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Indigenous methods of food preparation: what is their impact on food security and nutrition?

Dear FSN Forum members,

I am very happy to be the facilitator of this online discussion on indigenous methods of food preparation. I must highlight that this forum held an interesting previous discussion on how indigenous knowledge systems can be used to improve agricultural productivity and food security among rural poor communities. However, we did not touch on how communities use this knowledge that is passed from generation to generation to prepare their food and the possible implications on the socio-economic dynamics of a typical rural household.

Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Edward Mutandwa and I am a graduate research assistant at Mississippi State University’s College of Forestry in the US. I have previously worked in Rwanda at the Higher Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (French acronym ISAE), a public institution focusing on improvement of rural livelihoods. During that time I had the opportunity to work with rural communities and this current topic emanates from those experiences. I have also personally seen how some methods like using grass, soil and ash can be useful in preserving sweet potatoes (article in African Studies Quarterly, Vol. 9, No 3, 2007). Before going any further, it is important to define indigenous knowledge. It is the knowledge that is unique to a given culture and provides a basis for local-level decision making in agriculture, health care, food preparation, education, natural-resource management, and a host of other activities in rural communities (Warren 1991, Flavier et al 1995, , Kolawole, 2001, Maikhuri, et al, 1999). Unfortunately, this knowledge is usually not taken seriously as a viable alternative for ensuring food security and nutrition. Many people rely on methods based on the scientific approach and thus IKS may be at the verge of extinction. 

Rwanda is a small country in East Africa which has experienced tremendous strides in the areas of agricultural and food security. At the same time, culture and tradition still remain vivid aspects of their day to day lives. There are some very popular foods like “isombe” which is prepared from cassava leaves. However, one thing that is striking about this delicacy is the seemingly high opportunity cost of time that women spend preparing it. It can actually be prepared for 5 or more hours (grinding) and then an extra 2 to 3 hours of cooking. There are other food classes in the same category. This has several implications on household socio-economic setup. First, since food preparation is done by women, the amount of labour time available for other activities in the household is limited. Since the household operates under constrained optimization conditions, what can be done to ensure efficient use of limited labour resources? Secondly, after spending so much time from grinding leaves to cooking, it is not clear whether the nutritional content is maintained or reduced. Third, it would be interesting to see if there are any formalized studies carried out to determine the nutritional contents of foods prepared in an indigenous way.

Let me state the questions of interest more formally:

More broadly can we consider indigenous methods of food preparation as a viable means for achieving food security and nutrition in rural poor communities? I am specifically interested in hearing from the diverse base of FSN Forum members on the following issues:

  1. Are there any lively examples of indigenous methods of food preparation and how do they influence food security and nutrition? Formal published research will be welcome on this point
  2. What informal strategies have been put in place by local communities to ensure that this knowledge is not lost?
  3.  What is the perception of formal public institutes in your country towards integrating IKS in food preparation programs? Are there any opportunities for modifying some methods for example for child nutrition based programs?
  4. If indeed indigenous methods are important, what can governments do to create incentives for their continued use?

I would like to thank you in advance for taking your time to participate in this discussion.


This discussion is now closed. Please contact for any further information.

Klaus Juergen Seelig Private Healing Consultant, Indonesia
Klaus Juergen Seelig

Reading the comments from Uganda & India gives me the opportunity to re-enter in to Discussion of Food Safety for Health.

This is a very interesting aspect of food safety and security, wrapping meat for boiling in Banana/leaves (as I have seen it done in Indonesia, too) and even using various leaves of the forest as supportive vegetables (as I have seen it been practiced in some areas of Germany at the end and after the end of WW2).Even using fleshy Grasses collected from unfertilized meadows & borders of paths, roads & near walls, like parts of plants like of Dandelion (before coming up with flowers, they tend to turn bitter at that stage), used as vegetables eaten raw with lemon- or orange-juice and beech-corn-oil as products of the forest or stinging nettles (boiled like spinach).

Almost anything grown as fresh leaves will be known to the eldest ladies living around those places to be edible and tasteful, (some, very few may be bitter and even less will be poisonous, so it's worth while to make a list with shapes of leaves recommended for eating, and to watch the animals!).

