Last month, representatives from the health, education, agriculture and hospitality sectors met to discuss the results of a survey carried out in Harare on traditional food and discuss ways to put real, healthy traditional Zimbabwean food back on the table in homes and restaurants. The participants were treated to a delicious meal made from local ingredients cooked in some unconventional ways.

Food survey results

A food survey initiated by BioInnovation Zimbabwe and the Traditional and Organic Food Forum was carried out in Harare during May 2016 using questionnaires from shoppers at two supermarkets and diners at three restaurants. Spokespersons from health, marketing, media and hospitality sectors were also questioned. The 61 survey participants (mainly women between the age of 26 and 35) were asked a range of questions.

All respondents had positive things to say about traditional food noting an increase in consumption of traditional foods especially among the elite. Most voiced concern about the modern Zimbabwean diet and the negative effects of processed foods, food additives and fast foods.

Most respondents (83%) associated eating traditional food with health benefits saying that it is nutritious, natural, unprocessed and additive-free and relieves conditions including diabetes, hypertension, cancer and HIV. Cultural pride and nostalgia about a rural childhood were also reasons for consumption of traditional foods however only 20% said they found traditional food tasty and filling.

Most respondents (80%) eat traditional food at home while 17% usually eat it at restaurants and 80% said they eat traditional food once per week. Most get their food from local markets (70%), while more than half also receive traditional food as gifts from family and friends. Other sources included supermarkets (38%) and growing food at home (43%).

Rate of consumption of traditional Foods

Types of foods eaten

The types of traditional foods most commonly consumed are vegetables especially pumpkin leaves and cowpea leaves. Grains were also popular, with finger millet being consumed by 80% of respondents. Sweet potato is preferred to cassava while groundnuts, peanut butter and roundnuts (nyimo) were all popular. Mopane worms were favoured over other insects by 45% of respondents. The most popular fruits are mazhanje, mauyu and tsubvu.

Some (especially restaurant-diners) said they like food cooked in a real traditional way such as on a fire. Others felt that cooking methods should be modernised to widen people’s interest.

Barriers to eating traditional food

Lack of availability of products and high price were major barriers to eating traditional food. A contradiction was found in that some said that only the elite can afford traditional food but others associate it with poverty.  Lack of knowledge on how to prepare traditional food was noted by 25% of respondents. A few said that traditional food has an unpleasant taste, particularly cleome (nyeve) and amaranth (mowa).

Some key informants noted that while farmers are getting low prices for traditional products, vendors and retailers are putting on a huge mark-up. This discourages farmers from growing traditional crops thus reducing availability and driving the price up further. Respondents also showed concern about the way food is grown with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides which compromises taste and health aspects.

How to increase traditional food consumption

The survey suggested that traditional foods would be eaten more often if there was more information on how to cook them giving the nutritional content of the ingredients. Changing perceptions on traditional foods through advertising and awareness campaigns is needed. Key informants noted the need to introduce traditional food to children at a young age.

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The roundtable participants concurred with the survey findings and felt that a wide range of different strategies should be put forward for different foods. They suggested targeting the education sector using such tactics as encouraging school nutrition clubs, targeting teachers and giving parents ideas for healthier lunch boxes. Doctors and patients were another target with the idea that leaflets on traditional foods should be produced for patients suffering from diabetes and hypertension. The media (especially radio) was a popular tool cited for disseminating information. Dr Mangwiro (head of the Zimbabwe Diabetes Association) played the song which he has recorded to promote a better diet for people with diabetes. Other innovative ideas included developing Zimbabwean street food, healthy snacks and takeway dishes that would appeal to urban Zimbabweans using traditional ingredients in new and innovative ways.

After the discussion participants were treated to a delicious lunch of traditional ingredients cooked in imaginative ways. Drinks served included: zumbani, rosella and makoni teas, flavoured baobab drinks, and zumbani iced tea. The starter was a spicy roasted sweet potato and coconut soup, with fresh coriander, roasted marula and mongongo nuts and popped amaranth toppings, served with marula nut bread rolls. Mains included mopane worm relish, dried meat (biltong) in marula nut butter, roasted roadrunner chicken, mixed salad with roasted nuts and popped amaranth and pearl millet taboulé – nyimo bean salad. The dessert was a carrot cake with nuts and baobab powder-mascarpone cheese frosting.

The participants left feeling energised and re-fuelled, ready to tackle the nationwide promotion of traditional food.

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Anna Brazier

Anna Brazier is the editor of Naturally Zimbabwean. She was born in Zambia but has lived most of her life in Zimbabwe. She has a BSc in Ecology and an MSc in Sustainable Development and works as a consultant promoting sustainable agriculture, nutrition, traditional foods and community resilience in Africa and beyond. She lives in Harare with her husband and three children.