An indigenous food expo at Silver Springs in Kampala last year had all manner of products, some of which are now termed as extinct.
For example, among the rare bush pulses included ebigagga, obuyindiyindi, enkolimbo and ensuga. Yams or climbing foods included balugu, ebisebe, enddagu and kyetumula. Bitter berries, goose berries, indigenous oranges, poultry and cereals were exhibited at the show.
There were bananas too! “I had never seen such many indigenous crops in one place,” Dr Grace Nambatya, the director of research at the National Chemotherapeutic Research Institute, exclaimed.
Nambatya was the keynote speaker at the fair.
In addition to these, there where over 50 other bean varieties, coming in all colours. All crops are grown organically, without the application of artificial fertilisers and pesticides.
The exhibition, that was intended to showcase indigenous foods, was organised by Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Uganda as part of the 11 Annual Indigenous and Traditional Food and Seed fair. It had organic farmers from as far as Masaka, Luwero, Wakiso, Buikwe, Iganga, Kayunga, Soroti, Rukiga, Kabarole and Mukono exhibiting.
Other groups that exhibited included Africa 2000 network, Slow Food, ESAFF, EADEN from Iganga and AFIRD, among others.
What are indigenous crops?
Joshua Aijuka, the programme officer of PELUM Uganda, says indigenous, sometimes known as traditional foods, are those foods that people have access to locally, without having to purchase them, and within traditional knowledge and the natural environment from farming or wild harvesting.
In the Ugandan context, indigenous foods have been defined broadly to include foods introduced to Uganda earlier than the 1900s and have been naturalised and adapted to local conditions.
“These are more than just foods for they touch a broad spectrum of Indigenous peoples’ lives,” he says.
In different societies of Uganda for instance, foods are part of culture; prepared on special ceremonies such as traditional marriages, child naming, circumcision and burials.
“You can call these natural foods because they are grown without any artificial intervention,” said Christopher Magala from Slow Food Uganda, who exhibited climbing yams, local passion fruits, local bananas, medicinal herbs and pulses.
“The value of these seeds that you are exhibiting today lies in their natural traits,” Stella Lutalo, the country coordinator of PELUM Uganda, said.
Lutalo called upon farmers to be true to nature and avoid using harmful chemicals on their farms.
“You smallholder farmers are researchers. You have a lot of knowledge garnered over many years. The purpose of such exhibition is to help you share this knowledge,” she said.
The farmers, meanwhile, called upon stakeholders to help them produce and sustain the local indigenous seeds.
‘Without this seed, these foods will be extinct. We have set up community seed banks where we are keeping the seeds, but these are yet recognised commercially,” Grace Asiyo, a farmer from Soroti, said.
At the moment, the Government is working with at least 10 of these community seed banks to sustain availability of indigenous seeds.
How to control pests organically
One of the biggest challenges facing organic farmers is the control of pests. Organic farmers use a collection of leaves, fruits, roots to process elements to control different pests on the farm. Such plants include neem tree extracts, tephrosia, black jack (sere) and pawpaw leaves.
They also use urine and redpepper. These can be made on the spot, or in case of urine, can be processed through three months.
“God created all these crops and gave them the ability to fight off diseases and survive,” Kyolobi Galiwango, from Kongojje, Bakka, Wakiso district, explained.
Galiwango grows coffee, bananas, beans and climbing foods the ‘natural’ way. He is supported by Africa Network 2000. The farmers gave several tips that they use to control diseases while growing these indigenous crops.