Food Fair: A good practice to promote awareness, appreciation and utilization of local crops

When you are surrounded on all sides by delicious recipes and facing bountiful choices of food items, you know that you are at a food fair. A food fair is a rural multicultural community celebration lasting a day or a few days that includes food stalls from one or more villages, local crop food recipes and raw commodities, dancing and singing with traditional music, and exchange of traditional knowledge about local crops and their recipes. The best way to inspire members of a community is to let them share their diverse knowledge about traditional food culture with each other. The food fair is a platform where farmers and other local people can demonstrate their traditionally attached food habits to promote awareness, appreciation, and utilization of local crops through examples of traditional recipes made from local crops. The food fair is also linked to the traditional seed fair (diversity fair) for the promotion and conservation of local crops. This kind of fair can help not only to merchandise local crops and their uses but also to support in the conservation of traditional food culture.

Food insecurity is a severe and a chronic problem in the mountains of Jumla and Humla (Karnali zone) of Nepal, where road access is limited, the climate is harsh and productivity is low in highland extreme topography. On the other hand, Karnali has its own boon of rich traditional food culture and production of indigenous nutrient-rich crops. Thus, to unveil the importance of local crops in food culture for enhancing local food and nutrition security and merchandising of the local crop products, the Local Crop Project funded by UNEP/GEF in close coordination with District Agriculture Development Office (DADO) and district level stakeholders (different I/NGO, Hotel Association), community seed banks (CSB’s) and local community organized the Food Fair-2074 (2017) in district headquarters of Jumla and Humla, in the remote mountainous region of the Karnali province of Nepal.

Farmer serving Foxtail Millet pudding to visitors during fair. Photo: Julia Herrle, Bioversity International

The fair was organized for one day in Simikot Municipality, Humla (2 December 2017) and three days in Chandannath Municipality, Jumla (20-22 June 2017). Sweet aromas of smoke and local flavors filled the air as the farmer groups stirred, kneaded and roasted their prized traditional recipes from local crops.  The farmers bent in concentration over their stoves and fires as they prepared dishes for the coming crowds that incorporated the special tastes of local crops. The empty courtyard ringed by farmers’ stalls was soon transformed into a lively, crowded meeting place from which more than 600 attendees in Jumla and 350 in Humla could view the food stalls, musical, acting and comedic performances.  There were fourteen farmers’ groups, a few cooperatives and the hotel association (in Jumla); and 8 cooperatives, a few farmer groups and the hotel association (in Humla) showcasing their traditional food recipes and local crop commodities at the food fair. During the inaugural programme in Humla, Member of Parliament Mr. Jiban Shahi said, “Food fair is a good initiative in order to change the food habits of the Humli and a platform for learning about the commercialization of the local products.”

Students in Jumla observing stall (left) and farmers of Humla showcasing diversity of their local products in food fair (right). Photo: Julia Herrle, Bioversity International (left), Saroj Pant, LI-BIRD (right).

The food fair united farmers, community members, officials, and performers in a lively and enjoyable celebration of local crops. The major highlights of the fairs were both traditional and modern recipes made from local crops and local food items, local handicrafts and medicinal herbs.  The food fair was well synchronized with the diversity fair where people showcase their farm diversity, especially seeds of the different traditional crops, which created a strong synergy with the food fair. The local and popular food items include bread, cakes, sweets, soups, pudding etc. from local crops (kaguno ko kheer, latte ko laddu, faper ko cake, mix simi ra alu ko tarkari, chino ko bhaat, jumli marsi ko kheer,  simi khutta, kodo ko roti, fapar ko roti, faparko nimkin/pakoda, satu, sisno ko fado) including other products such as organic apples, grain beans, dried yak cheeese (churpi), medicinal oils (datelo ko tel), leu (handicraft made in Humla), honey,  yak butter (chauri ghee), walnuts, medicinal herbs (jatamashi, ghodmachha, satuwa, kutki). A group of experts was assigned to thoroughly observe and evaluate the stalls that showcased local products to identify and award prizes for the best stalls, providing incentives for participation and increasing the enthusiasm of the local participants. After receiving the first prize, one of the innovative farmers of Tatopani-4 rural municipality (Jumla) Mr. Devi Dutta Pandey said that he is very happy to take part in food fair and added that “this kind of platform will indeed encourage us and our community to grow and use local crops.” The food fair provided an opportunity for farmers’ groups to showcase their hard work and delicious recipes while simultaneously allowing community members to view, taste, and learn about the food culture of local crops and how they can be included in well-loved meals.  Food fairs not only help to conserve and promote traditional recipes of local crops, but they also publicize the health benefits of local foods. According to Mr. Bharat Kandel, SADO, Jumla  “There is a change in people’s food habits, they are nowadays habitual of imported (subsidy) rice and other food items found in the market instead of healthy local crop food items. The food fair will increase awareness among the people about the health benefits of the local crops.”

Recipes of local crops (Click to enlarge). Photo: Subash Gautam, LI-BIRD

Today, people around the globe are more focused than ever on gaining high production via modern crop cultivation in order to achieve food and nutrition security, but this leads to undesirable neglect of local crops.  Local crops are nutritious, possess medicinal values, and are traditionally attached to the local cultures. Despite the abundant potential of local crops, their promotion and utilization are major challenges for their commercialization. More extensive research, development and extension is needed for underutilized and neglected crops. Against this backdrop, the food fairs carried out in Humla and Jumla have become models for the promotion, use and commercialization of local commodities. After participating in the Humla Food Fair, Mr. Ishor Bohora, a farmer, has started his own business of merchandising local crops and their products. Similarly, community seed banks of the farmer community of Kharpunath Rural Municipality and Tatopani Rural Municipality are planning to open local product souvenir centres (koseli ghar) in their communities. These examples of optimistic changes in local behaviour due to the food fairs represent important progress in the use, promotion and conservation of indigenous crops initiated by the Local Crop Project (LCP) in its project sites. 

Local Crop Project (LCP) is funded by the Global Environment Facility, implemented by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and jointly executed by Bioversity International, National Agriculture Genetic Resources Centre (NAGRC) – Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC), the Department of Agriculture (DoA) and Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD).