“It was the best one yet!” that was the overwhelming consensus from stall holders and visitors to the 2015 food and seed festival held in October at the Harare Botanical Gardens. People flocked from across Zimbabwe to show their products and enjoy the food, music and relaxing environment celebrating all things traditional and organic.
Botanical gardens inundated
Kombis arrived from the city centre every hour or so, filled with people eager to see the spectacle. Stall holders reported that sales were more than double that of last year and the food court eventually ran out of food as customers pounced on the various stalls to sample the traditional and fusion delights.
The door count revealed that well over 800 people came to the event including adults and kids, locals and tourists. With over 30 stalls selling products, 18 selling seeds and 13 making up the food court, it was hard for customers to choose what to buy with products ranging from energy saving stoves and solar food driers to indigenous poultry, dried fish, honey, jams, herbal teas and a wide range of legumes, grains, root and tuber crops, mushrooms, wild fruit and dried vegetables.
One day felt too short a time to explore the entire festival. While adults bombarded stall owners with questions such as how to keep quails and how to grow tsenza; kids climbed trees, played on swings and took part in the many activities at the kidszone including face painting, colouring and a water fight. The less energetic sprawled on the grass under the trees to enjoy the live bands.
As noon struck, visitors began homing in on the food court to sample unusual snacks such as kapenta pies, millet and amaranth crunches, madhumbe tacos, tsenza puffpuffs, baobab sorbet, mulberry icecream, poached quails eggs and marula nut cookies. Meals featuring guinea fowl, brown rice, finger millet and dried vegetables were popular as well as fusion food with traditional ingredients prepared in modern ways. For those who were thirsty a wide range of drinks ere available including mahewu, herbal teas and juice made from watermelon, baobab and rosella.
Exhibitors were as diverse as the products on display with high quality private sector export companies rubbing shoulders with small-holder farmers supported by NGOs.
The Zimbabwe Free Range Poultry stall attracted considerable interest with its displays of live quails and indigenous chickens. This relatively new organisation started as a WhatsApp group established by poultry producers. It has now grown into a nationwide organisation offering members online training, marketing facilities and advice through WhatsApp.
Nearby was the Zubo stall. This Binga based organisation is named after the traditional fishing baskets used by Tonga women. Zubo run a women’s kapenta rig on lake Kariba and came to the festival to showcase their high quality dried kapenta, baobab mahewu and tamarind, a wild fruit pod which can be used to flavour cooking or to make a refreshing drink.
Teas proved to be particularly popular amongst customers with organisations such as Kufunda Village and companies such as Petalili, and Speciality Foods of Africa selling beverages made from organic exotic and indigenous herbs. Organic Africa offered customers teas made from cornflower, pineapple sage, calendula, gotukola and moringa.
One of the main highlights this year was the seed fair where growers and enthusiasts could buy a wide range of farmer-saved seeds brought in from across the country, some from quite remote areas. The seed, which could be purchased with vouchers, included legumes, grains, cucurbits, fruit, root and tuber crops. Some interesting varieties were black velvet bean – a useful soil-improving groundcover, Madagascar bean – a perennial legume and Quality Protein Maize, a biofortified maize variety which contains increased amounts of protein. The Zimbabwe Small Holder Organic Farmers Forum had a particularly large display demonstrating its seed sovereignty campaign which encourages farmers to save and exchange their local seed varieties.
Several stall holders who I interviewed complained that once a year is not enough. Many farmers and organisations have nowhere to sell their products and call for something more regular such as a monthly traditional and organic farmers market to be set up in major cities across the country. Who will be the first to take up this challenge? It is clear that the demand is there.