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Kenema Kola Nut - Slow Food Presidia
Foto di Paola Viesi

Kenema Kola Nut

Sierra Leone

The kola nut's name might recall the world's most globalized beverage, but the two have little in common. The kola nut is the fruit of the kola tree, which belongs to the same family as cacao, Sterculiaceae. The tree is native to the tropical forests of West Africa, and still grows wild in Sierra Leone and Liberia. There are around 140 species of kola, but the most widely consumed in Africa are the wild Cola acuminata, also known as small or bitter kola, and the cultivated Cola nitida, known as big kola or kola nut. Cola acuminata is brown, while Cola nitida can be of different colors, ranging from yellow to pink to red when fresh and from brown to dark red when dried. The fruits contain caffeine, kolatin, theobromine and tannic acid.
For centuries this fruit has been a vital part of different areas of daily life and given it important symbolic meaning; it is used in religious practices, as a sexual stimulant and in social customs. In Sierra Leone, kola nuts are consumed during rites and ceremonies, to welcome guests, as a symbol of friendship, to seal an agreement or to mark a reconciliation. During Ramadan, soft drink producers make a kind of ginger ale with water, ginger, kola, chili and sometimes sugar. They use white kola, because oddly its juice is darker red in color than other types of kola nuts.
Kola is used in traditional medicine; chewing a piece after meals helps digestion, and the caffeine in the fruits aids concentration. It is also used to reduce hunger pangs. The Mandingo and Temne ethnic groups also use the nuts as a brown dye for fabrics, after they have been ground and soaked in water.
In the southeastern regions of Sierra Leone (Kenema and Kailahun districts), Cola nitida is grown intercropped with coffee and cacao, smaller plants that like the shade cast by the large kola tree. The fruits are picked twice a year, between May and June and November and January. After the harvest the fruits are cut open to extract the nuts.
One fruit contains 8 to 10 nuts, each protected by a yellow skin. To remove this, the nuts are laid out on the ground on a mat, covered with banana or mango leaves, and soaked with water. The skin rots in about a week, making it easy to remove. The nuts are then washed with fresh water before being stored in baskets or sacks lined with fresh mango leaves. The humidity of the leaves is essential to stop the nuts drying out, and thus the nuts can be kept for more than six months and easily transported. Kola nuts from southeastern Sierra Leone are known for their flavor and texture (crisp rather than fibrous), and many traders come to Kenema from as far away as Senegal, Guinea and Mali.

The country’s civil war tragically struck down an entire generation and its aftermath has caused a collapse in cola production. An entire generation of expert farmers has disappeared or migrated, abruptly interrupting the transmission of traditional knowledge from one generation to the next. As a result the cola cultivation is not well looked after and the trees produce fruit late and erratically.
The Presidium involves 48 small-scale producers in the villages of Dalru and Gegbwema and has been established with the aim of promoting the cultivation, processing and marketing of the kola nuts. Thanks to a collaboration with Baladin, a well-known Italian artisanal beer and beverage producer, and the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, in 2012 the drink Cola Baladin has launched on the market. The drink contains extracts of Kenema kola and natural ingredients. Part of the revenues goes towards sustaining Slow Food projects in Sierra Leone (both Presidia and community gardens).

Production area
Kenema district, southeastern Sierra Leone, near the Liberian border

The Presidium kola has been used as an ingredient in a natural soft drink produced by Baladin.

Presidium supported by
Baladin, Italy
48 kola producers are members of the Kenema kola nut producers’ association
Presidium coordinator
Patrick Mansaray
tel. +232 76724542


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