Indigenous Knowledge-Systems and Food Security: ?· Indigenous Knowledge-Systems and Food Security:…
Kamla-Raj 2014 J Hum Ecol, 48(1): 97-101 (2014)Indigenous Knowledge-Systems and Food Security:Some Examples from MalawiGregory Kamwendo and Juliet KamwendoUniversity of KwaZulu-Natal, South AfricaKEYWORDS Food Preservation. Food Storage. Household. Hunger. Food Levels. WomenABSTRACT The paper explores the extent to which indigenous knowledge-systems can contribute to theachievement of food security. With examples drawn from Malawi, the paper illustrates the way in which indigenousknowledge-systems can assist in food preservation and food storage, leading to food security. The paper examinesthe way traditional ways of food preservation impact on food security and access at household level. In addition,we also highlight the role of women in food preservation and food storage using indigenous knowledge systems. Weargue that the abandonment of the indigenous knowledge-systems is one of the causes of food insecurity as wewitness it nowadays.INTRODUCTIONThe paper is framed within the context ofIndigenous Knowledge-Systems (IKS) and theirpossible contribution to food security throughindigenous food storage and food preservationtechniques. Drawing on personal experiencesfrom Malawi and examination of secondarysources the objective of this paper is to interro-gate indigenous post-harvest strategies usedby local communities in Malawi for food preser-vation and storage. This demonstrates that in-digenous knowledge systems are unique to spe-cific communities. These systems are valuablein addressing issues such as the environment,health, food security, and many more (see Smitand Masoga 2012). When food security issueswere first highlighted, the question was wheth-er a nation or region could command sufficientfood to meet the aggregate requirements of itspeople. Special attention was paid to fluctua-tions in aggregate food supply and food securi-ty interventions which would provide effectivebuffer mechanisms against such fluctuations. Itwas, however, realized that this gave a very lim-ited view of foodsecurity problem. A larger seg-ment of a population could be living in hunger,even though the country could have sufficientfood on aggregate. This, therefore, reflects thatadequacy of food at national level does not nec-essarily mean adequacy of food security athousehold or individual level (von Braun et al.1992). This paper, therefore, treats food securityas migrating from household to nation, not viceversa. We argue that indigenous food preser-vation and food storage ways play a critical rolein contributing to food security.While indigenous knowledge has been rec-ognized as one avenue through which food maybe preserved and/or stored, such knowledge istreated as inferior to modern food preservationand storage measures or technologies, or thedevelopment of chemicals. Malawi experiencessocial stigma associated with certain traditionalways of food storage and preservation. Somepeople regard traditional practices as primitive.This has led to the decline and/or abandonmentof the indigenous ways of food storage and pres-ervation, which used to help a great deal in sus-taining food security in most households. Newand modern storage facilities (such as refrigera-tors) have reduced the drive for using local/tra-ditional methods. However, questions that comeinto authors minds are: How many people ownfridges? How many homes have electricity forrunning fridges? Since the majority of these peo-ple cannot afford modern food preservation andfood storage facilities, large quantities of food-stuffs such as vegetables and cereals are wast-ed every year. This situation forces people sim-ply to sell their produce for fear of it being wast-ed, or rotting, or being attacked by pests. Weargue in this paper that these now-abandonedindigenous ways of preserving and storing foodensured that people had at least sufficient, if notsurplus until the next harvesting period.Conceptual FrameworkSince the late eighties, the focus on foodsecurity has shifted from national and global tohousehold and individual levels. Thus, this pa-per is conceptualized within Sens (1981) frame-98 GREGORY KAMWENDO AND JULIET KAMWENDOwork of sufficiency, access/entitlement and se-curity. Within this framework, Sen (1981) explainsfood security as sufficiency of food in terms ofnutrients and calories needed for an active andhealthy life. Beyond the core concept of foodsecurity is the concept of enough food which ispresented by some authors as minimal food con-sumption. Sen (1981) argues that food availabil-ity remains a key issue in food security. Thefood-security notion is identified as secure ac-cess to sufficient food. The idea of food storageand preservation translates into access, entitle-ment and security. By storing and preservingfood, households ensure that they secure foodwithout jeopardizing future food consumption.Although public policies may concentrate onpoverty and hunger alleviation, householdsmust take responsibility for ensuring that theyown food. The framework therefore provides asystematic approach to private ownership offood by households. Sen (1981) argues that ex-cess food resources may be converted into as-sets in terms of stored and preserved food.Malawi: A Brief Political andSocio-economic BackgroundMalawi is a landlocked country located insouthern Africa. The country shares borderswith three countries, namely, Zambia, Tanzania,and Mozambique. Previously known as Nyasa-land during British colonial rule, the countrybecame independent as Malawi in 1964. Fromindependence to 1994, Malawi experienced a dic-tatorial one-party and one-president rule underDr Hastings Kamuzu Banda and his Malawi Con-gress Party. The 1990s witnessed a strong waveof democratization campaign which sweptacross Africa. These winds of democratic changedemolished one-party dictatorships; and Malawiwas not spared. It is in this context that a nation-al referendum was conducted in 1993, whichoverwhelmingly swung in favour of the adop-tion of a multi-party system of government. As aconsequence, Malawi held multi-party generalelections in 1994. Dr Banda and his Malawi Con-gress Party lost in the elections. On May 17 1994,Bakili Muluzi was elected president of this multi-party state. Within the parameters of the consti-tution of Malawi, Bakili ruled for two consecu-tive presidential terms and the late Bingu waMutharika took over in 2004 (see Kaspin 1995,Posner 1995). Mutharika died before the end ofhis term of office, thus allowing the incumbentvice president, Mrs Joyce Banda, to take over. Itwas during Bingu wa Mutharikas term thatMalawi faced a confrontation with the donor com-munity; the president having been accused ofbeing undemocratic. Malawi experienced an ex-tensive donor freeze because of poor governance.Food Situation in MalawiAccess to adequate food is a basic humanright. It is catalytic to the realization of all otherrights, such as the right to education and goodhealth, to mention only two. Therefore, attain-ing national and household food security is offundamental importance. However, achievingfood security and making it sustainable, remainsa global challenge. Most countries in the sub-Saharan region are grappling with this problem.Although Malawi is well known as an agricul-tural-based economy, sustaining food securityhas become challenging, owing to the poor eco-nomic status of the country. The current situa-tion is that of low productivity, persistent hun-ger and malnutrition. This leads to much humansuffering and substantial low productivity(Binauli 2010; Mussa and Pauw 2011).Although Malawi faces challenges of pov-erty and dry spells which affect crop produc-tion, the report from a food-security outlookgives one cause to believe that the situation isnot hopeless. The Ministry of Agriculture andFood Security (MoAFS 2013)report projects anincrease and surplus in crop productionof above740,000 metric tonnes in maize, rice, millet, sor-ghum, potatoes, and cassava. Although this isfood security at a national level, it is throughlocal farmers that this outlook is derived. Thepaper attempts to discuss these traditional prac-tices, examining the way in which they have im-pacted greatly on household food security, en-titlement, and access. The indigenous practicesto be discussed are Msanja, Nkhuti, and Mfut-so.OBSERVATIONS AND DISCUSSIONMsanja as a Storage PlaceMalawi, like other countries in Africa, has itsown indigenous ways and practices of storingfood for future use. These were traditional mea- INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS AND FOOD SECURITY 99sures of ensuring that the household did notsuffer from food shortage during any part of theyear. From the authors own lived experiences,the idea of msanja was very common in mostLomwe households. This was a raised, table-like structure, locally constructed of poles andsorghum stocks. The structure is fixed at thecentre of the kitchen, right above the kitchensfire place. However, the use of this technologyis no longer common. This was where millet,sorghum, unshelled nuts, and all varieties of peaswere kept. Some even used the msanja to storemaize cobs which were earmarked for seed forthe next growing season. This reveals that peo-ple of Malawi, more specifically the Lomwe, hada considerable list of indigenous grain/legumescrops on which they depend for their staple food.The reason for storing harvested crops in thisstructure was to protect them from weevils andother pests. Because fire and smoke were a per-manent feature in the kitchen, pests and rodentswere kept away from the harvested food. Thesoot coating made grains bitter and not edibleby both pests