A love of life and the land
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CTA. 1999. A love of life and the land. Spore 83. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/46546
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore83.pdf
Globalisation is making its mark on our food through more and more products which seem to be more and more the same. At the same time, the market for 'local foods' is growing apace in many countries to the great delight of consumers yearning for...
Globalisation is making its mark on our food through more and more products which seem to be more and more the same. At the same time, the market for 'local foods' is growing apace in many countries to the great delight of consumers yearning for authenticity at their table. Where do things stand in the ACP countries? Paul Bom Kondé, Didier Chabrol and José Muchnik chew the fat together. How are ACP countries being affected by this convergence of food tastes? José Muchnik Tastes and products are converging, but the way people eat and identify with food are not. Take the example of Coca Cola, a highly symbolic example, which has sort of become part of local food culture. People drink it with yam stew in Côte d'Ivoire, or with millet couscous in Senegal. Paul Bom Kondé That's as may be, but in ACP countries this convergence is manifested better by products like tomato paste, canned sardines or mackerel, corned beef or lager beer. They are held in high esteem by many people, especially those who developed a taste for them when abroad, and they are even more highly valued than they in fact deserve. But their mass production means that they are available at low prices, and they do keep and travel well. So they are very competitive with local products. Didier Chabrol There's no denying that there is a major trend of tastes converging, but at the same time there is another trend: people are looking for products which evoke local values. In fact no-one eats only one product, and there is a tendency towards diversifying what we eat. At noon a person may eat canned sardines or pasta with tomato paste, and in the evening s/he will want to eat a dish of gari or foutou from back home. J.M. You see, food is more than a question of proteins, carbohydrates and so on. It has to do with a feeling, it's in the imagination, it binds people. Food is a point of reference which everyone can recognise and share. We grow up in a given place, but also in the context of a language, and a food. In Europe people are reacting to convergence by standing up for 'local foods', what the French call 'terroir', or 'of the land'. How do you define this concept? J. M. It's a complex notion, embracing the soil, climate, rain, sunshine - and it also has a cultural and social dimension. D.C. There's an objective element to it. Actually, it's a collection of biological factors : in any given place, a certain plant will grow a certain way. But the cultural and social dimension encompasses skills and knowledge which have developed over time. J.M. Right, this land thing, it's not just about a place, but about peoples' knowledge and their memories of that place. D.C. Those countries where the concept is less well known the Anglo-Saxon world for example have developed their industry at the cost of their agriculture, and in so doing they have cut their ties with the land. Since 1830 these countries have, broadly speaking, imported most of their food. Latin countries, on the other hand, like France, Spain or Italy, have maintained and nurtured the conditions which are the basis of the emotional, cultural and social role of the concept. Do you think that this concept could be used or promoted in ACP countries? D.C. There isn't enough historical basis for the concept to replicate the way it works in some European countries. Put simply, local consumption patterns do not go back far enough. P.B.K. Travel is an important factor in enhancing the position of local products. They do get exported of course to other regions, but they also sell locally to consumers who come looking for them. In this sense, the concept of local products from the land can also mean a land of welcomes. This is what drove the growth of traditional products like aklui (a gruel mix made from maize) in Benin, or sorghum beer. Do you foresee growth in food trade, technology transfer and exchange of recipes between ACP countries and regions? P. B.K. The example of atiéké (cassava couscous) in Côte d'Ivoire is a good one; it is the best known of all atiékés. It is produced by a community in Abidjan, and its popularity comes from the demand driven by migrants returning to their countries of origin after spending some time in the big city. A product gets promoted first by migration, and then by marketing. D.C. But you have to make sure that products are clearly identifiable not only by the packaging but also by their labelling. If you want your chocolate to come from SaoTomé, you want to be sure that it does. What changes are in store for farmers and consumers, given these exchanges of food and enhancement of local products? P.B.K. Let's be clear about one thing: most people in ACP countries eat what they produce. But about 35% of the population it varies widely from country to country now have urbanised eating habits, and are in a position to choose. D.C. Our tastes are globalising, no doubt about that. The fascination of local products is just marginal for the consumer. Marginal yes, but it should not be neglected: in France, people eat oysters from the Atlantic and wine from the Champagne region over a short period of a few days at the end of the year. A great many producers have latched on to this very specific demand and live the whole year from selling 80% of their production in just a few days. The point is that a model of consumption does not need to be widespread for a producer to make a living from it. Therein lies an opportunity for ACP countries to grasp.