A Slow Food Academy to Protect Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems

Indigenous peoples’ food systems are suffering erosion at an alarming rate, encroached upon by unsustainable, industrialized agricultural models that respect neither climate nor culture. The replacement of these foods results not only in a dwindling of cultural and biological diversity, but jeopardizes the resilience of our global food system. Indigenous peoples’ communities all over the world are putting in place a resistance, protecting local food cultures and being guardians of biodiversity

Protecting the food systems of Indigenous peoples is central to Slow Food’s mission, and our movement recognizes the essential role of food education in achieving this. By supporting youth and women in particular, as pillars of community growth, through knowledge and skills sharing, we can ensure that these practices not only endure but evolve and flourish. 

Seeding Change through Slow Food Gardens

For the Slow Food  Indigenous Peoples’ Network in Africa, the Gardens in Africa program is key for the protection and promotion of their food systems and for achieving food security and food sovereignty. Gardening and small-scale agriculture formed the basic means of food production for thousands of years. Nowadays, this system is being replaced by another one, that grows food without respecting nature, the environment and communities. 

Cultivating food in a way that regenerates and manages agricultural resources through participation, traditional knowledge and adaptation to local conditions has always been crucial for our movement, and many Slow Food Communities promote this model worldwide.

Project Overview

To combat the erosion of Indigenous peoples’ food systems, Slow Food International, Slow Food Uganda and Slow Food Kenya have drawn up and delivered the Regional Academy for Trainers on Agroecological and Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems. Concluding in December 2023, this six-month initiative designed by indigenous peoples for indigenous peoples, involved 30 participants from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe in a training program based around agroecology, and the many benefits it brings, indigenous peoples’ and women’s rights, and project design. 

The selected participants are individuals belonging to the Slow Food network who were eager to refine their skills and committed to carrying out a constant sharing of the teachings with their local communities. We spoke to one participant, Stephano from Tanzania, who shared his excitement about the new tools acquired: “Witnessing the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and experiences has heightened my enthusiasm. As I go back to  Tanzania, I am excited about applying the insights gained from this collaboration to foster my community and start to reach out to indigenous communities in my area. This cross-cultural exchange has not only broadened my perspectives but has also ignited a passion to contribute positively to the welfare of indigenous groups back home.”

The project aims to train trainers on Indigenous peoples’ food systems protections and promotions and to write up community action plans. As further incentive, the project proposals drawn up by each participant and community will, at the end of the course, be evaluated, and—if successful—funded. 

Providing Education that Enables

This training was designed by Slow Food and Indigenous Peoples expert activists to provide participants with holistic knowledge on the food system: spacing from biodiversity protection programs to human rights. The course was hybrid in structure, with nine online modules and one final in-person meeting held in Uganda from November 27 to December 1. 

“When designing this training we also included Project Design, as a contribution to communities self-determination. We need our communities to be able to write their own projects, from our own perspectives and cultures. We often receive projects which were designed somewhere else and they fail because they don’t understand our priorities, our cultures, our internal dynamics”, said Margaret Tunda Lepore, Maasai woman and Slow Food Councilor for Indigenous Peoples.

Margaret Tunda Lepore, Edie and Francisco
Margaret Tunda Lepore, with Slow Food President, Edie Mukiibi, and Indigenous Peoples’ Network Coordinator Luis Francisco Prieto

The course gave participants a space to exchange knowledge and problem-solve in interactive breakout rooms. These rooms were moderated by Mentors, themselves active members of the Slow Food Indigenous Peoples Network and experts on the Slow Food Gardens in Africa program, who also oversaw group work and homework assignments to reinforce learning. For the whole training, each participant was paired with and supported by a Mentor; with the words of Elphas Masanga, Advocacy, Communication and Networking Officer for Slow Food Kenya and Mentor during the Academy:

“Within Slow Food Kenya, our wealth of expertise and community engagement has cultivated profound experiences. Guiding individuals through the intricate web of agroecological and indigenous food systems is paramount to walking towards ensuring access to good, clean and fair food for all. For me, seeing participants’ commitment and growth along the training means that we are moving in the right direction to achieve our goal.”

