2016 was the International Year of Pulses (IYP), a year proclaimed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to focus public awareness on the benefits of growing and eating these foods.
In Zimbabwe, this was marked with the appointment of Elizabeth Mpofu as the Special Ambassador for the IYP for Africa. She is one of six such ambassadors worldwide, each tasked to promote the consumption of pulses, to highlight the benefits to nutrition and to the soil and its importance for food security in their regions.
Born in 1959, mother of three and now with nine grandchildren, Elizabeth is an agro-ecological farmer and activist, based at Shashe in Masvingo. She is a founding member of the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers’ Forum (ZIMSOFF), which promotes organic farming and works to empower small-scale farmers, and of the regional organisation, Eastern and Southern Africa Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF), of which ZIMSOFF is a member. ESAFF promotes sustainable farming practices. Currently, she is a member of the International Coordination Committee (ICC) and the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina, an international peasants’ movement boasting a membership of over 200 million farmers across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. As this reveals, Elizabeth is dedicated to working for smallholder farmers and the rights of women in general.
As the IYP comes to an end, Sara Davies chatted to Elizabeth to find out what was achieved in celebrating the lowly pulse.
SD: What is it about pulses that is so important?
EM: Pulses are worth celebrating as they have a potential role in the economy, environment and people’s lives. They also improve resilience to food insecurity. Pulses are important food crops for healthy and nutritious diets, sustainable food production and they contribute enormously to food security.
SD: What did the International Year of the Pulses mean to you?
EM: The IYP came at a moment when both ZIMSOFF and La Via Campesina are in the struggle of fighting against industrial farming and the destruction of Mother Earth. This has come as an added value towards our work in fighting for food sovereignty.
SD: What activities did you promote?
EM: I promoted the World Food Day, the 2016 Traditional and Organic Food and Seed Festival at Harare Botanical Gardens, and quite a few Seed Fairs, which were happening in the country. The World Food Day was an activity taking place around the world. I also participated in the Global Dialogue on Pulses in Rome and had an opportunity to attend the Celebration of the 2016 IYP in Tanzania and some celebrations taking place here in Zimbabwe.
SD: Did you have the opportunity to interact with the other Ambassadors?
EM: We are always interacting with other Ambassadors through a weblink created by FAO to enable us to share and raise awareness about pulses.
SD: Cowpeas, nyimo beans/bambara nut, sugar beans, and butter beans, these are some of the typical pulses grown here. Can you tell us about the state of pulses in Zimbabwe?
EM: In Zimbabwe, pulses are grown countrywide but not really taken to be so important. These are crops that many farmers grow mainly as vegetables. We do not have special varieties that are grown targeting the regional and international markets as in some countries like Tanzania, which is exporting pulses to India.
SD: Is there much variety here?
EM: We grow a diversity of these pulses. There has not been a change in production over the last years but the consumption of the pulses has decreased. This is because of the introduced fast foods that are all over the country. Many people are no longer interested in taking time to cook in their houses but just to go to places where they eat these fast foods.
SD: Tell me your favourite fact about pulses.
EM: One of my favourite facts about pulses is that they are affordable although some take them to be a ‘poor man’s meat’. They are rich in proteins, minerals, iron, fibre and are low in fat content. Pulses are low-cost for us small-scale farmers to produce and they flourish in all environmental conditions.
SD: And what now, now that 2016 is over? Is there any focus on pulses going forward?
EM: Looking at the way forward, we still need to continue raising awareness for the production and consumption of pulses. There is need for the Government to put into place a favourable policy that promotes and protects the growing of these important crops. It is also important to do some research on the nutritional value of each variety of pulses we grow. We need to think of how women who are the majority in producing food can have the capacity to be able to produce, package and also link with the markets at all levels. Whilst we are aware of the School Feeding Programs the Government has introduced, we also need to see pulses included in these dishes. By growing crops such as pulses and small grains we will be able to eradicate hunger and end poverty in the country. – Naturally Zimbabwean