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Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity Onlus

Update from the Horn of Africa

As the worst drought in over 60 years grips the Horn of Africa, the urgent problem facing more than 12 million people is a shortage of food - which has already left 30,000 people dead. However, the causes of the crisis also need immediate consideration. While droughts are largely natural phenomena, food shortages and acute famines are primarily political ones, resulting from agricultural policies, political instability, climate change, land grabbing and the effect of the global market on local economies.

Individuals from our network in Africa have been sending us their thoughts and stories concerning the situation, and a recurring theme in their comments is the importance of rebuilding agricultural systems that are appropriate to the climates, environs and cultures of the African people. As such, there continues to be great support for A Thousand Gardens in Africa - Slow Food's project launched in 2010 to develop local examples of sustainable food cultivation with school and communities across the continent.

An Indigenous pastoralist from Ethiopia's Karrayu people, involved in the Galcha Community Garden, told us: "We have a proverb that says if you see the death of your friend, then it shouldn't be difficult to imagine yours. The Somalian plight - relentless demise of people and mass exodus from their homeland - is a reality that my people, the Karrayu, will most likely face in the coming months. With this garden project, we are embarking on community education that is leading the way towards the fundamental change necessary."

The Galcha garden aims to improve the community's livelihood and environmental management through developing crop and livestock systems. Drought resistant varieties of sorghum have been planted and multipurpose trees have been introduced that can be used for both food production and animal fodder. However the absence of rain for almost a year in the area has seen the death of all the community's livestock. The garden though is surviving, showing community members how the slow process of change can result in very positive outcomes.

In another part of Ethiopia's lowland's, the Konso people have a saying "without moringa there is no life". Known locally as "the miracle tree", moringa stenopetala is valued for its capacity to withstand prolonged periods of drought. Its cultivation, intercropped with tubers, legumes, cereals and shade plants such as coffee, allows the creation of an agro-ecological system able to preserve the properties of the land and prevent soil erosion. Five Slow Food gardens in this region will be dedicated to restoring this resilient approach.

In Kenya, where many gardens are underway, Slow Food's local founder Samuel Karanja Muhunyu commented: "We have totally disregarded our traditional ways of coping with difficulties and embraced new technologies; but despite this people continue to be hungry. The challenge is to study our traditional agricultural practices/ways of living and develop them... We believe that the more long-term and sustainable solution is to increase production and consumption of indigenous foods, the cultivation of which is more environmentally friendly, drought-tolerant and based on local food culture."

The famine afflicting Eastern Africa may have erupted across the media in the past month, appearing to be an overnight calamity in the world's eyes, but in reality it has existed for over a year. Though aid is crucial in such situations, we must avoid discouraging farmers and hindering creativity and innovation in finding long-term solutions by introducing cheaper imports and dumping surplus food aid onto local markets.

The Thousand Gardens in Africa project seeks to be a part of the answer that would help mitigate the impacts of climate change, drought and soil depletion and build strong local food economies. So far, 265 gardens have been adopted through contributions from a multitude of supporters who persevere to bring about an effective long-term solution, and envision a better future and life for all. We would like to take this opportunity to express our solidarity with our friends in the Slow Food and Terra Madre network in Africa, currently struggling through this drought. We have also launched a Drought in the Horn of Africa page on the website to publish stories and updates from our network.

To contribute to the Thousand Gardens project and help be a part of the change in Africa, click here.

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