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October 31, 2010

Senegal: Re-igniting an interest in local food

After journalism school in Senegal,  Seck Madieng worked for the government. But he says, I wanted to do “something real. I didn’t want to be a bureaucrat.”  He left his job and started AgriInfos, the only Senegalese newspaper to focus entirely on agriculture, food, and healthy diets. “I’m interested in going into villages, talking to farmers, seeing how they work, how they eat. I’m trying to understand why they are poor and why they are hungry,” says Madieng.

In 2007, Madieng started the Mangeons Local, or Eat Locally, along with a local chef, Bineta Diallo, project in two schools in Dakar. Their goals? To teach students how foods were made and who grew and prepared them. Most urban residents in Dakar depend on foods made not in Senegal, but from Europe.

But their lessons aren’t just theoretical, they also teach students how to cook. According to Diallo, for many students it’s the first time some students have ever prepared or cooked food. Instead of baguettes and imported canned foods, the children are learning how to cook cereals and grains, including local rice varieties, fonio (a small grain typically used in couscous), millet, and sorghum. And rather than drinking milk out of boxes imported from Amsterdam, they’re learning how good local milk can taste, as well as all of the things that can be made from dairy products, including crème, cheese, and butter.

Children are the best communication vehicles to parents, according to Madieng and Diallo. They bring the skills they learn at school home, helping to improve their families’ diets. Mangeons Local also celebrates at the end of the school year with a big party highlighting local foods that parents, students, teachers, and the community can all attend. In addition to local food and juices, they play music from Senegalese musicians and singers, including Grammy winner Youssou N’Dour and Ismael Lo, and Bill Yiakhou, who all sing about agriculture.

Mangeons Local gets some support from Slow Food International, but all the staff are volunteers, which limits the number of schools who can participate in the program.

World Watch

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