Basically most buds, leaves and fruits of the forest are in accordance with and can be accepted by the metabolism of vertebrates which all originated from the forest. Most Plants in any Forest (>90% since 400 Mio years) belong to the eldest sort of Photosynthetic plants, the so called C3-type Plant-Species, which form a Glucose able to be transformed into long-term lasting lignin and wood. As the heavier isotopes in the organic chemical compounds disturb the enyzme-reactions, these C3- species contain two beneficial enzymes, Rubisco and Co-Enzyme A which deselect against those heavier isotopes of the organics matter. This means that both the heavier and the super-heavy and partially even radioactive Isotopes (of Hydrogen: 3T* & Carbon:14C*)  and the damaging ROS-Sorts, which signalizes "heavier Reactive Oxygen-Species" (17O & 18O) are slightly but for Consumer's Health very significantly reduced in the biomass and their fruits as Products formed by C3-Plants. Formerly Wheat, Rye, Oats, Rice and Barley,  Potatoes, Sugarbeet and all Berries, Cherries, Prunes and Plums, Apples and Pears, Dates and Figs and Oranges and Lemons used to belong to that C3-Sort, producing Dextrose or Grape-Sugar as their common basic Product of Photosynthesis.

So C3-Biomass can be built safer and slightly less "contaminated" with the naturally mutagenic radioactive particles [which because of their relatively long (12 yrs as 3T*) and extremely long radioactive half-life-time (5320 14C*) for >  220 Generations).

Such C3-leaves and -fruits (mostly) are of better Health-Promoting Quality as C3-Products for most vertebrates- [except.for Koala-Bears and Pandas who like best and thrive best on their old and only delicatessen as special leaves (Eucalyptus and Bamboo, resp.].

The other big sort of younger food-plants (arising since 4 Million Years) are called C4-Species and are derived from rather fast growing & relatively draught-resistant papyrus-forming Savannah-Plants.

C4-Plants which happen to have lost the Rubisco-Enyzme and take up more of all Carbon-Dioxides in the air and even of the heavy "brackish' water left (after partial evaporation of the lighter parts of the Water after rainfall).
And as these savannah-derived plants cannot form lignin and glycogen [which alone is able to be turned into long lasting wood  and cellulose and fertilizing Humus] their fruits contain the same heavier particles whether it be derived from Millet, or Corn or Sorghum or Cane Their primary sugar is like the Corn-derived Fructose, which may be processed by yeast into an alcohol, the effect of which however has a different metabolism in Liver, Brain and Pancreas.

In those Countries [of Africa, India and South-America], where these fruits are (and still have to be) used as Staple food for the Population, the greatly balancing benefit for the health of the people used to be that the animals [whose meat was used for sustaining the raw-material of protein for the body's build-up for Enzymes] were not allowed to be fed on Corn or Melasse, or Sorghum or Millet, but they had to run about looking for grass, leaves, buds of bushes and trees (C3-Species !!) thus being able to help the Humans to cope with the food on C4 basis and thus to keep the ROOS-species as low as possible. The Beans and Peas used to fill-up C3-Protein too.

As now off recently most of Human Food-Protein being produced by Animals, raised on feedlots being on natural C4(Corn)-Basis or on transgene/C3-->C4- GMO-Soya Basis  the now amply available Animal-Protein is derived from short-lived and force-fed animals , specially bred and fed for the cheap and huge Market.  But as Basis for the partially sick and starved Population and their hoped for and needed safe & healthy Enyzmes there is mostly & amply supplied Animal Protein which strictly speaking ought to be marked as mostly and generally C4-type Food.

The Typical Connotion of the Fodder of the animal is the typical Connotion of the C4-fodder given for High Weight-Gain and Extreme-Milk-Production in shortest time possible. 

If this practice was scrutinated and thoroughly investigated this may be found to be sickening the animals and  -eventually on long-term consumption without sufficient C3-Substrates-  sickening even the Human Consumers.  Same can be seen on Pets as dogs and cats.

Even the horses, if fed on (lignin-deficient-) C4sorts of grass [as in parts of Australia] they suffer [and may die if fodder is not altered] of a Diabetes-like Symptomatic disorder called  "Fodder-depending Laminitis". 

The Cows kept in Confined Animal Feeding Organization for BGH enhanced Milk-Production at Cost of high turnover of Life (3-5 yrs maximally) have to be "exchanged" as soon as their Milk-production declines, as first sign of metabolic disorders following enhanced feeding of specially energy-dense feedlots for force-fed-productivity.

Near this turning point of life to death it may be shown, that one spoonful of  Corn-oil could turn such a borderline-ketotic animal into a manifest-ketosis-sick Cow-  which might   -if the owner decided to keep it alive-  cost more than prospected product-value and the market value of their (sickened) body's meat.

So the best Option is in deed take available leaves for fresh vegetables, reduce the amount of C4 Products for animal feedlots, diversify and increase small holding farmers with protein-supply holding animals that can live on grass and foresteal products  (Rabbits, goats and sheep, fowl & ducks) and see for supply on staple food of C3-Plant-Products as far as possible.

Leave and Mark C4-Supply as Emergency-Food only, not for long-term sole supply for the YOPI-Group of Consumers [Young,Old, Pregnant & Immune Disturbed, the Starved &Sick].,

Food is to be supplied as means to build up Health and Forces to Survive, not to create Patients depending for survival on medical Pills or Preparations in Stock.

Then and only then with natural supplies of every country where available the threat of Pandemic Metabolic Syndrome may be averted by the natural resources available in most countries.The urgent need of the starved should best be met with surplus of natural harvests not from the triple use GMO which was produced aiming at either Kerosene-Supply, or Animal feed used under dire Emergency-Conditions as Short-term GMO-Supply for Human Food like Corn- and transgene C3àC4 Soya based  Emergency-Food. J. Seelig
Germany / Indonesia

Bronwen Gillespie ACF Spain, Peru

Blood Charqui in the Peruvian Andes

Recent surveys show that up to 75% of children under three suffer from anemia in the rural Peruvian Highlands. Because of low uptake of government multi-micronutrients, in part due to cultural factors, ACF Spain in Peru (Action Against Hunger) is working to identify traditional production and consumption practices with implications for the availability of iron in the diet as part of an intervention to reduce childhood anemia developed along with Peru’s Ministry of Health.

Fieldworkers have unearthed the almost-forgotten traditional technique of blood “charqui”, that is, the boiling and drying of animal blood for later consumption. Though blood charqui is no longer practiced, preparing blood-based dishes after slaughtering animals (fried blood with potatoes, blood sausage) is highly culturally acceptable, even if consumption has declined as urban influence grows. In the last generation blood has begun to be treated as waste and fed to dogs. Blood drying is a very simple technique, requiring no special resources or infrastructure, especially as families are accustomed to drying meat. Given that animals are infrequently slaughtered (they represent family savings) and the cost of meat is prohibitive, blood charqui is an iron-rich ingredient that can be stored by mothers and cooked especially for toddlers, without extra cost (while, in contrast, dried meat is quickly consumed as a snack by all family members). Drinking blood is seen by older generations as a cure for “weakness” and the idea that consuming blood helps to strengthen children’s blood makes sense within traditional systems of knowledge.

Working with local mothers, ACF is compiling recipes that make use of cooked blood (for example a very popular dessert – blood mousse) and dried blood (dried blood ground into powder can be added to many recipes to increase iron intake). Mothers who have experience in this blood conservation technique are working to re-value this ancestral practice in other regions of the Highlands, carrying out interactive cooking demonstrations.

Bronwen Gillespie
ACF (Action Against Hunger) Spain


I believe Nepali Gundruk (silage popularly of brassica species e.g. radish and Chinese cabbage) making knowledge and conservation practice are relevant to share in this discussion.

1.            Are there any lively examples of indigenous methods of food preparation and how do they influence food security and nutrition?

Formal published research will be welcome on this point. Gundruk making requires practices of fermentation and drying of moderately green leaves of the vegetables. The Nepalese farmers used to preparing and preserving the food item in the vegetable seasons, and eating in vegetable scarcity seasons. It contributes to nutrition not only by preserving nutrients but also by increasing taste by adding aroma. The product is rich in iron and very useful for reproductive women. The vegetable preservation method was popular and important in old days because farmers had limited or no access to green vegetables during off seasons. However, household importance of the food preservation practice has been declining with increasing production of green vegetable all round the year.

2.            What informal strategies have been put in place by local communities to ensure that this knowledge is not lost?

Based on my knowledge, communities are not organized to ensure that this knowledge is not lost. However, the knowledge has been conserved in communities. Nowadays people accustomed to the taste of the Gundruk like to eat it even if they have enough access to green vegetable all round the year. People migrated overseas also like to eat the product. Even some children who have grown up overseas like to have its soup as they took up the taste for the product from their parents. However, some people do not know to produce the product overseas.

They ask parents, relatives or friends about the method of producing it. If they cannot produce themselves they ask family to send some as a gift for them. Nowadays the product carries a special Nepali identity. Thus some restaurants have included the soup of the product in their menu. Therefore if senior generation give some experience or taste of the product to new generations the local knowledge of producing or preparing is likely to pass informally to the next generation.

