I was among the over 500 people from over 90 countries who took part in the forum (see http://live.worldbank.org/open-forum-food-crisis/solutions). Reproduced below is the comment I posted on the site:
Part of the solution to the food crisis problem lies in a change of attitude towards what we refer to as ‘food’. In Kenya, often during times of failed rains and the drought that follows, we hear people saying “there is a food shortage” when they actually mean “there is a shortage of maize [the staple food]”. But what about cassava, sweet potato, yams, arrow roots… the so-called ‘orphan crops’? Are these not also ‘food’? Can they not also be consumed as alternative sources of energy? Plus, they have the added advantage of being drought-tolerant. And with the help of biotechnology and plant breeding technology, we can boost their nutritive value (as in the case of Vitamin A enriched orange-fleshed sweet potato) and pest resistance. Similarly, Africa is blessed with a diversity of species of green leafy vegetables, packed with beta-carotene and micronutrients, but many Kenyans would consider ‘greens’ to comprise just spinach, cabbage and ‘sukuma wiki’ (kale/collard greens). The traditional/indigenous foods need to reclaim their rightful place on the National Menu.
While the World Bank food crisis forum is now closed, I wish to continue the debate on the MESHA blog, specifically in the Kenyan context in light of the looming shortage of maize on account of the failed long rains.
To set the ball rolling, here are some questions to consider:
Do you agree that Kenyans need to diversify their diets to reduce dependence on maize as a staple? If so, what strategies can we adopt to raise the status of the ‘orphan crops’? How would we go about changing the mind-sets of Kenyans towards embracing traditional foods in their diets? What is the role of agri-biotechnology in improving the quality of our staple foods? Is genetic modification of our food crops the way to go or should we restrict ourselves to conventional plant breeding technology? How can we bring indigenous knowledge to bear on preservation of crop biodiversity?
What do you think? Post your comments and let’s engage on this salient topic.
Tezira Lore is a Nairobi-based food scientist. She works at the International Livestock Research Institute as a Communications Specialist. The views in this article are personal.