Knowledge Under Threat in War-Torn Mali

The destruction of mausoleums and shrines in Timbuktu by Islamic militias caused international outrage and drew attention to a war that has destroyed not only monuments but also many human lives. Mali’s cultural heritage is under threat, and so is its heritage of traditional knowledge linked to agriculture and food.

Before the conflict exploded, Slow Food was working with the FAO and the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs (Italian Development Cooperation) to promote traditional products from the country, and from Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Senegal. This project led to the creation of the Timbuktu and Gao Katta Pasta Presidium. The towns of Timbuktu and Gao are in the northern Azawad region, where the Tuareg and the MNLA (Mouvement National pour la Liberation de l’Azawad) are demanding independence.

Katta pasta is shaped by women from a dough made with local wheat flour, and recalls the shape of Italian trofie. Dried and toasted, it is usually eaten cooked in a sauce of dried fish, tomato, meat and spices.

Almahdi Al Ansari, the Presidium coordinator, reports: “Currently in Timbuktu the women cannot go out unless they are accompanied by a man from their family and completely veiled. The government army units were concentrated here and so the ‘pale-skinned’ population fled, fearing retribution because they were believed to support independence. Some of the Presidium’s women are now among the refugees in camps in Mauritania and Burkina Faso. The economy has stalled, agriculture has been destroyed, and no-one is sowing or harvesting.”

Almahdi does have some positive news: “A few of the darker-skinned women have remained. They are still making katta pasta, and production has increased, maybe even doubled, because the people have had to stop eating rice, which came from the south. Instead there is an abundance of flour from Algeria.”

Find out more:

Download the publications produced by Slow Food as part of the project with the FAO.

Discover the Presidium at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, in Turin from October 25 to 29, 2012.

Photo: Timbuktu and Gao Katta Pasta Presidium by Paola Viesi

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