and rodents. This was not onlypriceless, cost-free technology but an effectiveway of ensuring food security. As time went by,the grains and unshelled legumes were all coat-ed with soot. Small creatures such as rodentsrefused to eat the grains because they tastedbitter. Within this area, the grains/legumes werewell protected. Apart from the msanja being usedas a safer place for grain storage, it was a cheap-er way in terms of labour. Because the msanjawas constructed using local materials, anyonewho might want to construct this item could doso. This is contrary to modern agriculture wherepesticides are far less accessible owing to finan-cial challenges. As a result, agricultural produceis sometimes destroyed by pests.This indigenous storage device may also beconsidered relatively safe from health hazards.Although much of the grain kept on the msanjabecomes coated with smoke and soot, this isless dangerous than modern ways of using pes-ticides and chemicals which have now been in-troduced. This concurs with the study conduct-ed by Matsa and Manuku (2013). The resultsreveal that the people of Matabeleland, in thesouthern province of Zimbabwe, prefer traditionalways of storage to modern ways. People inMatabeleland hold the view that using chemi-cals and pesticides is dangerous to the children,other users, and to all those who consume thetreated produce. If not properly handled, thesemodern ways of food-storage and pest-controlcan lead to fatalities.Food PreservationAs indicated earlier, the Lomwe engage insubsistence agriculture, characterized by inter-cropping. In this regard, many plants and vege-tables are grown on one piece of land. Apartfrom maize, millet, sorghum, and legumes, vege-tables are also part of this process. During thegrowing season, many areas of the country ex-perience an abundance of vegetables. Armedwith their skills, Lomwe women are involved infood preservation activities. These included pre-serving pumpkin leaves (nkhwani), bean leaves(khwanya), pea leaves (chitambe), and somewild vegetables, such as black jackal leaves (chi-soso). Vegetables were prepared and parboiled.After boiling, the vegetables were sun-dried forsome days, depending on the intensity of theinsolation. They were stored in large pots calledmtsuko, in order to maintain their flavour. Thesepots were not used for other storage; only forthese preserved vegetables. These vegetableswould be kept for over a year. This was an indig-enous knowledge from local people as a disas-ter-preparedness measure, and in maintainingfood access at all times.Not only were vegetables preserved , butpumpkin, watermelon, and cucumber seeds werealso preserved. Pumpkin seeds were dried to beused for adding to cooked vegetables in theabsence of groundnuts. When needed, driedseeds were roasted and ground to form a pow-der which couldbe added to vegetables. Hence,as argued by Maxwell (1990), food security isnot only conceptualized in terms of sufficiencyor access, but also in terms of the amount ofnutrients and calories needed for an active indi-vidual. This pumpkin-seed powder was used asa way of adding nutritional value, as well as ofenhancing the flavour of food.Cassava was another crop which was wide-ly preserved within the Lomwe tradition. As withother ethnic groups, the Lomwe were also skilledin local brewed beers. This cassava, therefore,served multiple functions. Firstly, it was used asone of the ingredients in local beer-brewing.Secondly, cassava was also used as staple food.The cassava was also harvested at its propermaturity time. To avoid wastage, it was peeled in100 GREGORY KAMWENDO AND JULIET KAMWENDOa special way, and dried on top of the kitchencounter, as were other crops such as the legumesand grain. Because the starch and water contentis high in cassava, it was left for several monthsto dry out completely. This type of dried cassa-va is called makaka. Makaka is usually cookedtogether with peas; an indigenous way of en-suring that households have access to suffi-cient and nutritious meals at all times. This dishis popular within the Lomwe society.The Lomwe people were also skilled at pre-serving fresh sweet potatoes for future use. Aswith cassava, potatoes are well known for los-ing their taste and starch if kept for a long periodin the garden after maturity. Because of this risk,the indigenous Lomwe people used to harvestthe potatoes and store them in a place callednkhuti. This was a hole/trench which was dugbehind the kitchen. The trench was situatedclose to the walls of the kitchen. This ensuredthat the shade from the kitchen roof would pro-tect nkhuti from excess rainwater seeping intoit. The potatoes were left in the sun for almost aday to ensure that they were not wet. When thetrench had been dug, it was filled with dry soiland sprinkled with ashes. This was a way ofsanitizing the area. After