LEGORO LA DISAENSE TSA TLHAGO
Sekolo sa Disaense Tsa Tikologo le Tlhabololoniki le Jwa Khomphiutha
Ditlhopha Tsa Serutwa: Boithuta Ditshedinyana
Initiative for the Development of Indigenous Food-plants of Africa (IDIFA)
Historically, naturally-growing food-plants together with home-grown leafy vegetables and legumes were used to balance traditional grain-based staples with phytoproteins, minerals and vitamins in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Adapted to local growing conditions, traditional African food-plants are either gathered from the wild or grown for rural household subsistence without expensive inputs of water or agrochemicals. Africa of the 21st century, however, faces disease, starvation, food insecurity and malnutrition of immense proportions. While malnutrition compromises human resistance to disease, the spiralling effect of HIV/AIDS on the coping abilities of rural communities is fast eroding their traditional survival strategies. Indigenous knowledge that have supported traditional food systems in the past is currently under threat as a consequence of HIV/AIDS impacting on family structure, labour and resources. Adding to the complexity of the problem, data from recent studies questions the dietary safety of traditional subsistence African vegetables, suggesting that microbiological risks related to traditional cultivation and storage practices could significantly add to the burden of disease in resource-limited rural communities.
For many reasons, economically-marginalised rural sub-Saharan African communities do not in share the advantages of technological developments in agriculture which is largely aimed at commercial food markets. This situation is unlikely to change in near future. Widespread food-insecurity leading to restricted dietary diversity and poor nutritional status increases the risk for all-cause mortality in rural populations. There is an urgent need to replace emergency famine response to chronic hunger in this region with strategies that would secure the nutritional benefits of vegetable consumption for rural subsistence households. In this context the remark on World Food Day by Italian Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Giani Allemanno is significant: “It is not an issue of increased agricultural production, but rather of allowing people who suffer from hunger to be in a better position to get, in whole or in part, their own food” Reliable strategies to reduce food-insecurity in rural settings of sub-Saharan Africa would, however, require acknowledgement of Africa’s indigenous food culture based on the utilization of naturally-occurring food-plants and traditional subsistence cropping. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) household food-security comprises “food adequacy while complying with nutrient and safety requirements and cultural preferences”. Furthermore, workable strategies to remediate the inability of rural communities to cope with food shortages should incorporate community involvement taking into account their socio-economic status, resource limitations and the impact of the HIV/AIDS on household and community structure. Implementation of strategies should, however, be based on scientific knowledge of health-related risks, dietary benefits and safe cultivation and storage of traditional subsistence food-plants.
The Initiative for the Development of Indigenous Food of Africa (IDIFA) was established in 2005 by a group of scientists representing Egypt, Morocco, Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa to promote research collaboration on health-related risks and dietary benefits of traditional food-plants of Africa and employment of low-cost microbiological technologies for improved cultivation of subsistence crops.
IDIFA mission statement
A model for research collaboration and interaction, IDIFA strives to optimize scientific expertise and research capacity in Africa and develop a database on indigenous food-plants and traditional crops of Africa, many of which are neglected and/or underutilized. Scientific information generated through IDIFA research should support the development of strategies and implementation of programs in rural sub-Saharan Africa aimed at: (i) the restoration of Africa’s crop biodiversity and advancement thereof in sustainable subsistence farming; (ii) employment of low-cost microbiological technologies for improved crop quality and yield, (iii) increased dietary diversity through enhanced utilisation of traditional African vegetables; (iv) reduction of diet-related microbiological health risks through advancement of safe cultivation and storage practices of home-grown foods and (v) the development of novel urban food markets for traditional African vegetables.
The research community of Africa collectively has the expertise, but must also take on the responsibility, to find scientifically-based workable solutions to famine and disease ravaging our continent. However, there is an urgent need for research expertise and capacity to be more equally distributed throughout the region. Auditing of existing technology, the economical viability of existing research programmes, standard of research facilities, level of research skills as well as requirements for local and/or international funding and support will be basic to the success of IDIFA. Potential factors that could impede on the process of expanding the existing knowledge base and research competency and capacity into sub-Saharan Africa should be recognised and appropriately managed. Most important would be the commitment of participating institutions and international partners to succeed with the proposed strategy for IDIFA research.
Dr. Retha van der Walt
Morogo Research Programme (MRP)
School of Environmental Sciences and Development
North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus)
Private Bag X6001
Tel: 018 299 2330