As a child in Budalang’i village, I recall feasting on either sweet potatoes or groundnuts with a cup of sorghum porridge for breakfast.
For fear of being served food last at dinner time, my cousins and I would surround my grandmother in her little grass-thatched kitchen as she prepared local fish (Ebidonge) obtained from River Nzoia, Spider plant vegetables (Erisaka) with Millet Ugali.
With our little tummies full of nutritious, healthy and locally grown food, we would then shift the attention to our grandfather for his classic one eyed ogre folk stories.
Life was enjoyable, save for the part that involved chasing the chicken to be slaughtered for dinner and food was delicious.
In just a couple of years, there has been a decline in the consumption of these foods and the diet has evolved from the healthy indigenous foods to highly processed foods such as soda, pizza, burgers and French fries, which are often high in saturated fats, sugars and salt and bring with them a bag full of health issues.
This is quite evident particularly in urban areas where most families flock to fast food joints for their meals. Rural areas are also trying to keep up with this trend, by establishing fast food joints.
A clear indication that unhealthy food is suddenly becoming cool among the rural dwellers.
This nutritional transition has seen an increase in overweight, obesity and diet-related diseases. According to the State of Food Security and World Nutrition 2019 report, by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), overweight and obesity continues to increase in all regions, particularly among school-aged children and adults.
In 2018, an estimated 40 million children under five were overweight. In 2016, 131 million children 5–9 years old, 207 million adolescents and two billion adults were overweight. About a third of overweight adolescents and adults and 44 percent of overweight children aged 5–9 were obese.
These statistics are worrying and call for an urgent shift towards the consumption of indigenous healthy foods, particularly among the younger generation, who unlike me, do not get a chance to feast on healthy home-grown food in their early years of their lives.
Indigenous foods have a myriad of benefits. They are a rich source of micronutrients, and can reduce the current number of overweight and obese individuals across the world.
Foods such as amaranth (terere), sorghum, finger millet and sweet potatoes are rich in essential nutrients such as iron, vitamins A,B and C that are essential for the human body.
Not only are they nutritious, but also drought tolerant and pest and disease resistant than their exotic counterparts.
This means their production does not rely on heavy usage of chemical fertilisers and pesticides as they are acclimatised to the local climate, thus have a minimal negative impact on the environment.
They also use indigenous farming practices such as crop rotation, intercropping and crop diversification which supports the adaptation to climate change and are rooted in biodiversity conservation. The cultivation of these foods is a source of income for the rural communities.
Despite their potential in meeting nutritional requirements, the consumption is still on a downward spiral. This is attributed to the lack of support to the local farmers that grow these foods, lack of water, land access and the lack of investment in research and advocacy to support their market penetration.
In 2020, let us raise the profile of indigenous healthy foods by supporting smallholder farmers and educating our children on the benefits of these foods, to enable them to refrain from consuming foods high in sugar, salt and fat. Let us make the consumption of indigenous foods healthy cool.
Claire Nasike food campaigner: Greenpeace Africa.