Participants were quick to embrace the Slow Food ethos of good, clean and fair food for all, and to understand the value of communities’ self-determination, and, thus, their role in replicating learnings. Mohamed Hassan Sharif, a participant from Somalia, expressed his excitement about implementing what he learned. “This training has fueled our commitment to further engagement upon our return. Our goal is not only to disseminate what we’ve learned but also to enhance our project design document based on the new tools we explored during the academy. Involving our community ensures that our initiatives are finely tuned, impactful, and reflective of the community’s future.”

The Academy had the pleasure of having a session on agroecology and food sovereignty held by Slow Food President, Edie Mukiibi, offering valuable insights into sustainable farming methods and the potential for food sovereignty agroecology affords. Moreover, during his time in Uganda, he had the chance to address the participants with a motivational speech as future leaders. As he explained to the participants:

“Slow Food is more than just an organization; it is a dynamic force committed to mobilizing communities in safeguarding biodiversity. We engage actively in protecting and promoting biodiversity, recognizing its fundamental importance in creating a sustainable and equitable global food system. Education is our key tool, as we believe that informed individuals can drive meaningful change. Through our advocacy and influence, we aim to shape a world where food choices reflect a deep respect for the environment, cultural diversity, and the intricate balance of ecosystems.

Enhancing Leadership for Local Food Sovereignty

The in-person meeting hosted by Slow Food Uganda, was a blast of energy. 50 participants, including trainees and trainers gathered in Uganda for 5-days to share about their projects and exchange ideas and advice with others who are in a similar situation.

“This transformative week – confirmed Rachel from Nigeria – has been a rich tapestry of learning for me. The gardens we visited left a profound impression, showcasing the fascinating dual roles of plants in different countries – what is ornamental in Nigeria could be edible in Uganda. The diversity in plant uses across regions sparked my curiosity and deepened my understanding of the intricate relationships between communities and their environments. These enlightening experiences have not only expanded my knowledge but also ignited a passion for exploring the multifaceted connections between people and ecosystems”

What the Future Holds

This training is part of the ongoing learning journey initiated by the Slow Food Indigenous Peoples Network in 2019, expanding globally and regionally in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), Asia and Pacific Regions (ARP), and Africa. Presently, the network is concurrently organizing three additional training sessions in Africa, LAC, and APR, drawing on the experiences and lessons learned from this Academy.

The success of this course lies not only in the future potential for its projects but in the seeds of knowledge and know-how that every participant will go on to spread in their community. 

Two full days of the meeting in Uganda were dedicated to better define future plans to involve more members and mobilize people and the respective commitments from each participant. During the training, it was clearly stated in a document that for the  Slow Food  Indigenous Peoples’ Network in Africa, the Gardens in Africa program is key for the protection and promotion of their food systems and for contributing to achieving food security and food sovereignty. With the concluding words of Umar Bashir Ochen, a pastoralist from Karamoja and Advisory Board member of the SFIPsN, “as the Slow Food Indigenous Peoples’ Network and coordinators of Slow Food Gardens in Africa, we commit to strengthening and expanding the Slow Food Gardens network in Africa over the next few years.

Umar Bashir Ochen
Umar Bashir Ochen

This project aims to advance our communities’ food sovereignty, protect the biological and cultural biodiversity of our people, educate individuals, and influence both public and private sectors to ensure universal access to good, clean, and fair food. And we are serious about it and we agreed on an action plan to reach this goal.

Projects like these pave a path by which Indigenous peoples’ traditions and knowledge take center stage, ensuring a sustainable and rich food heritage not just for today, but for generations to come.

None of this would have been possible without the generous support of IFAD, Table for Two, Tamalpais Trust, and Biodivision. Our shared vision for supporting sustainability and equity in Indigenous peoples food systems has been instrumental in transforming this initiative from a vision to a reality, and enabling the empowerment of many communities.

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