May 25, 2003 - Kids can make a Difference: Food in Africa - Finding New Solutions to Old Problems... by Jamaica RPCV Kristof Nordin

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Jamaica: Peace Corps Jamaica : The Peace Corps in Jamaica: May 25, 2003 - Kids can make a Difference: Food in Africa - Finding New Solutions to Old Problems... by Jamaica RPCV Kristof Nordin

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, May 25, 2003 - 10:59 am: Edit Post

Food in Africa - Finding New Solutions to Old Problems... by Jamaica RPCV Kristof Nordin

Food in Africa - Finding New Solutions to Old Problems... by Jamaica RPCV Kristof Nordin

Food in Africa -
Finding New Solutions to Old Problems...
by Kristof Nordin

Many people form their opinions about Africa based on what they see in the media. These stories are often negative. We see reports about war, disasters, or disease and assume that this is what all of Africa is like. These things do occur, but I would like to share with you a different picture—a place where people are working together to find sustainable solutions to their own problems.

In 1997, my wife, Stacia, and I came as Peace Corps Volunteers to work in the small African country of Malawi. (Ed. Note: Stacia’s article about AIDS will appear in the next issue of the newsletter). The Peace Corps is an organization that allows American volunteers to live and work in a different country for two years. This can be difficult because you often have to learn a new language, get used to new foods, and adapt to different ways of doing things. We have enjoyed working in Malawi so much that we have stayed for four years.

At first, we spent a lot of time visiting villages trying to find out what problems the villagers face. People told us that they didn’t have food to eat. When asked why, their response was there was no rain during the dry season to grow food, and that they didn’t have enough money to buy seeds and fertilizer. This didn’t sound right since we knew that seeds often are saved from plants without having to buy them, and that people have farmed for thousands of years without buying chemical fertilizers. We also noticed that there was a lot of wasted water during the dry season that could be used to help grow food. For example, the water people used for bathing or washing clothes was thrown on the ground where nothing was growing. A major problem was that people tried to meet all their food needs for the year by growing only one crop during the rainy season—corn. Corn has been grown in Malawi for a short period of time, and it is not suitable to the local growing conditions. It was introduced when foreigners began to colonize many of the countries of Africa. In Malawi, corn was brought in by the Portuguese about 250 years ago, but not widely grown. About 50 years ago, the Malawi government switched from the foods that traditionally had been grown to corn. Corn was seen as a high yielding crop and there is an export market for the crop—a way to bring “hard” currency into Malawi. This change had several negative effects on Malawi. First, many people try to meet all their food needs for the year by growing only corn—an approach that is unhealthy for people’s bodies as it limits a diversified diet necessary for good health. Secondly, a one-crop approach is unhealthy for the soil as one type of crop planted in the same soil year after year takes away the nutrients that plants need. Thirdly, because corn is a fairly new crop to Malawi, it is not used to the local growing conditions—too much rain and the corn might rot; not enough the corn might not grow well.

Stacia and I started to look at the food grown and eaten before corn was introduced. What we found was unbelievable! Through research (and the knowledge of older Malawians), we have identified over five hundred foods that grow in Malawi and were eaten in the past—but are now forgotten because of the emphasis placed on growing only corn. Many of these local foods are also disappearing because of land being cleared to grow greater amounts of corn.

We decided to try growing some of these local foods around our house. Today we have almost 150 different foods that we eat throughout the year. We keep our soil healthy with the use of compost, which is a method of returning organic matter and nutrients to the soil, so we don’t have to buy fertilizer. Seed is saved from these plants each season so that we don’t have to buy new seeds. We also try to reuse water from our house. The results are that we are eating better and are healthier.

Through our example, we show people that they can have healthy and nutritious foods throughout the year—without the need for money. Many Malawians are beginning to realize that the solutions to their problems can be achieved by working with nature, rather than against it.

Any country can adopt this approach to growing food. Find out what people used to eat in your country. Are there food plants in your area that aren’t being eaten any more? If so, why? Do your grandparents remember eating any of these foods? Do they remember using different ways of growing foods that didn’t require money for fertilizer or seeds? If you find out some of the answers to these questions, are there ways that you can use this knowledge around your homes or communities to improve your own nutrition and help to teach others about these plants? Give it a try—what you find might amaze you as much as it has amazed us here in Africa!

Kristof Nordin was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica from 1992-94 working with youth and the environment, where he met his wife, Stacia, a fellow peace corps member working as a nutritionist. They married in 1995 and rejoined the Peace Corps as a married couple. They have been living in Malawi since 1997 working with HIV/AIDS, nutrition,and sustainable agriculture. Feel free to contact Kristof and Stacia Nordin at

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Story Source: Kids can make a Difference

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Jamaica; COS - Malawi



By unknown ( - on Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 5:57 pm: Edit Post

You are doing a good thing for these people.

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