Slow Food

African Herders Speak at Cheese 2011

Italy - 18 Sep 11

Dairy farmers from around Africa were the focus of a Milk Workshop on Saturday September 17, reflecting Slow Food’s special attention towards the continent. Introducing and welcoming the herders, Carlo Petrini emphasized the commitment of Slow Food and Terra Madre to helping Africans gain food sovereignty. “It’s already hard to be a farmer in Europe, and in Africa it’s three times harder!” he said. “You must have the courage to resist because the future is Africa, the future is in your hands,” he concluded. “On this trip you’ve met producers from the Langhe, and I hope it will be useful. One day the tuma producers will come to see you, and that’s the best sign of universal fraternity!” Slow Food has a growing presence in Africa, with activities in around 30 countries aimed at restoring the equilibrium of traditional agriculture, based on diversity, a balance with nature and minimal inputs. This equilibrium has allowed nomadic and farming communities to survive in harsh environments for millennia, but now climate change and obstructive government policy are causing grave difficulties for the continent’s small-scale herders. Four of the African herders then had a chance to address the packed San Rocco church, which has become the “Biodiversity Space” for the duration of Cheese, describing their own challenges and thanking Slow Food for its support and partnership, which has helped them build their economies and feel less isolated. In Kenya, for example, Slow Food has set up a Presidium for Pokot ash yogurt. Ruben Loitang raises cows and goats and grows maize, beans, millet and sorghum, and he was very proud of his yogurt: “Children from the city who try this yogurt don’t like it, but they’re not healthy like my children!” From Burkina Faso, we learned about the Conseil Régional des Unions du Sahel, which brings together 40,000 herders and helps them sell their products and have a voice with the government. Seydou Madia, the president, explained that they are currently working on helping women by setting up a network of dairies so they can generate income by making cheese. Madia also presented Carlo Petrini with a traditional turban as a sign of respect. Dromedary farmer Mohammed Tate, from Mauritania, also expressed a desire to process his camel milk into products like cheese, to use excess production and get a better price on the market. “We want to participate in the next Cheese with our own cheeses,” he said. Shenko Baka of Ethiopia’s Karrayu tribe, a pastoralist from the Oromia region, also described the difficulties he and his people faced because of climate change and unfavorable government policy. “We are not farmers, but because of changes in our region we can no longer be nomadic. We don’t want to be pushed into a different style of life. Before coming into contact with Slow Food, we thought we were lost, that no one knew of our existence. But then we realized there is someone who knows us, who understands and appreciates us.” The speeches by the herders were followed by the presentation of a new publication produced by Slow Food and the Turin Chamber of Commerce, a manual of good hygiene practice for African food producers. Then came a screening of a documentary, Jeans&Martò, presented by its directors, Clio Sozzani and Claudia Palazzi. The film tells the story of Roba Bulga, a young Karrayu pastoralist who left his village to study in Addis and is now a student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo.