Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 16.COM 8.c.3

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Kenya has proposed Success story of promoting traditional foods and safeguarding traditional foodways in Kenya (no. 01409) for selection and promotion by the Committee as a programme, project or activity best reflecting the principles and objectives of the Convention:

In Kenya, traditional foodways were under threat due to historical factors and the pressure of modern lifestyles. Local foods were looked down upon and were associated with poverty and backwardness. Understanding that a decline in food diversity and knowledge would have serious ramifications on health and on food and nutrition insecurity, in 2007 Kenya committed to safeguarding related practices and expressions. Two main initiatives were launched, in collaboration with scientists and community groups. The first involved inventorying traditional foods, with a focus on traditional vegetables. About 850 indigenous plants with local names were recorded. This was followed by the detailed documentation of use and related indigenous knowledge (including recipes) and practices (such as ceremonies). Finally came rigorous promotion of the foods. For the second initiative, UNESCO in partnership with the Department of Culture and the International and National Museums of Kenya, and in consultation with community leaders, initiated a pilot project to identify and inventory traditional foodways in partnership with primary school children to raise awareness about the threat to traditional foodways. Both initiatives have since led to other related activities carried out independently by local institutions, and several similar initiatives have been launched among other communities in Kenya, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso.

  1. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the programme responds as follows to the criteria for selection as a good safeguarding practice in paragraph 7 of the Operational Directives:

P.1:  The programme is comprised of two safeguarding initiatives involving the promotion of traditional foods and safeguarding foodways in Kenya, namely: “The African leafy vegetables and traditional foods diversification activities” (1996-2011) and “Safeguarding the traditional foodways of two communities in Kenya” (2009-2012). The programme was designed in direct response to the threats to traditional foodways brought on by historical factors and modern lifestyles, and which resulted in a noticeable decline in food diversity and knowledge associated with these foods. Both projects capitalized on community research methodologies to inventory traditional foods, with an emphasis on vegetables, and to document and inventory traditional foodways with the participation of primary school students in two communities.

P.2:  Both safeguarding initiatives in the file involved coordination efforts between government and non-governmental institutions, universities, community-based organizations, as well as international bodies on the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage. Although the projects were conducted with specific communities in Kenya, the experiences were shared, adopted and scaled-up by other institutions at the regional level in Kenya, as well as at the international levels in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso.

P.3:  The project on documenting traditional foodways, in particular, that was implemented in Isukha and Pokot aimed to promote the intergenerational exchange of knowledge and practices relating to traditional foodways to ensure continuity of the element. The project also sought to promote respect for the traditional foodways within the communities through documentation activities that were conducted by students at community food fairs. The project furthermore raised awareness about intangible cultural heritage at the local, national and international levels through food fairs and symposia, as well as through print and digital publications that aimed to share content about the programme and the experiences of communities. Overall, the programme recognizes that communities have an important role to play and has involved the community in all stages of its implementation. Altogether the programme reflects the spirit of the Convention by encouraging and promoting the intergenerational transmission of knowledge, respect for cultural diversity and the contribution of intangible cultural heritage to sustainable development.

P.4:  Through its methodological approach, the file demonstrates the effectiveness of the programme in enhancing awareness about traditional foods and foodways in Kenya. Documentation activities conducted with the communities concerned, including the involvement of women, led to the production of a 700-page record of food culture among the Mijikenda of coastal Kenya, as well as a database of 800 species of wild and cultivated food plants and associated recipes. The file notes that promotion and awareness-raising initiatives are correlated to a notable increase in traditional foods found in markets and restaurants. The selling of vegetables has also grown steadily, and traditional foods have re-emerged to epitomize cultural pride and good health. In addition, training and capacity-building initiatives have contributed to an increase in the number of university courses on traditional foods.

P.5:  The communities concerned were involved at all stages of the project in the documentation of traditional foods and vegetables across coastal Kenya. The documentation of the indigenous knowledge surrounding the use of the bottle gourd in Kitui was led by the Kyanika Adult Women's Group and involved the participation of women. The communities concerned were fully involved in the local food fairs and street campaigns to promote respect for the traditional foods and to showcase their food diversity and value. The file shows how different activities involved in project planning and implementation were conducted in consultation with the communities concerned and with their free, prior and informed consent.

P.6:  The file indicates that the safeguarding approaches of both projects could be applicable at regional and international levels and serve as a model for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. The model could serve as a source of inspiration in the following areas: working with communities, changing attitudes through evidence-based approaches, demonstrations through cooking and food fairs, identifying opportunities to sustain knowledge sharing, involving youth and identifying institutions to champion the issue of sustainability. The file shows how such approaches could also be applied to other fields relating to indigenous knowledge, such as traditional medicine and health systems.

P.7:  The submitting State and the implementing body (National Museums of Kenya), as well as researchers and community representatives involved in the project, were contacted about and reaffirmed their willingness to cooperate in the dissemination of this good practice. The file indicates that many of the group representatives are furthermore in strong support of being able to share their work with the international community. Some of the results of the efforts of the project have already been shared in various ways, such as through print and online publications.

P.8:  The file indicates that the results of this activity are susceptible to an assessment through publications, the collection of stories from key stakeholders and previous impact assessments. Previous evaluations of the project on the African leafy vegetables and traditional foods diversification activities showed increased interest in African leafy vegetables, along with their production, consumption and marketing. The evaluation found that one of the project’s main results was the significant change in people’s attitudes towards traditional vegetables and local foods by 2006, and the increased public consumption at the household level and in restaurants of such vegetables.

P.9:  This programme is applicable to the needs of developing countries in a number of ways as it can be used to address food security concerns, encourage food diversification, revive and safeguard foodways and their associated knowledge, enhance opportunities for income generation, and teach community-based documentation and inventorying skills. Actions similar to those taken in Kenya are needed to safeguard foodways, which may be under threat in other developing countries.

  1. Decides to select Success story of promoting traditional foods and safeguarding traditional foodways in Kenya as a programme, project or activity best reflecting the principles and objectives of the Convention;
  2. Commends the State Party for a well-prepared file that can serve as a concrete, attainable example of a safeguarding model around traditional food and foodways that can be applied and adapted to other settings facing similar challenges around a decline in traditional foods;
  3. Encourages the State Party to take note of the gender dimensions of the safeguarding programme and to ensure equitable participation of all community members regardless of their gender, age or any other factors.