storing the potatoes,they were covered by another layer of ash. Thetrench was enclosed with sticks as roofing. Laidover this were dry banana leaves or dry grass.Finally, soil was placed on top, leaving holes onthe sides for access to the potatoes. By meansof this type of storage, the potatoes were keptsafe. They maintained their sweetness and couldbe kept for one year. In most cases farmers selltheir farm produce so as to avoid the risk ofdecay and waste. This brings about a situationat a later stage in which farmers cannot accesstheir own produce at government/local markets,owing to financial constraints.The Role of Women in Food Storage andPreservationAn understanding of the role of gender andthe way it affects the intrinsic value of the localknowledge-system is critical to the understand-ing, interpretation, and dissemination of indige-nous knowledge. As a result of this gender dif-ferential and specialization, the indigenousknowledge and skills held by women on food-security issues often differ from those held bymen. This differentiation affects patterns of con-trol, participation, access, and use, while result-ing in varying priorities for innovations and theuse of indigenous knowledge-systems. Womenof the Lomwe ethnic group are generally moreinvolved in subsistence agriculture activitiesthan are men. Men engage in commercial agri-culture such as the growing of tobacco, sun-flowers, and cotton. In addition, men engagewith construction work such as building, whileothers engage in the fishing industry, for whichMalawi is well known. Women are, therefore,left to conduct agricultural work, keeping thehomes, and nurturing children. Women also playa vital role in the post-harvest operations of stor-age of grain/legumes and preserving of vegeta-bles. The traditional ways of storage and pres-ervation of food in the Lomwe culture were most-ly associated with women. This is from the back-ground that most, if not all, African societies arepatriarchal, where gender roles are part of thehegemonic structure. The issues of food pro-cessing such as winnowing, seed selecting,threshing, shelling, pounding, drying, and cook-ing (preserving) were more of a womans job.Men were more concerned with constructionwork. Although the msanja was constructed bymen, women were found to be more skilled atand involved in packing the grains and legumesonto it. This is also echoed by Matsa andManuku (2013). In their study, they note thatwomen play a significant role in food security,even though they are challenged by their phys-ical and decision-making powers within patriar-chal societies. Matsa and Manuku (2013) alsoargue that there are interconnections betweenrural women and agricultural activities; howev-er, indigenous knowledge is left out of manydevelopmental policies and projects. Throughtheir indigenous knowledge of food storage andpreservation, women have contributed enor-mously to food security in many nations (seeWorld Bank 2003). This body of indigenousknowledge and initiatives ensured that food iskept well so as to avoid wastage; the food isstored for future use. This was used as a bufferfor disaster-preparedness, allowing food accessby the household anytime it is needed.CONCLUSIONThis paper has argued that indigenous knowl-edge-systems can contribute to food security.With examples drawn from Malawi, we have il- INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS AND FOOD SECURITY 101lustrated waysthrough which indigenous knowl-edgesystems can assist in food preservation andfood storage, leading to food security. Our ar-gument is the abandonment of the indigenousknowledge-systems is one of the causes of foodinsecurity.RECOMMENDATIONSIn order to turn the tables on the issue ofdropping food levels, which threatens food se-curity of most households, radical approachesbecome necessary in terms of utilization of hith-erto-abandoned indigenous ways of storage andpreservation. Firstly, indigenous knowledgepractices in specific areas have to be recognized,appreciated, and documented, so as to identifyareas which call for improvement. This kind ofintervention will ultimately improve the level ofpoverty in most communities. The gender-bal-ance innovations must also be identified andtargeted in order to maximize productivity. Thecurrent trends in food production suggest thatdevelopment strategies devoted to gender eq-uity must be formulated in improving food secu-rity. Food storage and preservation need not beunderstood narrow-mindedly as a womans duty.REFERENCESAkpabio IA, Akankpo GO 2003. Indigenous knowledgepractices and role of gender in rice production in Ini,Nigeria. Indilinga, African Journal of IndigenousKnowledge-system, 2(1): 45-52.Binauli SL 2010. Gender mainstreaming in nationalprogrammes and research: Experience Lessons learntfrom Malawi. 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