Thank you for reading my opinion.


B. Dhakal

Salomón Salcedo FAO, Chile
FSN Forum

Dear Mr. Mutandwa,

Thank you for posting the question related to indigenous methods of food preparation and their impact on food security and nutrition. Yesterday we posted links to our FORSANDINO project (2007-2011) on the forum, which took place in the countries of Ecuador and Peru. We would like to provide a specific example from the project, of the project’s work with the Puruway peoples of Ecuador, as a positive example of how to utilize the knowledge of indigenous peoples in the fight against food insecurity, malnutrition, and poverty.

The project sought to revive and disseminate ancestral Andean skills, knowledge and agricultural practices, recognizing their importance for the sustainability of local production systems. The key processes of training and exchange were part of the project´s annual operating plan, but their content was adapted to suit the needs of the beneficiaries, which evolved as the project progressed. The project was limited in duration, so as to facilitate and enhance on-going processes in the community, instead of leading the communities through the process through predefined activities.

The process began by raising awareness in the communities and other indigenous organizations of the province of Chimborazo, Ecuador about the importance of recovering and valuing the Puruway peoples´ traditional crops and farming practices. Workshops were held to have the community members define goals for their communities. The project’s framework called for the selection of community leaders, and these leaders, or chakareros, were selected by the members of the community.

Within the Puruway nation, the chakareros have traditionally served as the wise elders and role models for the community, knowledgeable about the agriculture of the region. They have also organized the distribution of food within the community. While the chakareros had continued to be present in their communities, their presence had been weakened over time by structural changes that had happened in the communities over many years.

Receiving crucial support from COMICH, the Confederation of the Indigenous Movement of Chimborazo, the FORSANDINO project created opportunities for Puruway community members to gather and preserve the knowledge of the chakareros through the creation of the Council of Chakareros. The exchange of experiences between chakareros and the community was one of the Council´s main tools to improve the community´s agricultural production. The FORSANDINO project supported the chakareros by providing training and connecting them to the community. It also encouraged them to not only maintain their farms, but improve them through the training they had received to be an example to their community.

The impact of the FORSANDINO project can be seen in the improvement in agricultural production, income, and nutrition compared to the project’s control groups. Communities in the project also demonstrated increased community participation, and the Council of Chakareros was also recognized by the government of Ecuador with full legal rights. While it is inevitably the responsibility of the  communities involved to continue to exchange the beneficial indigenous knowledge they maintain, as one participate stated, a fire is made with firewood, not kindling alone. The FORSANDINO project helped to reignite the keeping of traditional knowledge and beliefs of the communities involved in the project, one of the project’s overall aims.

This summary of the FORSANDINO project was taken from the following FAO website, titled 3 Successful Practices for Successful Policies:

Salomón Salcedo
Technical Secretary, International Year of Quinoa
Senior Policy Officer

Edward Mutandwa Mississippi State University, United States of America

Dear Forum members,

I would like to thank you all for the contributions made to this discussion to date. One striking observation is that people do not share the same opinion when it comes to the value of indigenous knowledge. Peter Steele's remarks are quite interesting. He argues that as we move into the future, we may not need to be stuck with archaic food preparation methods. He observes that urbanization, dynamic food preferences coupled with a technologically advanced food processing industry may imply that "old" methods may be abandoned. He however indicates that for food insecure communities, there is need for enhancing communication for better food security approaches. Here is the catch, can we abandon some indigenous food preparation methods, which are integral to social, cultural and traditional setups in the name of development? A lot can be said on this because there are different views to development (eg Amartya Sen's model). In my view, there is need to adopt some methods which continue to be beneficial to humanity. Development is context specific and what may fit for developed countries is usually not appropriate for less developed countries due to many factors such as income and geo-physical conditions. Gopi (India), Hiwot (Ethiopia), Manuel from Ecuador and Daniel (Uganda) gave some very lively examples for foods that have medicinal and culinary values such as Molinga Olifera, Injera (which is fermented), smoked meat with soda (which enhances shelf life to as long as 6 months) and plantain bananas. This does indicate that these methods still have economic, social, cultural, traditional and spiritual value in a wide spectrum of communities and contexts. Isabello also talks about Amaranthus and maca roots which have been integrated into household gardens. More importantly, she highlights that people have not forgotten about indigenous methods ( a point reiterated by Dr Kabirone from Guinea). Institutional support seems to exist for example efforts by FAO to document food recipes for high Andean products (Salcedo and Byron). However, there are challenges related to documented evidence on the efficacy of these methods (Hiwot, Ethiopia). This discussion is by no means exhaustive because the subject are is vast (Ronald). There are other dimensions such as ethnobotany from which many modern medicines have been created, which have not been discussed here. 


