Celebrating the diversity of food
In Chikungwi village in central Malawi, the women and children are singing. And the subject of their songs? Food - in particular how eating a wide variety of foods is both tasty and good for your health. It's part of a festival organised by local NGO the Story Workshop, to encourage people not to depend so heavily on a single staple food. George Kalungwe meets people at the festival to see what they think of the message.
SFX Children singing at food security festival.
Kalungwe These children are singing about sweet potato leaves. 'Let us try them, they are tasty,' says the song. At Chikungwi village, near the Malawian capital Lilongwe, the villagers are having a festival about food. People have come to have fun, to try new dishes, and to learn something about healthy eating. The festival has been organised by a local organisation, the Story Workshop. Faith Phiri, one of the management team, tells me what they are hoping to achieve.
Phiri Our goal is to contribute to food security among the rural farmers. So in this case we are targeting this village, Chikungwi village. We are involving the community to take part in solving their own problem.
Kalungwe Now what kind of messages are you giving to the various people who are here like the women, children and men?
Phiri First of all we are encouraging the communities to diversify their diet. So we involve the community to prepare the local foods that are available here, the foods that can take place of the already known staple food nsima. For example cassava; in our setting it is like they eat them as a snack you know, not as an important food. So we are trying to change that concept to say No we can prepare these other foods and regard them as equal foods just as nsima. This will increase the food availability at the household level and we are also training them on various new farming technologies like manure making, irrigation methods and many other farming technologies.
Kalungwe You have been doing this for three years. Can you mention any change which you have seen in terms of the villages where you have been so far?
Phiri In the village that we have worked before yes we can see that people now they have changed their mindset. They are regarding the other foods as real food just like maize and some of them are going to the extent of diversifying their crops, they are actually growing them more and taking good care of them just like they do with maize.
SFX Women singing.
Kalungwe Now it's the turn of the women to sing. Their song is about the six food groups. 'Knock, knock on the door! Here we come, women from the kitchen!' they sing. I talk to Olipa Samuel and Irene Lameck, who are cooking food at the festival.
Can you just explain the kind of food which you have shown to the people at this event?
Samuel (Vernac) I have presented to you food prepared from Irish potatoes. I did make chips. Apart from those chips I also cooked meat as a meat product for proteins.
Kalungwe And what about yourself?
Lameck (Vernac) I also used the same Irish potatoes but I did not make chips I just boiled the potatoes and then cooked meat plus vegetables as well as beans and a fruit, making it six food groups because of the fat that I used in frying the meat product. So I had six food groups and I also feel that I can eat that instead of nsima. It is just the same because the potatoes also are staples just as maize is.
Kalungwe Where do you source or where did you find this kind of food?
Samuel (Vernac) We source these items within the locality. It is a market that is nearby our village. Most of what we have cooked today are also grown in our gardens. We grow maize, we grow soya, we grow potatoes, but often times we keep maize and then most of the soya we sell it. We just keep a little for our children for porridge.
Kalungwe After this event are you going to continue doing the same or maybe you are going to stop simply because it was a show today?
Samuel (Vernac) We believe we are going to continue this exercise. We are going to encourage one another to continue practising so that our homesteads are going to have enough food throughout the year.
Kalungwe One of the guests of honour at the festival is the area chief, Chief Mazengera. I ask for his opinion on attitudes to food in Malawi.
Mazengera We Malawians have a static mindset that when we say food, we mean nsima and some relish, but here I have seen that even cassava flavoured with relish can also make a good meal for lunch or dinner. In the past, when some families have only cooked rice, you would see children asking, Are we not eating today? meaning that people think nsima is the only food, but now this slowly changing.
Kalungwe Do you think this project will have any impact on food availability in the country?
Mazengera Yes indeed. You see Story Workshop has not only engaged men and women, but has also engaged young children who are in standard three or four in primary school. These children will grow with a changed mentality and in the next four to five years they will not regard maize as the only source of food.
Kalungwe Now in your view, it is possible for Malawians to diversify on food choices?
Mazengera It is easy for Malawians to diversify on food choices in order to have nutritious diets. You see, in our gardens we have bananas, we have cassava, soya is also abundant. We also grow beans. So I have the belief that if we understand the concept, we would not rush to sell some of our food crops which we always rush to sell. We would keep them to help improve our diets.
SFX Children singing.
Kalungwe So, as the children entertain us with their songs, the Story Workshop team hope that through festivals like this one, children and adults will discover that a varied diet isn't only good for their health, but it's enjoyable too. This is George Kalungwe, reporting from Chikungwi village in central Malawi. End of track
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Food & nutrition