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Cooking up a Recipe to End Poverty

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Like music, food has a powerful ability to jump across cultural and regional barriers and unite people in the sheer pleasure of the meal. Tapping the rich vein of regional culinary heritages is also a great way to make money. Promoting local recipes and foods has other benefits: as the global obesity (or globesity as WHO calls it) epidemic reaches into the urban areas of cities in the developing world, anything that pulls people away from fast food and high-fat foods is a good thing. Doctors have found home cooking keeps people thin and is better for them.

The trend across the developing world towards eating away from home is another factor in the growing obesity crisis. While cooking at home allows for control of ingredients and portion sizes, eating out usually means more high energy and fatty foods. The global obesity crisis is threatening to reverse many essential health gains brought about by development. As communities prosper, diets become more reliant on junk food and fast food.

The International Obesity Task Force found 1.7 billion people in the world need to lose weight. There are now more overweight people in the world than hungry people. Neville Rigby, the policy director of the task force, told The Associated Press, “What’s clear is that the developing world in particular is going to bear the enormous brunt of this weight gain. It’s rapidly accelerating. We’re even seeing obesity in adolescents in India now. It’s universal. It has become a fully global epidemic – indeed, pandemic.”

According to Dr Susan Jebb, Medical Research Council Director of Studies, Human Nutrition Centre, University of Cambridge, “getting back to a bit of home cooking could be a good start” to tackling the obesity crisis.

Increasing awareness of traditional and local recipes can generate income in many ways. From publishing cookbooks to inspiring restaurant and food vendor menus to sparking up supermarket product lines, whole industries can be built up from the humble recipe. Supermarkets in Africa are a growing sector. Executives from South Africa’s Shoprite supermarket chain recently announced a doubling of their supermarkets in Uganda, and called supermarkets one of the fastest growing businesses in East Africa. UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has already started to dispatch Fairtrade Ambassadors to Africa to trawl the continent for new products to stock their shelves.

So, the time is right for entrepreneurs to target the African food market and raise its profile. Seizing this opportunity is an ambitious project to digitally archive the vast and often hard-to-find treasure trove of African cookbooks. Announced at a conference in Tanzania this summer, the African Cookbook Project is seeking to gather together in one place all the past and present African cookbooks, effectively creating the most comprehensive resource of African recipes.

Published: August 2007

Resources

  • Africooks: Culinary Literature by Jessica B. Harris: This established African cookbook writer offers an excellent role model for budding cookbook authors: www.africooks.com
  • A success story about a Senagalese restaurant in the US: NYTimes article
  • BetumiBlog and Betumi.com (www.betumi.com): Betumi is the African Culinary Network and “connects anyone who delights in African cuisine, foodways and food history.” View photos.
  • An extensive list of African cookbooks available for sale: here
  • Africa’s Big Seven: held every year, it is the main event that brings together food retailers and producers and is a perfect place to bring a new product looking to be launched.

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Urban Farming to Tackle Global Food Crisis

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world’s population is becoming more urban by the day. By 2030, some five billion people around the world will live in cities. This year is the tipping point: urban dwellers (3.3 billion people) now outnumber rural residents for the first time (UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2007 Report). 

But with rising food prices across the globe, many city-dwellers are experiencing hunger and real hardship. On international commodity markets, food prices have gone up 54 percent over the last year, with cereal prices soaring 92 percent (FAO – World Food Situation). While living in an urban environment means living cheek-by-jowl with other people, it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to grow food and supplement urban dwellers’ tight budgets and boost diets.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for food production to increase 50 percent by 2030 just to meet rising demand – and right now there are 862 million people undernourished (FAO). But one solution, urban farming, can make a huge difference, as the Caribbean island of Cuba has shown.

