How do we popularise the traditional cereals? : Dialogue with Smart Food Ambassadors

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Emmanuelle Bastide: “How do we popularise the traditional cereals like millet and sorghum as well as beans and peanuts which are good for agriculture, us and the planet. These ingredients seem to have been left behind by our youth. But today we will speak to chefs who use different types of flours like millet and sorghum flours in baking as well as using these traditional foods in many ways. These cakes all look delicious. “

Guests are:

  • Chef Aisstou M’Baye, Blogger from Senegal, Author of Aistou Cuisine Blog, based in Paris
  • Chef Fatou Meite, Event Catering “O Gourmet Delights, Ivory Coast
  • Chef Anto Cocagne, Private Chef, and Consultant Afro-cooking Magazine, based in France
  • Chef Mick Elysee, Private TV Chef based in London, from Republic of Congo, based in London
  • Agathe Diama, from the scientific research organization, ICRISAT, and the regional coordinator of Smart Food in West and Central Africa

Caller: Today we find imported cereals like spaghetti and rice filling our plates. What a shame we have left behind the rich home grown cereals like millet and sorghum which are filling and good for us. Instead we are opting for imported cereals and just using the traditional ones as porridge.’

Chef: It’s a paradox. The imported cereals are even ending up cheaper than millet and sorghum so this does not help. Also people have forgotten how to cook these cereals which are really more nutrient rich. The normal reaction is ‘oh no not another grandma recipe – a porridge- we don’t want that’.

Chef: And that is why we are here to show you that no, we don’t just make porridge from millet…there is so much more you can do!” “Imported cereals go through a lot more processing which means they are faster to cook and as the traditional cereals are more ‘brut’ ‘coarse’, they take longer to cook or are just cooked as a porridge.”

Emmanuelle Bastide: And that is exactly why you are all here with me today. How do we re value these traditional foods?

Agathe Diama from ICRISAT and the regional coordinator of Smart Food in West and Central Africa is online and is at the millet festival in Niamey in Niger in northern Africa.

Agathe Diama: Smart Food has 3 criteria – Good for you, the planet and the farmer. The fact that it’s particularly pertinent in Niger which like the rest of Sahel in Africa, undergoes a lot of drought periods and smart foods are particularly adapted to these climates.

Emmanuelle Bastide: So why are these cereals not produced more, if they are well adapted?

Agathe Diama : They were consumed more in the past and popular then but over time, customs changed and people turned towards other cereals like rice and wheat and are not aware of the nutritional qualities of millet and sorghum.

Emmanuelle Bastide : Perhaps also people don’t know how to cook it quickly and that puts them off.  Why is there a millet festival in Niger?

Agathe Diama: Because of the lack of interest in millet cultivation and the value chain in the past, the government is now making a big push to revalue millet and along with the First Lady, sending a clear message about its importance. Today is the opening of the festival and we have a call from the First Lady to ‘eat local, eat millet, eat sorhum’ as these are cereals cultivated in the country and don’t need to be imported. And why we chose Niger, it’s because it’s one of the countries most hit by droughts.

We have noticed a rise in interest since we started working with chefs and food bloggers. There are consumers who ask where they can source these, and how can we cook it quicker.

Emmanuelle Bastide : Isn’t the argument of eating locally more important and a stronger message (and more precious to the consumer) than the nutrition side, as honestly it’s easier to say we should invest back into our own economies rather than the health argument as that is harder to see the benefits of in the short term?

Agathe Diama: Yes it is and that is why we are promoting small holder farmers and the value chain, but nutrition is also very important.

Emmanuelle Bastide: [turns to the chefs and asks] How do you feel to be part of this big movement, trying to help the farming sector.

Aisatou M’Baye:  I am delighted to be part of this, especially as it meant researching about foods a lot and working with my mum. My mum told me about sorghum popcorn that they had when they were young. I had not realised you could pop sorghum! And it’s brilliant as it’s great for kids too as the popped sorghum is mini and looks cute. We can also make granola, muesli and many more products with it.

Chef Anto:  It is good to use various communication channels such as African weddings to show the value of these foods. After being asked to do the campaign, I became a ‘chemist’ almost, as I know the cereals by name but not more than that. So, I began testing different ways to cook them at home to see what worked well. These cereals are gluten free which is very trendy now in Europe. When my clients ask for gluten free, I offer them sorghum cupcakes or chocolate fondant. They ask what flour that is and they are surprised it comes from Africa as they think we only eat rice there.

Emmanuelle Bastide: Agathe, can you tell us more about the festival?

Agathe Diama: We have the entire value chain represented here; we have tasting stations, cooking sessions, we have farmers bringing their local varieties from the villages. A visitor to the stand read the flyer said that he didn’t know it was good for diabetes. So, there is a real communication effort going on as these are gluten-free and diabetes-friendly cereals. These are important in Europe but also in Africa.

Emmanuelle Bastide : We need to get to the serious subject of tasting these delicious foods in front of us in the studio and I invite the audience to call in with their recipes and interact with the chefs.

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Posted on

February 21, 2019

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