Dairy in Africa: Keeping Cultures Alive

Africa might not be the first continent that comes to mind when we talk about cheese, and it is true that it is not such a common food in most African countries. But there are a number of rich dairy traditions around the continent, some a legacy from the colonialist history, others, more deeply rooted, from the nomadic pastoral cultures that still exist in many countries.

A selection of these dairy products from Kenya, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Morocco and Cape Verde were presented at Cheese 2013, on Friday September 20 at the Biodiversity House. Though importation issues meant only a few were available for tasting, the public was lucky to have the opportunity to hear from members of the food communities who make these dairy products: Priscilla Chemtay from the Pokot Ash Yogurt Presidium in Kenya and Roba Bulga Jilo from the Karrayyu Herders’ Camel Milk Presidium in Ethiopia as well as Boubacar Diallo, who described how Wagashi and a Tuareg tomme cheese are made by the Peul ethnic group in Burkina Faso.

A highlight was the contribution of Roba Bulga from the Karrayyu ethnic group in Ethiopia and a graduate of the University of Gastronomic Sciences. The Karrayyu are famous for their camels, the type of clothes they wear as well and a specific hairstyle. They have a strong connection with their herds, and guide them along a journey of several hundred kilometers during the dry season to find food for them, while also surviving themselves. Unfortunately, they are having to travel further and further due to external causes such as global warming and land rights issues.

The Karrayyu are also known for being proud to be herders, for being proud of their traditions. “We want to keep our way of life,” said Bulga at the end. “The Presidium has allowed us to promote camel milk at a country level.” Before it was mostly consumed by herders and was unfamiliar to the rest of the population. “We’ve been able to invest in a vehicle that allows us to transport the milk faster to Addis Ababa,” he said. By raising awareness about the problems they are facing, as well as their camels’ milk, the Karrayyu hope to keep their culture alive.

Photo: Pokot Ash Yogurt Presidium © Oliver Migliore

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