I find the topic of discussion interesting to participate since it is also in line with my current project. I will contribute the discussion point 1 and 3

  1. Are there any lively examples of indigenous methods of food preparation and how do they influence food security and nutrition? Formal published research will be welcome on this point

I want to share about traditional food processing in Ethiopia. Injera is thin fermented bread which is usually made from cereal named tef (Eragrostis tef). It could also be made from other cereals like barley, sorghum and maize. The fermentation process is started by using dough saved from previously fermented dough. One of the side effects of making injera is the shelf life; it can only be stored for three to four days at room temperature. It could stay longer if put in refrigerator but not affordable by the majority. However, recently a study was published that could help to preserve it longer.  Injera has major contribution to nutrition and food security in Ethiopia, and globally there is interest as gluten free and iron levels compared to other cereals.

Traditional Food-Processing and Preparation Practices to Enhance the Bioavailability of Micronutrients in Plant-Based Diets in Malawi is worth looking at

 3. What is the perception of formal public institutes in your country towards integrating IKS in food preparation programs? Are there any opportunities for modifying some methods for example for child nutrition based programs?

Institutes working to improve nutrition have interest in using traditional food processing like fermentation, soaking and germination to improve nutrient deficiency. Alive and thrive is working to improve complementary feeding, promoting soaking, germination and preserving meat powered during preparation of complementary foods. However, the challenges were lack of evidence on safety of fermentation to be used for complementary food preparation and nutritional value and impact of the traditionally preserved meat powder.  The following link is quick reference book developed to promote traditional complementary food preparation. it is also adopted by the Federal Ministry of Health

Hiwot A Haileslassie
PhD candidate
College of Pharmacy & Nutrition
University of Saskatchewan
Salomón Salcedo and Byron Jara FAO Regional Office for Latin America ...
FSN Forum

Dear FSN Forum members,

Please find below a link to a recipe book on traditional high-Andean products:

the book includes recipes from the communities we work with, and some systematization documents from this experience. 

In the following links you will find other useful documents from the systematization of the experience of the FORSANDINO Project:


Salomón Salcedo and Byron Jara

FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean


Mr. Daniel Adotu Peoples' Interventions Worldwide, Uganda

Indigenous way of food preservation is very important in food security. Teso people [ethnic group in eastern Uganda and western Kenya, Ed.]  used to preserve meat in  a mound  made of soda ash. This had to be smoked meat and the meat is placed inside the mound made of soda ash and covered. The meat will stay in this mound of soda ash for as long as six months or beyond  without going bad. when a visitor comes and/or when there is scarcity or need to eat meat that day it will be picked and soaked and then cooked in groundnuts paste. This will be so tasty meal for that day.  In this way, the rural households used to be food secure.

Also in Uganda, the plantain bananas are prepared in especial way whereby the bananas are covered in banana leaves and cooked for hours. The bananas will taste great. They also cooked meat and/or chicken wrapped in banana leaves. All the ingredients are introduced at the sametime with the meat and wrapped. This will be steamed for some good time untill it cooks well and  served on special occassions like marriages and bid feasts.

Ronald Calitri Berkeley College, United States of America
Ronald Calitri

Two points: 1. Scopus returns 167 papers on "indigenous food preparation," many behind paywalls. However, this only includes literature with those key words, there is much more. Check ethnobiology, ethnobotany, ethnozoology, etc., where descriptions are sometimes casual but informative. This is an immense topic, not susceptable to easy summary.  For Brazil, close to 1,000 papers would be relevant. More if the non-peer literature were searched.

2. One impression needs reinforcing, one correcting, at least for food consumption in Brazil in the 2002-3 and 2008-9 POFs. Native foods consumption declined overall, in spatial congruence with well-konwn land use changes. Rural areas with propulation spurts showed great declines in own-consumption. However, declines were quite minimal in the great cities, and somewhat offset by increasing away from home consumption of recipes including native foods. Native foods are higher priced than non-native across food groups. So there is hope, if sometimes forlorn due to disparities and macroeconomic distortions, that well-informed countries will increasingly be keeping current (with the past).

Dr. Bah Mamadou Kabirou CERE/Univesrité de Conakry, Guinea

C‘est un theme extremement importany
je m‘etendrais bientot