With 13 convivia, 2 Presidia and 27 food communities, Senegal is the West African country where the Slow Food network is most active, as well as being a hub for the whole region.
So it was natural that the second African training meeting for the Thousand Gardens in Africa project would be held here, in Mbour (south of Dakar). The meeting, held from October 27 to 29, was organized by Philippe Zingan, the project's Senegalese coordinator, and Mame Lissa Niang, a cook from the Terra Madre network.
The meeting was attended by the country's other coordinators, as well as the project's national coordinators from French- and Portuguese-speaking African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania and Morocco.
After an update on the project, the coordinators had a chance to share suggestions and questions that had emerged during visits to the communities.
From the discussions it became clear that small-scale producers are often more concerned about the immediate economic return of their crops rather than the environmental, cultural, gastronomic (and long-term economic) value of an integrated agronomic approach and a rational use of already-available resources. As a result, many decide what products to grow based on the demand of a market in which local and traditional dishes are considered unfashionable or are no longer known. "We belong to a hybrid generation," said Mamadou Diop, the coordinator for the gardens in southern Senegal. "The new generations no longer know the traditional remedies, and if we carry on like this they'll only know how to find solutions in chemicals. People don't have access to information, they need a lot of training." Today most people prefer to use synthetic chemical fertilizers which can give a big harvest right away, but they don't always follow the correct dosages so chemical residues can remain on the harvest, with serious consequences for consumer health.
The Thousand Gardens in Africa project is proposing sustainable agriculture models that make the most of available resources (water, local seeds, local knowledge, traditional varieties). These models are easy to replicate and can help raise awareness about good, clean and fair food.
The participants talked about the need to sensitize communities about the importance of diversifying production and above all of cultivating and consuming local products, which are more environmentally sustainable, more nutritious and more respectful of local culture. The solution lies in the new generations, said Bineta Diallo, a Senegalese cook from the Terra Madre network. "To change current food habits we need to work with children, we need to get them used to traditional dishes, to teach them about traditional recipes. We've seen that it works. Two weeks after the start of the Mangeons Local project [educating children about Senegalese grains], children were asking their mothers to buy local products and use other grains instead of rice."
The participants broke into groups and worked together to formulate concrete proposals for Slow Food gardens in arid and humid zones. Each group discussed activities and strategies to raise awareness among communities about the Slow Food philosophy, agroecological management and how to run the garden financially.
The meeting concluded with a visit to Kaydara, an agroecological farm near the village of Keur Samba Dia, and the Mbour school garden. In between they tasted traditional dishes from Senegal and Guinea Bissau, prepared with local products and Slow Food Presidia from the two countries: salted couscous from Fadiouth and Saloum Island fruit juices from Senegal and wild palm oil from Guinea Bissau. This tasting was linked to the project for mapping and promoting traditional products being run by Slow Food with the support of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Italian Development Cooperation agency.
The seminar on the gardens was made possible by the support of the Compagnia San Paolo.
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