Today, Cuba imports about 50 percent of its minimum fuel and food requirements – a cost that reached US $1.6 billion last year for food. (Reuters). The island has been buffeted by one food crisis after another in the past two decades, first by the collapse of its aid from the Soviet Union, and then by a fuel crisis. But now, urban farming in Cuba provides most of the country’s vegetables, thanks to urban gardens that have sprung up on abandoned land in the country’s cities and towns. And the food is pesticide-free: 70 percent of the vegetables and herbs on the island are organic (http://www.soilassociation.org/web/sa/saweb.nsf/Living/ whatisorganic.html).

These urban farms mean fresh food is just a short walk away from the people who eat it. And in a world of rising fuel prices, Cuba has reduced the use of fossil fuels in the production and transportation of food.

The urban farms have created 350,000 jobs that pay better than most government jobs. It has also improved Cuban’s health: many have moved from diets dominated by rice and beans and imported canned goods from Eastern Europe, to fresh vegetables and fruits.

While Cubans receive at least a basic state ration of rice, beans and cooking oil, the rations do not include fresh fruit and vegetables. After the withdrawal of Soviet subsidies, the average Cuban’s daily calorie intake fell sharply. Between 1989 and 1993, daily calorie intake dropped from 3,004 to 2,323 (UN). But with the growth of urban farms, this has moved up to 3,547 calories a day – even higher than the amount recommended for Americans by the US government.

The secret to this success has been the rise of entrepreneurs like Miladis Bouza, a 48-year-old former research biologist who had to abandon a comfortable middle class life after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Her government salary dropped to US $3 a month. Unable to make ends meet and provide food for her family, she quit her job.

The Cuban government allowed people to turn unused urban land into mini farms. The cities have many vacant lots because the state owns most land and there isn’t competition from private developers, as in many other countries. Unusually for communist Cuba, 80 percent of the profits are kept by the farmers. This can be an average wage of US $71 per month.

“Those salaries are higher than doctors, than lawyers,” Roberto Perez, an agronomist who runs the country’s first urban farm, told The Associated Press. “The more they produce, the more they make. That’s fundamental to get high productivity.”

Miladis grabbed this opportunity to farm a half-acre plot near her home in Havana. Along with her husband, she grows tomatoes, sweet potatoes and spinach, and sells the vegetables at a stall on nearby busy street. This has enabled her monthly income to rise to between US $100 per month and US $250 per month, far more than the average government salary of US $19 per month.

Cuba was inspired by greenbelt farms in Shanghai (http://en.shac.gov.cn/hjgl/jqgk/t20030805_82028.htm): but Cuba has gone even further to make urban farming a key part of the national food supply.

All this urban farming is also all-natural farming. Farms have had to turn to natural compost as fertilizer, and natural pesticides like strong-smelling celery to ward off insects.

So-called organoponicos (http://academicos.cualtos.udg.mx/Pecuarios/ PagWebEP/Lecturas/ORGANOPONICOS.htm ) gather together a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs, as well as ornamental plants. Customers are offered mangos, plantains, basil, parsley, lettuce, garlic, celery, scallions, collard greens, black beans, watermelon, tomatoes, malanga, spinach and sweet potatoes.

“Nobody used to eat vegetables,” said David Leon, 50, buying two pounds of Swiss chard at a Havana organoponico. “People’s nutrition has improved a lot. It’s a lot healthier. And it tastes good.”

Published: June 2008

Resources

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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New Appetite for Nutritious Traditional Vegetables

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Throughout the history of farming, around 7,000 species of plants have been domesticated. Yet everyday diets only draw on 30 percent of these plants and even this number has been going down as more people consume mass-market foods (FAO).

One consequence has been poor nutrition resulting from the reduction in consumption of high-vitamin foods, leading to stunted mental and physical development across the global South.

Once-rich culinary traditions have wilted and left many people not knowing what to do with formerly common vegetables and fruits, even if they can actually find them in markets.

Between 94,000 and 144,000 plant species — a quarter to a half of the world’s total — could die out in the coming years, according to an estimate by Scientific American (2002). Among them are vital food crops, threatened by a world in which climate change is causing more weather turbulence and diseases and viruses can spread rapidly and destroy crops.

