Food carries deep socio-economic, political, cultural and historical meanings. Access to food is also about access to resources and power and connected to both food security and food sovereignty.
In this episode on urban food systems resilience under SEI Asia’s “Environment and Policy in Asia” podcast series, we talk to Khairunnisa from Bakudapan Food Study Group on how to build food resilience by localizing food systems.
Nisa is the co-founder of the Bakudapan Food Study Group, a collective of eight members with different backgrounds but a shared interest in food. Bakudapan’s research focuses on food both as a field of research field and as an entry point to understand broader socio-political issues. Their projects are interdisciplinary in nature, taking from art, ethnography, and many other disciplines; these span also into performances, art installations, and exhibitions, as well as cooking, gardening, and reading activities.
Food sovereignty has rarely been framed from the understanding of local communities and local knowledge. In their work, Bakudapan have discovered that the use of the term sovereignty does not fully recognize, or is rooted in, community practices and in their way of living.
According to Nisa: “Each region has its own soil condition that makes specific crops become its staple foods, such as cassava, yam, sago, and many more. When their staple food is influenced by a nation’s agriculture regulations or policy, they will become dependent on that staple crop.”
At the local level, communities preserve and archive their local knowledge. Edible weeds are a good example of how mainstream, dominant knowledge has suppressed the local knowledge related to plants. Edible weeds used to be common knowledge, as they were easily recognized and frequently consumed by local communities.
Nisa explains that local food knowledge can help our society and our communities to achieve food sovereignty, giving more access and control over food systems back to community members.
It is not an easy task to involve the younger generations in preserving the local food knowledge. Younger people are tempted to leave rural agricultural lands and migrate to urbanized areas to find better educational and employment opportunities.
However, Nisa believes it is not an impossible thing: “Bakudapan has discovered some inspiring examples. One of these is Sekolah Pagesangan, a great initiative to empower younger generation in the effort of preserving their local food knowledge. They use different methods, such as education and other capacity building activities,” she said.
“Advancing policies to help protect the land of indigenous communities is important. Without land, they cannot live, preserve, and practice their knowledge. In recent times, development has evicted many indigenous communities, it is the access and control over land that becomes the pivotal point when it comes to preserving local food knowledge,” Nisa explained.
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