Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Kenyan Obsession with Maize

Photo: Girls taking maize off the cobb for drying and storage.

The Kenyan obsession with maize could be its undoing. People don't feel they have eaten until they have had some maize, either ugali, a bit like tasteless polenta, or mahindi, a bit like tasteless sweetcorn. True, ugali and mahindi can be filling. They give you a blast of starch and they go nicely with other foods. But they have little nutritional value, apart from the starch.

I feel a bit guilty for criticizing people for being so attached to their staple food. After all, maize yield can be very high per hectare, it's easy to plant and reap and you can get two crops a year in many areas. But there are other foods that are also easy to grow and have similar advantages. And a mixture of foods is better, especially if some of the foods commonly eaten contain some protein and some vitamins. I know staples are expensive, but there are foods that have higher nutritional value than maize. You can just buy buy less of them.

People have been raised on maize, fair enough. But they don't have to raise their children purely on maize. The very fact that maize prices are high at the moment means that it is cost effective to buy some other foodstuffs. So it's a good time to change, just slowly and just a little bit.

As for diversity, the dependence of Kenyans on a small number of crops means that they are particularly susceptible to reduced diversity. Aiming for better yields means that traditional varieties are being dispensed with in favour of seeds from multinational food corporations. They are often sold these seeds on the grounds that they will be drought resistant, high yielding, more nutritious, etc. But this process means that countries like Kenya become less self-reliant and more dependent as they lose diversity. This means that, in the long run, they will suffer more from the effects of drought, climate change, pests, diseases and many other problems. Sphere: Related Content

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