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Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity Onlus

A Thousand Gardens in Africa Takes Off

In Swahili, "Jambo bwana!" means "Hello sir!" and it was with this greeting that the representatives of Slow Food Kenya welcomed the 65 participants who had traveled to Nakuru, northwest of Nairobi, for the first regional seminar of the Thousand Gardens in Africa project.



The seminar was held from June 15-17, and the three activity-packed days were designed to promote debate and interaction between all the project's coordinators from Africa's Anglophone countries.


One of these was Sid Ali Mohamed Abdi from Somalia, who has been a farmer for 40 years. Others were teachers: Amos Gachuki, from the Michinda school in Kenya, and Noel Nanyunja, who teaches agriculture to her elementary school students in Mukono, Uganda. Also in the room was Mazoe Gondwe, representing Malawi, plus delegates from Egypt, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Tanzania and representatives from all 13 Kenyan convivia.

Hosting the meeting were John Kariuki, Jane Karanja and Peter Namianya, who graduated a few years ago from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, and then returned to Kenya to work with their own communities.

Two Kenyan agronomists, Ferdinand Wafula and Priscilla Nzamalu, opened the debate on agricultural techniques and the major issues dealt with in the project's manual. The audience was keen to actively participate, asking questions and sharing their own experiences.

Everyone was in agreement about the holistic approach to horticulture encouraged by agroecology and Slow Food. A good horticulturalist must first of all be a good observer, able to understand the local climate and soil conditions and what varieties are best suited to the land. This is the guiding spirit of the project: looking around, understanding first what there is and then what's missing. As the participants emphasized, this is the way to overturn the current aid-based system that sees the only solution to Africa's problems as the donor-beneficiary relationship, ignoring the wealth and diversity already present on the continent.

There were many topics to discuss and the time available was limited. Work groups were formed to talk about integrated garden management, natural resources (soil and water), seed collection and storage, education, communication (how to give proper prominence to the communities' work) and project costs and coordination.

The last day was spent visiting two school gardens close to Nakuru. At the Michinda school, students welcomed the visitors with songs and traditional Maasai dancing, then split into groups and described their composting, the varieties cultivated (describing each one's nutritional properties, cultivation techniques and parasite defense) and traditional foods (porridge made from sorghum, millet and a drop of lemon juice; irio, mashed potatoes with corn, pumpkin leaves and nettles; chapati bread with pumpkin or carrots; fruit juices and more).

At the second school, Marioshoni, the children were joined by the village mamas, who came out to sing and dance, with painted faces and traditional costumes made from the skins of animals from the Mau Forest. After the celebrations, all 200 people sat on the grass in behind the school and the headmistress talked about the school's dark days, from 1987 to 1992, when the Ogiek people were driven from the forest. Now the Ogiek have returned and their children can once again attend the school.

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