This scale of plant loss risks leaving the world’s food security dependent on fewer – and more vulnerable – domesticated species.

Despite being rich in vitamins, minerals and trace elements, African leafy vegetables have been overlooked in preference for cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, and other imported produce. But with rising food prices at local markets, people are looking again at these neglected African vegetables. In East Africa, this includes indigenous plants like amaranth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaranth), African eggplant, Ethiopian mustard, cowpea, jute mallow and spider plant.

Like tomatoes and potatoes, some of these vegetables are members of the nightshade family — but unlike those imports, they are indigenous to Africa. According to Patrick Maundu of Bioversity International (http://www.bioversityinternational.org/), African nightshades provide good levels of protein, iron, vitamin A, iodine, zinc, and selenium at seven times the amounts derived from cabbage. The high levels of vitamins and micronutrients, he says, are especially important to people at risk of malnutrition and disease, particularly HIV/AIDS.

As the cost for basic foodstuffs have shot up during the global economic crisis, growing food has become an increasingly lucrative source of income. Estimates of the number of people doing this across Africa range from hundreds of thousands to millions.

In the bid to reduce the over-dependence on imported foods, urban farming is coming to the rescue and becoming an effective survival tactic in Africa’s fast-growing cities. Thousands of urban workers in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, are supplementing their wages by investing in farms growing food.

Eunice Wangari, a nurse in Kenya, supplements her US $350/month salary with money earned from growing food. “For too long our country has been flooded with imported food and westernized foods,” Wangari told The Guardian newspaper. “This is our time to fight back – and grow our own.”

In Kenya, this type of agriculture usually involves an urbanite taking a stake in farmland outside the city. Relatives then do the farming. Mobile phones play a key role in this approach. The urban dweller can keep in touch with the farm by phone and receive updates on progress. They use their knowledge of urban food tastes to then adjust the crops and increase profits.

An accountant, James Memusi in Nairobi, is growing mushrooms in a spare bedroom in his home and then selling them to hotels and supermarkets, according to The Guardian. Miringo Kinyanjui is selling unrefined maize and wheat. Loved for its nutritional qualities, the flour is also flavoured with amarathan, a common green vegetable in Kenya.It is a clever way to make the most of the fact that many urban dwellers have some access to land in the countryside.

Pride is also returning to the topic of food, as people re-discover traditional foods and vegetables and fruits.

In Liberia, president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has launched a “Back to the Soil” campaign to get urban dwellers to farm and help the country lose its dependence on foreign food imports.

Liberia is trying to reduce the importing of rice and tomatoes.

In Zambia, the embracing of traditional foods has been fuelled by recipes used by a chain of popular restaurants. This appetite has driven demand for dried pumpkins, ‘black jack’ leaves and fresh okra.

The success of this revival of traditional foods has attracted big multinationals as well. Unilever Kenya ran a campaign in 2008 called ‘taste our culture,’ promoting African herbs and spices.

Published: November 2009

Resources

1) The Global Trees Campaign, a partnership between Fauna & Flora International, Botanic Gardens Conservation International and many other organisations around the world, aims to save threatened tree species through provision of information, conservation action and support for sustainable use. Website: http://www.globaltrees.org

2) World Vegetable Center: The World Vegetable Center is the world’s leading international non-profit research and development institute committed to alleviating poverty and malnutrition in developing countries through vegetable research and development. Website: http://www.avrdc.org/

3) Sylva Professional Catering and College: A well-known Zambian food entrepreneur who runs a range of businesses, including restaurants, a cooking school and a guest house. Website: http://sadcbiz.com/countries/zambia/categories/index.htm

4) Marketing African Leafy Vegetables: Challenges and Opportunities in the Kenyan Context By Kennedy M. Shiundu and Ruth. K. Oniang. Website: http://www.ajfand.net/Issue15/PDFs/8%20Shiundu-IPGR2_8.pdf

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022