Appreciating Local Knowledge

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During my work with a local NGO in Nicaragua I was asked to give a workshop about basic grains. The organization I am working with has been striving to diversify the green cover (the stuff you grow in between crops to increase oil fertility) used by farmers in the countryside. The main beans we were using were mung beans and cow peas; beans widely used and consumed in other parts of the world but relatively unknown here. The goal of this workshop was to help the farmers realize that the beans they were sowing could be used not only to boost soil fertility but to also as a healthy addition to their own diets.

One of the things we were trying to make was a kind of pancake made from mung bean flour. We had made the pancakes back in the test kitchen in the city over a gas stove but when we arrived at the small village we realized that we would have to cook them over a simple clay stove fuelled by firewood using the most basic of pans and utensils. This proved to be immensely difficult as we could not regulate temperature nor did we have a non-stick frying pan. As I was struggling with the pan and the flames and doing a good job burning the pancakes one of the female participants gently took the pan out of my hand, called over her friend to fan the flames and started turning out one perfect pancake after the other.

In retrospect it is obvious that I should have had them managing the stove from the beginning. Of course they are better at it, having grown up with this sort of kitchen and these resources. However sometimes, especially when we are leading demonstrations, I think we easily make the assumption that we should know everything better, forgetting that in most cases local people almost always handle the local details better.

Storiesfromthefield

Sarah Lakshmi Sax

Food Security Adviser, INPRHU-Somoto

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