers and 50 students, the school's food garden is planted with traditional leafy vegetables (sweet potatoes, amaranth, pumpkins) and fruit trees (banana and papaya). Essential to the garden's creation was the collaboration of a Tanzanian women's association (RESEWO) which has been working for many years to protect traditional vegetables. The association has worked with Slow Food to publish a cookbook in English and Swahili promoting local leafy vegetables.
Tanzania's first two Slow Food gardens have now officially been established, and a network of local coordinators has been set up. They will be working in different regions of the country to identify the next projects, engaging with communities, village and schools as well as spreading the Slow Food philosophy and continuing to collect and disseminate information about traditional plants.
Tanzania's first two food gardens (and the research on traditional products) have been made possible by support from the Veneto Regional Authority.
Click here to view photos of the inauguration.
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